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The Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (IRISS) is a charitable company with a mission to:
‘…promote positive outcomes for the people who use Scotland’s social services by enhancing the capacity and capability of the social services workforce to access and make use of knowledge and research for service innovation and improvement.’
Their website gives details of a recent large research project IRISS carried out with six partner agencies in the social care sector. The research looked at the current practice in supervision, drew attention to areas of challenge, and intended to support improvement and innovation in supervision.
Supervision is an important personal support for social care workers at all levels. Where it does not work effectively, or is absent, then things can quickly go off the rails: either at personal levels for the worker; or a decline in quality, possibly putting people at risk of abuse. So I think this is an important research project, and its outcomes should be discussed at all levels in care provision.
The Research Project
The project report is readily available through the IRISS website. It gives some of the challenges for effective supervision. There can be a mismatch between how the function of supervision is perceived, and how it is intended to operate. A worker may have had a bad experience of a punitive manager, and come to dread supervision sessions. Or the policy may be drawn up, implemented and reviewed by upper managers without real contact or knowledge of the practice context in the service, or the changing needs of service users. This can lead to a rigid, unhelpful process which hinders, rather than to help - it absorbs energy and time best directed elsewhere.
The report has many positive helpful suggestions to achieve effective supervision practice. Leadership and buy-ins from senior management is an important factor, to model and develop effectiveness and good outcomes in supervision. Another is the enablement of service managers to adapt supervision processes in the light of a changing context of requirements. Policies need to recognise and incorporate the importance of informal contact and support for staff.
The most helpful advice of all I believe is that personal outcomes for service users and professional outcomes for individual care workers need to be the joint primary function of supervision; this I believe needs to be a live aspect of the ongoing policy of care services on supervision, to ensure effective support and a successful service overall.