Identifying communicative expertise in child and family social work supervision: interdisciplinary and international perspectives

What can be gained from an international and interdisciplinary network, focusing on identifying communicative expertise in supervision meetings between children’s social workers and their managers?

At their best, social workers support children and their families to overcome the biggest challenges in their lives, but in order to do this, social workers need to be effectively supported by their organisation, for example through supervision. Our understanding of what makes a good supervision meeting is still underdeveloped and is rarely based on real examples of what actually happens.

There was an emerging network of academics from Wales, Scotland, England, Sweden and Denmark who began work on the topic of how social work supervision actually works in 2018. Since then, the group had established a collective dataset and has met virtually to conduct preliminary analyses of the materials. However, until this project the group had not yet all met in a co-located physical space.

What did the project involve? 

This project developed an international and interdisciplinary network, focusing on identifying communicative expertise in supervision meetings between children’s social workers and their managers.

This was achieved through a one-day workshop at Bristol which brought together senior social workers from local authority practice with early career and senior academics from conversation analysis, education and drama. The workshop had the following objectives:

  • To share different perspectives on audio recordings of real supervision meetings
  • To explore methods of using anonymized recorded materials for training social workers
  • To assess potential for collaboration across the group

Who are the team and what do they bring?

  • Jon Symonds (Social Work, University of Bristol) is a researcher of policy studies and social work and his research interests focus on understanding and improving practice in professional encounters, informed by his background as a registered social worker. He is experienced in making direct recordings of practice and using Conversation Analysis to identify (and improve) specific components of professional interaction.
  • Annie Hunter (Principal Social Worker, South Gloucester Council)
  • Clara Iversen (Sociology, University of Uppsala) is a sociologist with a background is in social psychology and her research interests concern how participants in social and health care encounters manage shared understanding. She is currently working with research on helpline interaction and interaction between people and social robots.
  • Sabine Jorgensen (Social Work, University of Copenhagen) examines naturally occurring, video/audio-recorded social interactions in various social work settings. She is currently working on encounters between professionals, parents and children in child welfare.
  • Lucy Kelly (Education, University of Bristol) is a researcher and author whose main research area is diary keeping as a positive tool for teacher wellbeing.
  • James McFeat (Principal Social Worker, Bristol City Council)
  • Eve Mullins (Social Work, University of Edinburgh) is broadly interested in issues related to social work practice skills, justice and identity, with particular interests in criminal justice social work, sexual offending, domestic abuse and interactions in social work.
  • Elizabeth Stokoe (Social Interaction, University of Loughborough) is a researcher in conversation analysis, focused on understanding how social interaction works in settings from first dates to medicine and healthcare; from mediation to police crisis negotiation and emergency service calls, and from sales encounters to interaction in “SaaS” (Software as a Service) platforms and conversational user interfaces.
  • David Wilkins (Social Work, University of Cardiff) is a researcher who’s  main research interests are supervision for child and family social work, and social work judgement and decision-making.
  • Michael Wilson (Drama, University of Loughborough) is a researcher who’s main research interests lie in the field of popular and vernacular performance and he has published extensively on storytelling and its social and policy applications.

What were the results?

At the end of the workshop, the team had identified plans for future collaborations such as writing plans, developing training materials, and grant applications for future research. They also published two papers in realtion to this project:

(How) are decisions made in child and family social work supervisions?

Eliciting third person perspectives in social work case discussions: A device for reflective supervision?