1. Introduction

The role of social worker brings with it a variety of challenges and complex situations practical, social, emotional. Social workers work closely with adults and families who are in need of support, usually at a times of stress or crisis. All social work interventions begin with an assessment of the person and their strengths and needs.

In order to understand the particular situation of the person and their family / carers fully and to appreciate the challenges that they are facing and the outcomes that they want, social workers need to be able to build relationships with adults and families. This includes being able to form a professional assessment of how all elements of the person’s life impact upon them and to keep this under regular review so that risks can be identified and addressed.

When social workers become involved with and adult this is often a difficult time for the person involved. Help from the local authority may be rejected, people may be angry, suspicious, depressed, upset, defensive and anxious. Even when adults are welcoming of help, there remains the need to maintain the appropriate professional boundary.

In this complex and demanding role, supervision is the main mechanism to ensure that the appropriate help is offered to enable adults to be safe and well by supporting, managing and developing staff who delivery a social work service.

Supervision has two main functions, learning and support and management, as outlined below.

1.1 Learning and support

Through learning and support, social workers are enabled to:

  • reflect and share their actions, feelings and concerns about their work in a safe environment with an experienced practitioner who can challenge, guide and encourage;
  • actively engage with supervision that aims to help them uncover assumptions and analyse judgements, clarify the focus of their work and identify changes that they need to make to their approach;
  • recognise when there are multiple and conflicting ideas, interpretations and perspectives to reach a professional judgement taking account of the complexity of people’s lives;
  • develop skills and identify strengths and areas for further learning so that social workers are aware of their own practice skills and needs for training and development;
  • feel supported so that they are able to continue to work well in a stressful and demanding environment with adults who are often at risk of, or experiencing, abuse or neglect;
  • adopt a strengths based based approach to assessment and care planning, which is informed by the principles of the Care Act 2014, the Mental Capacity Act 2005 and the Mental Health Act 2007;
  • review decisions to ensure that they are based on observation and analysis, exploring differences between opinion and fact, addressing any bias in situations of uncertainty in order to ensure that clear conclusions are reached and defensible judgements made.

1.2 Management

1.2.1 Quality and accountability

The organisation should ensure:

  • there is a culture of focused and critical thinking including the adult, carers and professionals’ views, chronology of critical events, social, economic, emotional / mental health issues;
  • social work interventions are planned and monitored, risks are identified and escalated as needed;
  • workloads are monitored to ensure safe practice;
  • the quality of work is reviewed and records kept to ensure clarity of purpose is clear and that decisions made are defensible and evidence based and underpinned by relevant legislation;
  • a person centred, holistic approach is taken to practice ensuring that actions are proportionate to risks and the procedures of the organisation.

1.2.2 Strength based approach

This ensures that:

  • practice reflects the requirements of the Care Act to ‘consider the person’s own strengths and capabilities, and what support might be available from their wider support network or within the community to help’ in considering ‘what else other than the provision of care and support might assist the person in meeting the outcomes they want to achieve’;
  • an approach that looks at a person’s life holistically, considering their needs in the context of their skills, ambitions, and priorities;
  • adults’ strengths are identified, including– personal, community and social networks – and maximise these strengths to help people achieve the outcomes they want;
  • support available from family and friends is considered in the light of their appropriateness, willingness and ability to provide this support and takes into account the impact on them;
  • the implementation of a strengths-based approach includes cultural and organisational commitment as well as frontline practice implementation;
  • practitioners have time to research and become familiar with community resources and that time is allowed for assessments to be undertaken appropriately and proportionately.

See also Assessment chapter, Section 16, Strengths and Capabilities and Strength Based Approaches (SCIE).

1.2.3 Supervision in multi-disciplinary teams

Models for multi-disciplinary working vary from co-located, fully integrated teams to virtual teams working in an integrated manner.

Whatever the model, there will be in place arrangements for line management and supervision. In multi-disciplinary teams, workers may not be managed by someone of their own profession. The manager will be responsible for the day to day running of the service, allocation and review of workloads, risk management and the performance of the service.

In these circumstances it is crucial to the safe running of the service that staff have supervision from someone from their own discipline to support and develop their clinical practice, professional development and service offered to adults.

2. Standards for Employers of Social Workers

The Local Government Association has produced standards for employers of social workers in England: Standards for Employers of Social Workers in England (Local Government Association)

The remainder of this chapter outlines those standards.

2.1 Purpose

The purpose of the Standards is to sustain high quality outcomes for adults, their families, carers, and communities in three main areas:

  • enabling employers to provide a well led, professional environment;
  • enabling social work professionals to maintain their professionalism;
  • enabling them to practice more effectively.

6.2 The Standards

There are eight standards, as outlined below.

  • Standard 1: clear social work accountability framework – employers should have in place a clear social work accountability framework informed by knowledge of good social work practice and the experience and expertise of adults, carers and practitioners.
  • Standard 2: effective workforce planning – employers should use effective workforce planning systems to make sure that the right number of social workers, with the right level of skills and experience, are available to meet current and future service demands.
  • Standard 3: safe workloads and case allocation – employers should ensure social workers have safe and manageable workloads.
  • Standard 4: managing risks and resources – employers should ensure that social workers can do their jobs safely and have the practical tools and resources they need to practice effectively. Assess risks and take action to minimise and prevent them.
  • Standard 5: effective and appropriate supervision – employers should ensure that social workers have regular and appropriate social work supervision.
  • Standard 6: continuing professional development – employers should provide opportunities for effective continuing professional development, as well as access to research and relevant knowledge.
  • Standard 7: professional registration – employers should ensure social workers can maintain their professional registration.
  • Standard 8: effective partnerships – employers should establish effective partnerships with higher education institutions and other organisations to support the delivery of social work education and continuing professional development.

