Challenges in supervision

There are a million challenges, dilemmas, tensions and opportunities when it comes to supervising and supporting a student on placement. ‘Agency based’ supervision does not operate in isolation to the highly complex set of relationships and contexts that generate multiple demands, needs and expectations on you as a practitioner. You juggle these demands whilst needing to consider how best to fit the student’s learning needs and eagerness into the agency processes in a way that respects clients and the need for the agency to operate effectively.

I am the only one in the organization who supervisors social work students. On top of my supervision role I have a caseload, and each case has its own context and demand on my time. I work for a small organisation and we are always fighting for resources and justifying our funding. On top of this my role is shaped by tight contractual and statutory arrangements and reporting; it wasn’t like that when I took on the job. I am a mother and wife and am studying; and I am constantly reminded of my own sense of inadequacy when my student innocently asks if we could organize a supervision time to catch up on the one we missed because I had to pick my sick daughter up from day care. Do I do all that? No wonder I feel like I’m always putting out spot fires. But somehow I pull it all off.

Is it any wonder that this level of complexity generates challenges and tensions? It is a complex space with multiple stakeholders, often with competing agendas, a variety of decision-making points and possible interventions and processes. In this space, practitioners and students will find themselves working and making decisions in the ‘grey zone’, where nothing is clear cut and each decision has the potential to have major repercussions for client, agency and self. More than often, practitioners and students are asked to respond in limited time frames and with limited resources.

‘Designing in’ ethical considerations into your practice and supervision is a way for you and your student to respond proactively to the tensions and complexity of practice. It involves thinking ahead about what challenges might crop up and then ‘designing in’ options and process that will allow you to work ethically when challenges arise.

To help you ‘build in ethic’ into placement, we will explore some practical avenues and tools that might inform and support you to build "what if" options into your supervision and into your student’s experience of practice.

The intent of this section is not to give you a lecture or reproduce a book on supervision challenges and ethics or problem solving approaches. If you need or would like to do more research, then social work libraries are full of interesting articles and books on the subject of ethics in practice. Likewise ask your liaison person to connect you with university staff and resources that might be helpful. We will however outline the models and tips that supervisors have told us are useful and worth sharing. If you have other models or tips, let the SWISS team know and we will include them.