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Line manager

Theory and research confirm that the role of first line managers is pivotal in residential child care settings. For instance British research by Sinclair and Gibbs (1998) and by Berridge and Brodie (1998)confirms that a supervisors knowledge base and her / his ability to express values and a philosophy of care are correlates of quality of care. I am interested in the role of the first line manager (Team Leader/ Supervisor) and how this role is played out. In what ways is the role pivotal? I am interested in forms of supervision that work in residential child care.

 British and Irish situations tend to follow a field work model of supervision - hence there is enormous expectation on first line supervisors to provide individual supervision to all staff on a monthly basis. When I was in that role we tried - really tried to make that work. Oft times crisis events pushed pre-arranged supervision sessions to the side - with consequent feelings of frustration and guilt. And, when Inspectors commented they noted months when some staff got no supervision. Yet - there WAS supervision - at least I felt that my conversations with colleagues fulfilled some of the requirements of supervision and leadership.

 Some times the conversations were in the kitchen - sometimes on the road to a meeting - sometimes in the daily hadover meeting between shifts. So my questions are concerned with the regularity of supervision - with forms or supervision that work and on the role of the first line manager? This query relates to a research personal research project that aims to explore the first line manager. I'd appreciate views and experience. I look forward to thoughts and experience.

These are the research references mentioned above. Berridge, D. and I. Brodie.(1998) Children's Homes Revisited. London: Jessica Kingsley. Sinclair, I. and I. Gibbs.(1998) Children's Homes - A Study in Diversity. John Wiley and Sons.

Johnnie Gibson
Ireland
...
 
I would argue that people need a whole spectrum of support and supervision opportunities, include both the formal planned sessions, the peer support of group meetings and the 'on-the-spot' support or what I would call 'opportunity-led' supervision, which is provided as and when the need arises in the course of everyday work. Managers have a duty not to cancel or postpone supervision except in dire emergency, and if it is unavoidable, to reschedule as a top priority - otherwise 'events' will gradually come to take priority over learning and development, which in turn will probably mean that more 'events' will happen because people are not really thinking or communicating with the young people. It is not unknown, of course, for anxious staff or supervisors to avoid supervision by allowing events to get out of hand just as a meeting was about to start ...

There is also evidence that teams in this setting function best when they also have input from an external consultant who can help them to free up their communication. Not forgetting that team leaders need support, too!

One of the best texts on these themes is John Burton's Managing Residential Care (Routledge 1998), which is a very accessible and 'in touch' account of the whole business of providing leadership, management and supervision in residential settings. I would recommend both this and Burton's earlier Handbook of Residential Care.

Another useful book (though out of print now I think) is by Robin Douglas: Organising for learning: staff development strategies for residential and day services work: a theoretical and practical guide. London : National Institute of Social Work, 1988. Douglas and Chris Payne wrote other texts on this theme.

Adrian Ward
...

Johnnie
Here are some relevant book titles from SIRCC Library:

Payne, Chris; Scott, Tony; 1982, reprinted 1994; Developing supervision of teams in field and residential social work, part 1; London; NISW  
Payne, Chris; Scott, Tony; 1985; Developing supervision of teams in field and residential social work, part 2: Exercises; London; NISW
Social care Association; n.d. ; Supervision in social care; Social care Association
University of Stirling; Department of applied social science/ social work; n.d.; Supervision skills in residential care; Stirling; University of Stirling
Jones, Adrianne; Support force for children's residential care; 1995; Staff supervision in children's homes; Support force for children's residential care; Department of Health
Pritchard, Jacki; 1995; Good practice in supervision: statutory and voluntary organisations; London; Jessica Kingsley
Barnardo's Scottish Division; 1977; Student supervision in residential work with children; Barnardo
Barham, Bob; Mitchell, Jean; Halfacree, Joan; 1981; Student supervision in residential work; West Sussex Institute of Higher education; RCA
Atherton, James S; 1986; Professional supervision in group care: a contract-based approach; London; Tavistock
Save the Children; 1993; Working together: a guide to supervision; London; Save the Children
Hughes, Lynette; Pengelly, Paul; 1997; Staff supervision in a turbulent environment: managing process and task in front-line services ; London; Jessica Kingsley
Hawkins, Peter; Shohet, Robin; 2000; Supervision in the helping professions: an individual, group and organizational approach; Buckingham; Open University Press
Morrison, Tony; 1993; Staff supervision in social care: an action learning approach; Brighton; Pavillion
Morrison, Tony; 2001; Staff supervision in social care: making a real difference for staff and service users; Brighton; Pavilion
Brown, Allan; Bourne, Iain; 1996; The social work supervisor: supervision in community, day care and residential settings; Buckingham; Open University press
Knapman, Jacky; Morrison, Tony; 1998; Making the most of supervision in health and social care: a self-development manual for supervisees; Brighton; Pavilion
Morrison, Tony; 2001; Staff supervision in social care: making a real difference for staff and service users; Brighton; Pavilion
O'Neill, Eileen; 2004; Professional supervision: myths, culture and structure; Fethard, Co Tipperary; RMA Publications

Alan Macquarrie
Library and Information Officer
Scottish Institute for Residential Child Care
...
 
