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Supervision Concerning Social Work


Over the years, the knowledge base for social work has grown tremendously as the population that relies on it has become increasingly complex. This means that there is a necessity for assurance in this profession that all social workers are properly equipped with skills to deliver competent and ethical services. The responsibility to protect clients is essential in this profession, hence the significance of the element of supervision. This paper explores the concept of supervision in relation to social work, the models of supervision, and the different learning tools.

Supervision in social work involves the interrelation of various functions and responsibilities. It can be defined as the existing relationship between a supervisor and supervisee where the responsibility and accountability to develop competence and ethical practices are prioritized (McPherson et al., 2015). These functions pour into a bigger responsibility that maintains the clients’ protection and that they receive ethical services. Supervision involves an evaluation of the services rendered to clients while adjusting them as required to ensure they get the most benefits (Beddoe, 2012). The responsibility of the supervisor is to ensure that the client receives competent, ethical, and appropriate services. The relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee is a collaborative process.

Models of Supervision

History of Kadushin and the old model

The history of supervision models is based on orientation-specific, where the supervisor and the supervisee share a common theoretical orientation. This allows the supervisor to teach the supervisee based on an identified theory and how it can be incorporated into practice skills. The psychoanalytic model, which is the oldest one, was based on this concept. In this model, the supervisee is encouraged to remain open to the supervision experience, and learn about the analytic attitude that comprises such attributes as patience, showing interest in the client, and trusting the process (Beddoe, 2012). One of the main aspects in the history of the Kadushin model of supervision is the belief that the concept of supervision originates from social work. This was because both supervision and the social work development processes occurred simultaneously. The origins of social work go far back to the activities carried out in charity organizations.

Kadushin Model of Supervision

Alfred Kadushin explores supervision in social work and is based on the statements made by John Dawson (1926), who used the terms educational, supportive, and mediation to describe the functions of supervision. These three functions of supervision emphasized by Kadushin are of equal significance and need to be practised to meet the full needs of the supervisee in social work. According to Kadushin, the function of supervision is the responsibility of the supervisor, aiming at nourishing the morale of the supervisee, fostering a sense of belonging to the agency, supporting work, and endorsing value in the workers.

The roles of mediation, education, and support of social work supervisors have been practised since the early years of the social work profession (Hawkins et al., 2012). The prominence of these roles over each other has been interchangeably different over the years.

Mediation (Administrative) role of the supervisor

The position of the supervisor is greatly impacted by the structure of the agency, hence affecting their productivity. According to (Kadushin et al., 2014), the role of the supervisor is the management of the direct service worker. This role is associated with the organization’s administration. Here, the supervisor implements agency objectives and set goals. This also includes ensuring a balance of the workers’ needs as required by the administration. The front-line supervisor is tasked with workplace organization, which includes the placement of workers, their recruitment, delegating tasks, review and evaluation of tasks, and serves as a mediator between the direct worker and the administration (McPherson et al., 2015). A collaboration between the front-line supervisor and the direct service workers is crucial and achieved through encouragement. This process involves increasing acceptance and reducing opposition, all while ensuring an open, honest, and supportive relationship with the service workers. The mediating role of the front-line supervisor is more essential when conflicts arise between the administration and the direct service social workers regarding the needs of the client (Falender et al., 2014). During this process, the supervisor needs to support and understand the position of the workers but also educate them on the assigned tasks. The success of this role relies on the ability of the supervisor and supervisee to co-partner and work in a team.

Educational, supervisory role

The role of supervision requires adequate experience in the identification of the client’s needs, understanding the style of the supervisee, their professional motivation, and how these elements impact their decisions involving the client. The comparison or contrast of the supervisor’s and supervisees’ styles impacts performance decisions. It is the role of the supervisor to model the skills that the worker should develop, and this can be difficult when the supervised worker is experienced (Kraemer Tebes et al., 2010). The learning style of the supervisee is impactful on workers’ assessment. The supervisor is expected to encourage the creativity of the staff and show sensitivity to professional and personal diversity. It is important for the supervisor to be experienced and knowledgeable so that they can assess the needs and the mindsets of the supervisee. All these contribute to creating a successful learning environment. This also helps to prevent an underestimation of the potential of learning. The supervisor needs to acknowledge the barriers and ensure the problem is reconciled with the supervisee.

There are several teaching skills that the supervisor can use while working with supervisees. One of these skills is modelling behaviours to the supervisee when possible. This can be coupled with in-training that provides both parties with strategies that can be employed at work. A solid learning environment is created through collaboration and mutual support. One of the benefits of education skill training is increased job satisfaction (Huggard, 2013). Others include improved agency productivity, reduced turnover rates, and burnt outs.