Some of the standards set out above relate to the wider organisation. Standard 3, Standard 5 and Standard 6 relate to practice of supervision for frontline staff and managers. More detail is provided below.

3. Standard 3 – Safe Workloads and Case Allocation

The objective is to ensure social workers have safe and manageable workloads.

This standard is about protecting employees and service users from the harm caused by excessive workloads, long waiting lists and unallocated cases.

All employers should:

  • use a workload management system which sets transparent benchmarks for safe workload levels in each service area;
  • ensure each social worker’s workload is regularly assessed to take account of work complexity, individual worker capacity and time needed for supervision (Standard 5) and Continuing Professional Development (CPD) (Standard 6);
  • ensure that cases are allocated transparently and by prior discussion with the individual social worker, with due consideration of newly qualified social workers on Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE);
  • ensure that a social worker’s professional judgment about workload capacity issues is respected in line with the requirements of their professional registration (Standard 7);
  • take contingency action when workload demand exceeds staffing capacity; report regularly to strategic leaders about workload and capacity issues within services;
  • publish information about average caseloads for social workers within the organisation (Standard 1).

3.1 Useful information

Unison: Workload Management Guidance

5. Standard 5 – Effective and Appropriate Supervision

The objective is to ensure that social workers have regular and appropriate social work supervision.

This standard is about making high quality, regular supervision an integral part of social work practice. This should start with students on placement and continue through ASYE and throughout the individual’s social work career. Supervision should be based on a rigorous understanding of the Professional Capabilities Framework (PCF) and the Knowledge and Skills Statement for Social Workers in Adult Services. Supervision should challenge students and qualified practitioners to reflect critically on their practice and should foster an inquisitive approach to social work.

4.1 Frequency of supervision

All employers should make sure that supervision takes place:

  • regularly and consistently and last at least an hour and a half of uninterrupted time;
  • for students on placement – as agreed with student and higher education institution;
  • for newly qualified social workers – at least weekly for the first six weeks of employment of a newly qualified social worker, at least fortnightly for the duration of the first six months, and a minimum of monthly supervision thereafter;
  • for social workers who have demonstrated capability at ASYE level and above – in line with identified needs, and at least monthly;
  • monitor actual frequency and quality of supervision against clear statements about what is expected.

4.2 Quality of supervision

All employers should:

  • ensure that social work supervision is not treated as an isolated activity by incorporating it into the organisation’s social work accountability framework;
  • promote continuous learning and knowledge sharing through which social workers are encouraged to draw out learning points by reflecting on their own practice in the light of experiences of peers;
  • ensure that the PCF, at an appropriate level, is used as the basis for evaluating capability and identifying development needs;
  • ensure that supervision supports students and qualified social workers to meet Social Work England Professional Standards;
  • encourage social workers to plan, reflect continuing professional development (CPD) activity, including logging it online with Social Work England;
  • provide regular supervision training for social work supervisors;
  • assign explicit responsibility for the oversight of appropriate supervision and for issues that arise through supervision;
  • provide additional professional supervision by a registered social worker for practitioners whose line manager is not a social worker.

6.4.3 Useful information

Supervision, Social Work England

BASW supervision policy

5. Standard 6: Continuing Professional Development

The objective is to provide opportunities for effective continuing professional development, as well as access to research and relevant knowledge.

This standard is about social workers being able to build a robust and up to date knowledge and skill base through effective CPD and access to research, evidence and best practice guidance. Employers should facilitate career-long learning and empower social workers to work confidently and effectively with the children, adults and families they have been trained to support. Employers should also understand the statutory requirement for social workers in England to undertake CPD, as outlined in Social Work England Guidance.

5.1 Supporting staff development

All employers should:

  • have effective induction systems and put in place tailored support programmes for ASYEs, including protected development time, a managed workload, tailored supervision and personal development plans;
  • have an appraisal or performance review system which assesses how well professional practice is delivered and identifies a learning and development plan to support the achievement of objectives;
  • provide time, resources and support for CPD;
  • have fair and transparent systems to enable social workers to develop their professional skills and knowledge throughout their careers through an entitlement to formal and informal CPD, including practice educator and / or specialist training as appropriate;
  • encourage social workers to plan, reflect on and record CPD activity, including logging it online with Social Work England.

5.2 Promoting research based practice

All employers should:

  • support their social workers to make decisions and pursue actions that are informed by robust and rigorous evidence so that service users can have confidence in the service they receive;
  • enable social workers to work with others engaged in research and practice development activities in universities, professional bodies and trade unions to develop the evidence base for good practice;
  • ensure that practice educators are able to contribute to the learning, support, supervision and assessment of students on qualifying and CPD programmes.

6.5.3 Useful information

ASYE Information, resources and case studies

BASW: Continuing Professional Development Policy

Research in Practice for Adults (RiPFA)

Skills for Care: continuing to develop social workers

Post-qualifying Standards for Social Work Practice Supervisors in Adult Social Care

Professional Capabilities Framework

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