I think Adrian has summarized support and supervision very nicely. A mix is needed. We used to say that one on one supervision was as important as the one on one times with the children and families. Cancelling either had to be considered in the context of understanding that it would be a major blow to our efforts to develop a dependable, predictable environment in which human presence and availabilty were a key to the treatment and development of children and youth who came from very unpredictable, impermanent environments. In addition to providing a time that workers and children can "count on," it also, as Adrian said, made learning and growing together a priority.

Mark Krueger
...
 
Replying to Johnnie,
In my perspective, the supervision/training model is based on a public agency approach, and is therefore flawed for private organizations. In a public agency, management correctly assumes that workers, even new ones, have great job security. With selection dictated by results from a knowledge based exam and termination not a realistic option, the supervisor is left with only a combination of training and regular supervisory sessions for developing the workers.

A better assumption is that some people have better innate talent for youth work, and managers should look for that "fit" to increase performance. Training and supervision are helpful, but not as vital as careful selection to predict future performance.

For more on this perspective, you might read Now, Discover Your Strengths by Buckman & Clifton. Chapter 7 describes a plan for reorganizing the human resources function of any organization towards more effective outcomes. I don't advocate wholesale turnover or an autocratic supervisory style - just a rational emphasis on selection as the most critical element in the provision of highest quality service.

When one begins with talented employees, it's quickly apparent that the supervisor's role is often "getting out of the way." Rigidly scheduled supervisory sessions can be replaced with more efficient team meetings where the focus can be - not on placing blame and eliminating mistakes - but on "how can we work together to empower the youth?"

Charles  L. Baker
...
 
Thank you for the replies to my question/s on this topic. I appreciate the views and experience of leaders in the child and youth care field and for leads on good literature as well as thoughts on how to tackle some of the structural issues, for example staff appointments.

My first posting was broad - and as I've said I appreciate the responses. But I'm curious about what front line workers actually experience in terms of supervision. So I'm keen to hear what the experience is like for direct care workers. Does formal supervision happen? With what regularity? What are the benefits for workers and for the young people. What importance is attached to supervision by organisational leaders? Any takers for an exchange of views on the topic of supervision or more generally on the role of first line managers. Charlie Barker responded to my first posting with this point, "When one begins with talented employees, it's quickly apparent that the supervisor's role is often "getting out of the way." Rigidly scheduled supervisory sessions can be replaced with more efficient team meetings where the focus can be - not on placing blame and eliminating mistakes - but on "how can we work together to empower the youth?" What's your view - is this realism or idealism?

Johnnie Gibson
Ireland
...
 
Hi Johnnie,
I worked in the a Scottish residential setting in the pre supervision era. My boss rarely spoke leaving me to interpret a raise of the eyebrow, a twiddle of the moustache. I was forced to think reflectively and communicate with my co-workers and the residents pro-actively. It was intense work and we all struggled from time to time. As a consequence of his refusal to assume the paternalistic leadership role that we demanded of him the team dynamic could be explosive! Team meetings in small room with people smoking often ended in tears and tantrums. Overall workers grew to practice with a confidence that was deeply embedded in their use of self. Those who couldn't go there for whatever reason left.

 As a unit manager post implementation of individual supervision i found that it did indeed fail to meet the needs of both the most competent and the least competent of workers. I endeavoured to maintain a form of homeostasis that was about: on the one hand, supporting workers who had little to offer the youth, and on the other trying to hold on to really good workers who were getting increasingly fed up with the former. This was because there was no agency support to counsel them out in any way. there was no training in or acknowledgement of the potential benefits of team/group supervision, due to the fieldwork focus of the agency. This meant that you delved into those areas at your peril. At a great personal cost in terms of soaking up massive transference energy and overall cost to the care of the youth as there was the potential for the least able workers to take their issues out on the kids! I felt it was a no win situation. From a distance, what would I do now? I would grow a moustache. Happy to discuss further.

 Cheers
Jeremy Millar
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