Supportive role

Kadushin describes the supportive role in this model as the leadership provided by the supervisor. The aim of this role is to increase the overall performance of the worker through reduced stress and increased motivation. By improving the commitment of the worker to the job, their overall functioning, and increasing their passion (Kadushin et al., 2014). The supportive role also includes offering emotional support to the worker. The emotional element of any organization includes educational levels, financial status, power positions, and gender bias. The supervisor needs to address all these factors that affect the emotional well-being of supervisees at work. This role is imperative to ensure worker performance and productivity. It ensures that workers feel supported in high-risk environments by feeling valued and experiencing sensitivity from the administration regarding their personal needs. A successful work environment needs to be team-oriented, and this is achieved by valuing the workers and including them in decision-making (Caroll & Gilbert, 2011) Kadushin emphasizes that good supervision is critical in social workers’ retainment.

Contracting in Social Work Supervision

Contracting remains one of the fundamental elements of social work supervision. This is because a lack of proper contracting results in ineffective supervision. This aspect can be defined as an existing deal between the supervisor and the supervisee that establishes the required foundation for task completion. This component smoothens the learning process for the supervisee by offering structure and direction. Contracting will help the supervisee grow in each aspect of their professional development. Kadushin et al. (2014) identify four main stages of supervision, including the initial, intervention, utilization, and termination phases. Contracting is an essential element that contributes to achieving these learning levels.

Contracting should be an ongoing process, and the supervisor and supervisee need to agree on a common principle regarding several aspects. These include clear goals that both parties intend to achieve, mutual expectations between the supervisor and supervisee, and a clear description of the roles of each. This process is critical, implying that it needs to be done during the initial supervision phase (Bernard & Goodyear, 2013). This ensures that any misunderstandings are eliminated right away. Both the supervisor and supervisee need to be proactive throughout the contracting process to ensure each party gets what they want. Different supervision boundaries are also necessary during this process, and these include the clarification of roles, techniques, and methods to be used, a time schedule, and any conditions.

Learning Tools

The learning process is critical in social work, and different learning tools exist to equip the necessary skills and techniques within the human service agency. The observation learning tool has been beneficial in my learning process. In my performance, I observed the actions and skills utilized by my supervisor to understand how my assigned roles were handled. This tool gave me first-hand experience and helped me deliver on my functions and responsibilities. It has also been beneficial in the classroom, where we observe other students during classroom activities, allowing us to learn from each other.

Discuss Tool

This learning tool allows learners to collaborate and hold conversations through dialogue, audio, imagery, and video. This is a great way for both the supervisor and supervisee to go through the learning process. It allows the supervisee to ask any questions, and the supervisor can help the supervisee to adjust the methods used to deliver more competent and ethical services. Care plans are an excellent way of using this learning tool. Here, the supervisor shares care plans with the supervisee to depict how services should be delivered.

Observation Tool

It is important for any practice supervisor to observe the social workers working in practice with the clients. This tool is essential for a supervisor, especially in the performance of their expected role. It allows the supervisor to get an actual sense of how the supervisee communicates with the clients (Saltzburg et al., 2010). One of the ways to enhance observation is through videotaping. This observation tool allows the supervisor to rewind and rewatch the communication of the supervisee to the clients and highlight any areas that need adjustment. The repeated review reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the supervisee and any gaps in the agency and helps the supervisee select more appropriate methods to meet the client’s needs.

Activities Tool

This activity-based learning tool is a common principle that explores human interactive learning activities. It involves a process of carrying out certain activities that are relevant to specific knowledge. This learning tool is crucial because proper understanding and application of knowledge are often impossible when specific actions are lacking. Understanding the goals of the professional practice is essential in utilizing this learning tool. One of the best ways to use this learning framework is role play. In working with a supervisee, the supervisor can use role plays to teach the supervisee any concept within their learning scope (Bernard & Goodyear, 2013). Role play will help improve the performance of the supervisee and result in satisfaction among the clients.


Supervision is a critical aspect of social work and involves an interrelation of responsibilities and functions. It contributes to the overall goal of an agency, which is to protect clients and ensure they receive competent and ethical services. This is achieved through a collaborative process between the supervisor and supervisee. Most research posits that the supervisor is the most important individual in the human service agency. Supervision in social work continues to be beneficial to clients and agencies, and the staff input can be improved in different ways.


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Caroll, M., & Gilbert, M. (2011). On Being a Supervisee: Creating Learning Partnerships (2nd ed.). Psych0z Publications.

Falender, C. A., Shafranske, E. P., & Falicov, C. J. (2014). In Multiculturalism and diversity in clinical supervision: A competency-based approach. American Psychological Association.

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Huggard, J. (2013). Debriefing: A valuable component of staff support. International Journal of Palliative Nursing19(5), 212–214.

Kadushin, A., & Harkness, D. (2014). In supervision in social work. Columbia University Press.

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Saltzburg, S., Greene, G. J., & Drew, H. (2010). Using live supervision in field education: Preparing social work students for clinical practice. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services91(3), 293–299.


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