Reflective supervision: Resource Pack (2017)

Published: 12/04/2017

Author: Earle F, Fox J, Webb C, Bowyer S



A good supervisor is able to contain the supervisee’s anxiety, stress and hope and model the kind of relationship practitioners are expected to build with children and families. A supervision experience should enable the practitioner to walk away feeling less anxious than when they walked in, and with a clearer view of what the child, family and organisation require, what actions are most likely to produce the best results, and what to do next.

At its best reflective supervision offers a safe space for a practitioner to slow down and think, explore possibilities, look for meaning and a way to do their work well.

This Resource Pack of tools is the result of a two-year Research in Practice Change Project which set out to contribute to the evidence that informs reflective supervision, with a core focus on exploring how reflective supervision can:

  • Support analysis and critical thinking in work with children and families
  • Contribute to the building and sustaining of practitioners’ emotional resilience.

It builds on a previous Change Project (Brown and Turney, 2014), which explored analysis and critical thinking in assessment, including the important role of supervision.

Whilst the project’s engagement with the research literature revealed how much remains unproven about supervision and the use of reflective methods, participants’ commitment to reflective supervision held over the course of our exploration. This is because the experience of the participants (from 19 local authorities) supports the currently available evidence that a reflective approach to supervision:

  • Facilitates direct work with children, young people and families
  • Supports safe and proportionate decision-making
  • Helps keep staff well.

These are facets of practice which, when developed and supported, are likely to contribute to more positive outcomes for children and families. Learning from the project also reinforced our understanding of the inter-related nature of analysis and critical thinking and emotional resilience, suggesting it is important to concentrate on developing both in supervision.

What we also learnt is that reflective supervision can be the space where a learning culture takes root, from the bottom up. When the right building blocks are in place, and opportunities for critical reflection are provided at all strategic levels, reflective supervision seems to offer both supervisors and supervisees the chance to take a step back from process and procedure, to explore what is shaping practice and support supervisees to develop and apply professional judgement.

Social work and family support with children and families involves dealing with complexity and uncertainty. While practitioners often cannot know the best course of action, they need to be able to make well-reasoned judgements and understand the far-reaching implications of decisions for the child. We believe reflective supervision has a vital role to play in that process.

Professional Standards

PQS:KSS - Promote and govern excellent practice | Developing excellent practitioners | Emotionally intelligent practice supervision | Performance management and improvement

PCF - Professionalism | Critical reflection and analysis | Professional leadership

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