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Reflective supervision ‘best practice guide’ launches in Edinburgh

Labelled a ‘co-constructed guidebook on best practice reflective supervision for social workers’ the document breaks down the current state of reflective supervision and gives useful ideas for improvement.

18/06/24

Reflective supervision ‘best practice guide’ launches in Edinburgh

A new guide aiming to improve reflective supervision launches ahead of the BASW UK conference, which starts today in Edinburgh.

The Best Practice Guide to Supervision by Professor Jeramine Ravalier and John McGowan, among others, is the culmination of 18 months of research. It has involved a number of 1-1 interviews with UK social workers, group sessions and focused groups; all covering what social work supervision currently looks like – and also how it really should look – in practice.

At a launch event on Monday (17th June) night at Scottish Story Telling Centre, Royal Mile, Edinburgh the authors gave an insight into why the book was necessary and their ambitions for its positive effect on practice.

The launch event also saw an introduction from Iona Colvin, Chief Social Work Officer in Scotland, who warned that the social work workforce was “in crisis”.

“It’s really good that we’ve got the guide, but now we need to ensure that it’s adopted [into practice].”

Ms Colvin added that supervision will also play an important role in some of the key legislation currently being drafted for social work, such as the National Care Service and National Social Work Agency.

“It’s about culture. It’s about how we expect to practice. It’s not just about managers.”

The event also saw a Q&A session with Ruth Allan (BASW CEO), Alison Bavidge (SASW National Direction), David Callow (SWU Chair), and Fulton MacGregor (Member of Scottish Parliament and Chair of the Cross Party Group on Social Work).

The panel agreed that the issues of working conditions and reflective supervision were linked, particularly with regard to the low levels of recruitment and retention causing a strain on the remaining workforce.

“25% of social workers leave within the first six years of practice” Alison Bavidge highlighted.
Fulton MacGregor said that part of the problem was the deterioration of the social work reputation by a hostile media and political landscape.

“I remember when I qualified as a social worker, it was a really big deal. My whole family were so pleased. [Social workers] were really looked up to.”

“Now, it seems like there has been an erosion of the social work reputation.”

The reflective supervision ‘best practice guide’ itself is based on research and interviews with many social workers. Professor Ravalier said he had spoken to thousands of social workers over the years since he started his research into the profession.

“Reflective supervision is crucial to social work practice, but little is known about how it works and what the outcomes are for social workers and their service users,” Professor Ravalier told Social Work Today when the research that helped formed the book was first released.

“This project co-produced the best approach to reflective supervision. It began with a rapid review of the literature around reflective supervision, with a particular focus on what works, why, and the implications of both good and poor reflective supervision.” This was followed by individual interviews with 18 social workers.

The research team found that generally reflective supervision meant different things to different people, largely because it is ‘not based on evidence and research’.

“A lot of the theory around supervision in social work is based on Kolb's work -- which is great, but this doesn't provide a clear and stepwise approach to supervision. Our work changes this - we provide a social worker-led approach to understanding what reflective supervision is, why it is useful, and what it should look like,” John McGowan, co-author of the book and General Secretary of Social Workers Union (SWU), said.

The research also found that while social workers value the supervision they receive, it is often ‘ad hoc and irregular’.

“More significantly, feedback has highlighted that often does not include a discussion linked to reflection, learning and development – it is often reduced to a process of case management. It is important to note that previous working-conditions research has demonstrated that effective supervision is associated with higher job satisfaction, commitment to the organisation and retention,” McGowan continued.

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