Supervision has developed to incorporate three elements: accountability, development and support. Accountability means that a manager is accountable for his/her subordinates’ work and for instance in a residential unit he has to check whether the workers are contributing to the philosophy of the unit and to the care plans for each resident. As many social workers realised that learning about their jobs is a life-long occupation, they incorporated professional supervision as part of their professional development. Residential care workers have to make decisions in their day-to-day work and often in difficult situations they need support. In the last ten years, some people have argued, that quality control should be seen as part of any supervision.

After having presented the relationship between social work and child care and after having discussed the key elements in managing staff, John Hudson gives some details about the three approaches adopted by residential homes in child care: individual, group or milieu. The concern for effectiveness and the concern for the workers to be supported and developed common to all these approaches leads to an increasing demand for supervision.

Supervision is a reflective process through which professionals enhance their personal and professional development. The worker meets with a superior alone or with other workers to discuss their work. Through this process they learn about: themselves, their emotional needs, their social functioning and their professional relationships. They develop: new ways of thinking, the relationships they have and the capacity to work independently within the philosophy of the home and with respect to the children.

The aim of the work with children in residential units is quality care. It can be defined in two slightly different ways:

  • care which satisfies the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;

  • care which ensures that children are in a better position when they leave it than when they came into it.

According to Martin Wolins, quality care was provided in homes which had six characteristics:

  1. the home had a clear philosophy of care,

  2. the staff were committed to that philosophy,

  3. there was a sense of reliability about the work of the home,

  4. there was support from the children for the work of the home,

  5. there was support from the community and

  6. there were opportunities in the home for constructive activities.

Professionals in residential care need supervision mainly because of three aspects of their work:

  1. They work independently and out of sight of other professionals. They often have to make quick, intuitive decisions which can have immediate impacts on others in the home. Supervision enables the worker to reflect on decisions taken that way. It enables them to check whether the decision was made within the philosophy of the home and whether it was right for the child or whether something else more helpful could have been done.

  2. They are always part of a team. Supervision enables the team to reflect on the ways they interact with each other and with the children, on their contribution to quality care, on better ways of working within the philosophy of the home.

  3. They use their personality in the work. This is even the main way in which they work Supervision must assure reliability in enabling workers to reflect on the relationships they have with each child. This is difficult because each child is different and needs a different relationship. Children will always test workers to the limits to see if they are reliable. Supervision must enable the worker to see in which situation they are in and to give them support. When children have developed sufficient trust and begin to talk about some fairly horrific experiences the have had, the worker also needs support to enable to cope with the stress of hearing what the child is saying.



Hudson, J. (1994).  Supervision: A UK Perspective.
  Vol. 10. p. 17.