Allan Brown and Iain Bourne
Supervision is the primary means by which an agency-designated supervisor enables staff, individually, and collectively; and ensures standards o f practice. The aim is to enable the supervisee(s) to carry out their work, as stated in their job specification, as effectively as possible. Regular arranged meetings between supervisor and supervisee(s) form the core of the process by which the supervisory task is carried out. The supervisee is an active participant in this interactional process.
There are several points arising from our definition that we think merit further discussion:
1. When we refer to supervision we are talking about a relationship between one person, a supervisor, and another, a supervisee. The supervisor has been given authority by their employer to supervise one or more supervisees who are employees accountable to her or him for their agency work. The concept of accountability is less straightforward and presents some possible difficulties. Some would argue – with a degree of support from the new community care legislation – that the worker’s first accountability is to the service user or ‘client’. Others would say that the first accountability of a professional worker is to their profession, and yet others would say that the first accountability is to oneself. We do not disagree with any of these points about the multifaceted nature of accountability; we only confirm that the above statement is referring to agency accountability.
2. In our use of the terms enable and ensure we are attempting to capture the dual nature of supervision, which carries the responsibility both to ensure that agency policy is implemented – which implies a controlling function – and a parallel responsibility to enable supervisees to work to the best of their ability, implying a person-centred caring function. We consider both these functions to be equally important and inextricably related to one another in supervision. As in the parallel process of work with service users in a statutory setting, there are often pressures to be either the agency controller who pays scant attention to caring and empowering, or the caring consultant/counsellor who abdicates the authority vested in the role of supervisor. In a task-orientated, budget-dominated climate, we think the greater risk is the downplaying of the enabling, caring function of supervision.
3. The reference to individually and collectively is included to emphasise the centrality of the team or staff group in social work and community care. Whilst much of the discussion here will refer to the one-to-one relationship of supervisor and supervisee, this almost always takes place in, and needs to take account of, a team or work group context. In residential and day care settings this team dimension is an ever-present reality, and in fieldwork the days of private individualised relationships, whether with users or colleagues, are becoming a thing of the past. Thus an essential task of a supervisor is to develop a team and group ethos. This may be achieved directly through various group events, including for example team meetings, away days and group supervision (see Chapters 8 and 9), and indirectly through taking a contextual approach in supervision to the work undertaken by each individual.
4. Arguably the most important point to emphasise is the overall aim of supervision as being the provision of the best possible service to the users of personal social services. This apparently obvious fact needs stressing because it so often gets lost sight of in supervision when agency politics, interpersonal conflicts, personal ambition, games playing, supervisor and supervisee preoccupations and other diversions become the main part of supervision sessions. These dynamics are all normal and ubiquitous, and will be examined in some detail later in the book. The point to hold on to from the beginning, and continuously, when thinking about supervision is that the whole rationale for the agency and its organisational apparatus is to provide a first-class service for people who need it (or in some cases are required to have it, in order that they or others may be protected from harm).
5. We need to state right from the beginning that we regard supervision as an interactional process in which the supervisee is an active participant. In Chapter 5 we look at the developmental stages in supervision and the changing needs and relationship according to the supervisee’s level of experience and expertise. However, even the most inexperienced supervisee needs to develop – and be helped to develop – the skills and confidence to be proactive in their approach to supervision.
6. The final point arising from our statement on supervision refers to supervision taking place primarily in formally arranged regular meetings. The issue here is whether supervision is a specific event, namely the supervision session, or a process, where something occurs continuously between supervisor and supervisee(s) in their day-to-day work — or both. We have had some protracted discussions between us on this issue and, in particular, where to put the boundary around supervision; these have also been discussions about setting the parameters of this book. It would clearly be absurd to restrict our notion of supervision to the single event of the formal supervision session, when so much of the agenda in supervision overlaps with other events and contacts between supervisor and supervisee, many of an informal or crisis nature, and we have no wish to do so. On the other hand it seems important, as stated earlier, to distinguish supervision from other aspects of management and from the multifarious tasks of those who have supervisory responsibilities.
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