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74 MARCH 2005
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Supervision: What it means to me

Susan Graves

Throughout my Child and Youth Care training there has been a major theme: build good relationships with the child and youth you are working with; the foundation to good Child and Youth Care practice is relationship.

Even though I kept on hearing it in school I needed to put it into practice. I was able to get that chance in the summer of 2002 by working in a residential youth treatment center. I was working in a multi-disciplinary team, and from past experiences I knew it was also important to build relationships with my colleagues. This was a great opportunity for me to do that. However, it is not as easy as it sounds. It can be challenging when different people come together with various skills, education, self-awareness, and ideas all trying for the same goal; the safety and wellbeing of the youth. I felt frustrated, angry, and anxious at times when I was working with this team; it was as if I was out in left field and the rest of the team was at home plate. I realized that I needed to speak with someone about what was going on for me, which is when my relationship with my supervisor started to form. I not only found a support person, but a supervisor who would listen to me and guide me in the right direction, which I am grateful for.

Why the importance of good supervision? The field of Child and Youth Care can be challenging at the best of times. Emotions run high, chaos can easily happen, and moods can change with a blink of an eye. As practitioners in this field we need to be aware of what is going on around us and for us. Imagine what your job would be like if there were no one to speak to about what is going on for you. Emotions get bottled up and after six months on the job you are wondering why you are so tired, feeling burnt out, and not wanting to come to work. Now imagine what your job would be like if you had a supervisor to speak to who listened to you, you trusted, and you are able to say whatever was on your mind. Why is this so important in the field of Child and Youth Care you ask? Let me explain what it was like to be on the receiving end of a supervision relationship to answer that question.

It was the summer of 2002 between my 3rd and 4th year university and I moved to a small northern community for summer employment to work in a residential treatment center. Before going, I thought to myself “Moving way up north to work in a group home; not what I really want to be doing". I have worked in group homes before and knew that it was something that I did not want to pursue. But four months out of my life is not going to kill me “I can do it." By the end of the summer I was applying for a permanent full-time position in the same residential center in hopes to return after I graduated. What was the change for me from May to Aug? A factor in my decision to return was because I knew when I returned I would be working for the same supervisor and would get the support that I need.

For those who have ever worked in a residential setting know how fast the dynamics can change. The youth generally can change their mood at a drop of a hat and may become aggressive (either verbally or physically). The planned activities can instantly change due to the dynamics of the house, and each staff member comes with their own values and beliefs and the relationship each staff has with the youth can impact how the shift goes. Put this all together and it may lead to high stressful situations.

I was grateful that being a casual that summer I was able to get on a regular work schedule and knew my days off in advance. This made it easier for me to arrange regular supervision meetings that occurred about every two weeks. The one thing that impacted me the most during our supervision meetings was that there was a person who listened to me. It did not matter what I was saying, how I was saying it, or what the topic was; he just sat and listened to me “unload.” I knew at the time that whatever we were discussing, weather it was a youth, colleague, or “the system”, it was not about them, but about me and my own personal triggers regarding the issue. Even though the conversations generally started out with a lot of blaming and triangulation, by the end, the conversation was generally about me and what my role was in the situation. Supervision was a place for me to have a sounding board to express myself in any way I needed, whether it was crying, raising my voice, or being silent. It helped me to become more self aware, a better practitioner, understand other people, and look at things from a different perspective.

I believe effective supervision is the most important aspect of the Child and Youth Care field. It is a tool that practitioners can use to help themselves become more self-aware, learn different ways of communicating, and have a sounding board. I cannot remember what teacher said this in one of the many Child and Youth Care classes, but it was explained that the best Child and Youth Care practitioners are the ones who are self-aware. For me, supervision is a place that will help me with that and become a better practitioner.

Reflecting back on my summer of 2002 I realize that I would not be where I am today if it were not for the supervision I received. I had a place that I could express myself, felt safe, and not worry about making a mistake. If I had not received the supervision I did, I believe that I would not have returned as I would have continued to be blaming others and looking at things from a negative perspective. I presently am working in the same residential treatment center that I was in the summer of 2002, and continue to have regular supervision meetings. They look different because my relationship with my supervisor has changed. Over the years it has grown stronger, we better understand each other, and the relationship continues to grow and become healthier. I have moved up in “the system” and am presently a supervisor on shift. One of my tasks is conducting regular supervision meetings with my teammates. Being a supervisor at times is not easy, however, understanding the importance of effective supervision and how it can impact people and their work has helped me become a better practitioner and supervisor. The relationships I have with my colleagues and youth are stronger and healthier, which I believe is partly due to effective supervision.

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