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78 JULY 2005
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Life-space supervision

Jacqui Michael

Parallels between supervisor and worker roles
In order for supervision to be effective, the worker and the supervisor must be clear about their expectations of each other. The worker must have a clearly defined role indicating what is expected of her and the role of the supervisor must be discussed. While there are many definitions of the role of supervisor and the role of the Child and Youth Care worker, I will identify only a few of them here in order to demonstrate how the characteristics of the Child and Youth Care worker’s role can be used also to identify the expectations of a supervisor in a “life space supervision” model. I will begin with the most general of statements about the role of the Child and Youth Care worker, and in the next section, will look more specifically at characteristics.

In an article on CYC-Online (March 2001) written by the Pietermaritzburg Children's Home, three main tasks of a Child and Youth Care worker were identified:

We can parallel this to what the supervisor should be to the worker. The supervisor must be a role model of how the worker should be and act. Role modelling may not always be a conscious process, but workers will observe the way we deal with situations, our attitudes to people, and our approach to the profession and our task. As supervisors we should be clear about our style, what beliefs we have about people and their development, and our values and attitudes to people in general and Child and Youth Care specifically. For these will show up in our work with staff, just as those of the staff will show up in their work with the children.

In South Africa many Child and Youth Care workers are being supervised by other professionals who often do not have an understanding of the intricate and therapeutic tasks of Child and Youth Care work. Many supervisors believe that Child and Youth Care workers cannot do therapeutic interventions and see this as the role of social workers and psychologists. This seriously impacts on the quality of supervision given and hinders the development of the Child and Youth Care profession. I believe that the modelling of “how to be with others” which can occur in effective life-space supervision is one of the most powerful learning experiences available for the Child and Youth Care worker. Many of them have taken courses but what they have learned has remained knowledge and not skill. Life-space supervision can help workers to make this transition and see how theory can be practically applied. While experiencing the supervisor’s intense involvement in their everyday work life, the worker learns how to engage in the life space of young people. In experiencing it, they learn it. If a Child and Youth Care approach to supervision is to be effective, then the supervisor must be able to model the actions, orientation and attitude they wish to see workers adopt with children, youth and their families.

Being an effective child care worker includes showing initiative, providing a caring atmosphere and environment, providing for the development and physical care of each child, setting up and maintaining a structured environment and carrying out all administrative duties required.

The supervisor must show initiative in how she works with different workers and take into account the worker’s and her own learning styles and how these complement each other. The effective supervisor, for example, does not wait for the worker to come to her, rather she takes responsibility for initiating the supervisory interaction. The supervisor’s approach to each worker should be as individualized as we want the worker’s approach to each child to be. Jack Phelan (1999), for example, has identified how workers new to the field need more structure and clarity than more developed workers and further (Phelan, 2001) how the actions and interventions of the supervisor must be compatible with the worker’s level of development.

The supervisor must care about the worker. If workers are not cared for physically and emotionally, they will feel de-motivated and not pay sufficient attention to the needs of the children. Maier (1987:119) stresses that it is only if caregivers are nurtured and have ongoing care and support that they can deliver quality care to others.

Being a responsible team member includes fostering; generating and participating in teamwork and co-operation, developing an active commitment to the child care profession and being loyal and responsible.

Supervisors need to help Child and Youth Care workers to understand the responsibilities involved in being a team member. They should encourage the worker to become involved in meetings, share ideas, and learn from other team members. The most powerful way to do this may be, simply, for the supervisor to act effectively as a member of a team herself.

Krueger (1990: 13-14) highlights six points that will help teams to create a positive team atmosphere. They are:

  1. Support – team members need to consciously support and encourage one another, recognize each other’s accomplishments and help in solving problems

  2. Sharing knowledge – this can take place formally or informally, but there must be a willingness to learn and share

  3. Processing – this implies allowing colleagues to express and discuss how they are feeling

  4. Empathy – team members need to show empathy to each other as well as to clients

  5. Accountability – through team and individual supervision, team members hold each other accountable and monitor each other

  6. Leadership – workers must recognize the importance of strong leadership and respect the leader’s authority and decision-making. Being supportive, sharing knowledge, processing the experience, demonstrating empathy, being accountable and offering leadership also seem like essential characteristics in supervision.

There are general expectations of the Child and Youth Care worker’s way of being in relationships (Fewster, 1990) which parallel ways in which we might expect the supervisor to be in relationship with the worker. In the following section, I will expand on this general idea by looking at some of the characteristics of a Child and Youth Care Approach and its relevance for a life-space model of supervision.


Fewster, G. (1990). Being in Child Care: A journey into self. New York: Haworth.

Krueger, M. (1990). Child and Youth Care Organizations. In Krueger, M. & Powell, N. Choices in Caring. Washington, DC: CWLA pp 12-14

Maier, H.W. (1987) Developmental Group Care of Children and Youth: Concepts and Practice. New York: The Haworth Press

Phelan, J. Stages of Child and Youth Care Worker Development. Available at

Phelan, J. The Relationship Boundaries that Control Programming. Relational Child and Youth Care Practice Journal Volume 16 Issue 1

Pietermaritzburg Children's Home (2001).Building Job Descriptions for Child Care Workers /cycol-0301-jobdescriptions.html

This feature: Extract from Michael, J. (2005) Life-space supervision in Child and Youth Care practice, in Garfat, T. and Gannon, B. (eds.) Aspects of Child and youth care practice in the South African context. Cape Town: Pretext (CD version).

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