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Transitioning from practitioner to practice supervisor

21 November 2019

Alison DomakinAlison Domakin

So often the narrative about child and family social work can be negative and it is true that conversations frequently reflect the many challenges practice supervisors face. However, this not the whole story. Practice supervisors play an important role in supporting supervisees to become emotionally resilient practitioners and ensuring that social workers provide an excellent service to children and families.

As the Practice and Engagement Lead for the Practice Supervisor Development Programme (PSDP) I talk to practice supervisors regularly. One way in which I do so is to provide one-to-one reflective development sessions to support teaching on the programme. These sessions offer an opportunity for practice supervisors to reflect on learning from the face-to-face teaching and explore how they can apply this in their workplace.

So often the narrative about child and family social work can be negative and it is true that our conversations frequently reflect the many challenges practice supervisors face. However, this is certainly not the whole story. Time and time again I come away from these discussions inspired by practice supervisors’ commitment to upholding practice standards, their focus on supporting the social workers they supervise and their understanding of the importance of promoting ethical and relationship based social work practice. Two factors seem to be significant in this process – tools and reflection.  

Practice supervisors are introduced to a range of different tools, frameworks and resources, which can be used in individual and group supervision on the PSDP. Many practice supervisors reflect in the one to one discussions about how much of a transition it is to move from being a practitioner to a practice supervisor. They highlight that the practice supervisor role needs a different set of skills. This seems to be felt most keenly is in relation to supervising staff. They find the tools and resources that the programme offers provides them with a useful foundation or tool box for individual and group supervision which they can start to use with their teams.  

Being a practice supervisor is a skilled and challenging job. However, because the role is so busy it can be difficult to find time to reflect on this and plan how to do things differently. We also know that for some staff the transition to practice supervisor is a big step and is not always well-supported. The one-to-one sessions provide a reflective and supportive space for practice supervisors to consider how they might use some of these ideas or tools themselves. With access to resources and a focus on reflection, creative ideas emerge in our discussions alongside an energy to try out new ways of working and supporting social workers in practice.    

Over the last few months a large part of my role has focused on developing open access resources containing tools and briefings designed to support practice supervisors in child and family social work who are responsible for supervising the practice of others. The website is aimed at all practice supervisors working in child and family social work contexts and can be freely accessed by anyone regardless of length of time in role or experience. Many of the resources are adapted from teaching materials used on the Practice Supervisor Development Programme and will be available until the 2021.

The materials draw on research and practice evidence, as well as learning from the lived experience of children and families, to support practice supervisors in key aspects of their role. They have been developed in consultation with experts by experience, social workers, first line managers, senior managers and academics. The resources and tools are designed to support practice supervisors’ learning and development and to extend skills and knowledge. The importance of building relationships with children and families, which allow their voices and experiences to be heard and understood, is a key theme throughout.

The learning resources are organised into six key themes:

  1. Your journey to being a supervisor.
  2. Understanding the lived experience of children and families.
  3. Emotions, relationships and resilience in child and family social work.
  4. Talking about practice in supervision.
  5. Developing a culture of excellent social work.
  6. Maximising your impact as a practice supervisor.

In each section there is a mixture of knowledge briefings, audio podcasts, presentations, films and learning tools, and webinars. Learning tools can be used to review and audit practice supervisors’ skills or learning needs in a particular area. Some provide information about approaches and frameworks, which it is helpful to know more about or use as a practice supervisor. Other learning tools are designed to be used as discussion prompts in individual or group supervision with a team. All the resources have been developed specifically for practice supervisors. Each section also has a briefing for senior managers, which highlights key messages for organisations to consider, alongside a number of challenge questions focusing on how practice supervisors can be supported to work more effectively in relation to each topic area. 

So returning to where I started. The focus of the website is on tools and reflection. It provides a place in which child and family practice supervisors can quickly access a range of tools that they can try out for themselves with their teams. There is also a focus on supporting developing skills and knowledge of practice supervisors reflectively throughout. Further learning will be added to the website from early 2020.

We will be promoting reflection and discussion about how the materials are being used on Twitter using the hashtag #PSDP.


About the author

Alison Domakin is the Practice and Engagement Lead for the Practice Supervisor Development Programme and works at Research in Practice. 

Twitter: @AlisonDomakin


Related resources

New resources to support practice supervisors in their role

New resources to support practice supervisors in their role

Practice supervisors play an important role in supporting supervisees to become emotionally resilient practitioners and ensuring that social workers provide an excellent service to children and families. New open access resources aim to support practice supervisors in key aspects of their role.

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