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1.6.2 Supervision Policy - Bolton's Protocol for Standards in Supervision of Children and Families Social Workers


See also Staying Safe Services Quality Assurance Framework Procedure.


Practice Guidance Number 1 - Ensuring the Child’s Voice is clearly heard in all work


This chapter was revised in July 2019. Added in to Section 9.3, Standards:

  • All cases should be supervised no less that every 3 months.
  • All cases should be supervised at least once when in the assessment service.


  1. Introduction
  2. Principles
  3. Definition of Supervision
  4. The Function and Content of Supervision
  5. Critically Reflective Practice
  6. Quality Assurance
  7. National Guidance
  8. Models and Recording
  9. Workload Management
  10. Regional Standards

    Appendix 1: Assessment Practice Standards

    Appendix 2: Supervision Contract

    Appendix 3: Supervision Agenda

    Appendix 4: Useful Questions to Guide Reflective Supervision

    Appendix 5a: Supervision Preparation Form

    Appendix 5b: Supervision Preparation Form Continuation Sheet

    Appendix 6: Supervision Record

    Appendix 7: Supervision Audit

    Appendix 8: Audit Signature Sheet

    Appendix 9: Documents Referring to Requirements for Supervision

    Appendix 10: 4 x 4 x 4 Integrated Model

    Appendix 11: Gibbs Model of Reflection

    Appendix 12: Rolfe So What? Model

1. Introduction

This protocol has been developed to support social work practice across the region and within Bolton. The purpose is to provide social workers and social work managers with guidance and practice tools to support effective supervision and critical reflection. This protocol, therefore, seeks to outline minimum standards with regards to supervision and reflection, to ensure consistency of practice for social workers irrespective of which Local Authority they are working for.

2. Principles

Across the region, it has been accepted that effective supervision is:

  • Linked to the recruitment and retention of front line practitioners;
  • Provides a supportive environment for social care staff to reflect on their practice and make informed decisions using professional judgement and discretion;
  • A facility for professional development and personal support;
  • A source of effective challenge to ensures the quality of work which in turn improves services and ultimately provides better outcomes for children and their families.

3. Definition of Supervision

Supervision is an on-going process in which social care staff receive guidance, support and challenge, in a formal setting, in order to meet organisational, professional and personal objectives. N.B. It must be noted that ongoing case discussion/supervision can occur outside of formal arrangements for supervision and should always be captured and recorded to support the child’s journey.

4. The Function and Content of Supervision

Supervision and its place in professional practice has become a thorny issue in the current practice context. It has been cited in numerous Serious Case Reviews and enquiries. It is routinely cited as failing and as a necessary ingredient; as reinforced in The Munro Review of Child Protection and others previously. Many argue however, that in practice, its functions have become entangled with the management agenda. Many practitioners will argue that the purpose of supervision has become dominated by case management and management objectives leaving neither the time or space for the reflective and developmental functions. Regionally, it is accepted that Local Authorities are committed to tackling this issue.

There are four elements of effective supervision. Although it is not necessary to have a complete balance of the four functions in each supervision session, it is important not to let any one of them consistently dominate the supervision process.

  1. Managerial and accountability - concerned with ensuring that the work of the supervisee is carried out to the expectations and standards of the service. This seeks to monitor and explore the quality of an employees’ work; to ensure that statutory obligations are being met; and to provide clarity to the social worker regarding their roles and responsibilities. This element seeks to review the supervisees’ case load, to establish clear and appropriate priorities and actions to inform case direction. This also involves giving the supervisee feedback on their performance; acknowledging and appreciating good performance; and identifying and planning how to address areas of underachievement. Good Supervision should also ensure practice is soundly based and consistent with Bolton Safeguarding Children Partnership (BSCP) and organisational procedures;
  2. Development/education - the supervisory process is a key element in the continuing professional development of staff. The role of the supervisor is to help the worker reflect on their current performance, identify areas for development and education needs and plan on how these can best be met. Supervisors should ensure they guide practitioners to the DfE, Social work post-qualifying standards: knowledge and skills statements and the 8 Assessment Practice Standards: A Practice Development Guide (see also Appendix 1: Assessment Practice Standards);
  3. Support - the nature of the work carried out in Children and Young People’s Services can mean that staff are faced with difficult situations, uncertainty and distress. The supportive function of supervision is extremely important to help staff cope with these difficulties by valuing staff as people and not just professionals. This element encourages supervisees to discuss their feelings as well as thoughts and actions and aims to help supervisees to explore emotional blocks to their work and how the work impacts upon them. This function also assists in monitoring the overall health and well-being of the worker with regards to stress;
  4. Mediation/advocacy - concerned with building the relationship between the individual and the service as an organisation. This may include the supervisor representing the supervisee’s needs and views to higher management and briefing higher management about resource shortfalls or exercises and their impact on supervisees. This function also seeks to ensure that resources are allocated in ways that are efficient and equitable including access to training and development opportunities.

Although the practice models may vary, it is accepted across the region that regular, planned and competent supervision is both a right and a requirement for all members of staff working for children’s services, regardless of role or grade. Children and Families social workers face additional challenges in terms of managing risk and the anxiety around this. Although this is not exclusive to this area, it is of particular significance given the high profile and endemic risk involved in this area of work. Using supervision as a way of working positively with anxiety and utilising it to develop and enhance learning can be useful.

In Bolton the procedure for supervision is as follows:

The three main components for supervisors and supervisees:

Induction Supervision PDR's

Supervisors must ensure as a priority that all new supervisees receive "on the job" induction in accordance with the relevant Induction Pack, which should be supplied to the new supervisee on their first day of service.

Supervisors must also ensure that all new supervisees attend the in-house Departmental Induction Course within the first three months of taking up their appointment. Supervisee's should bring their Induction Pack with them to the course to both identify the level of completion and to enable any questions regarding particular elements of the Pack to be addressed.

It is expected that there will be a supervision contract (Appendix 2: Supervision Contract) which is agreed and signed during the induction period and at anytime where a change of supervisory arrangements occur e.g. a supervisor.

All supervisory relationships must be established on a clear, secure and transparent footing, providing a safe and positive environment to enable the worker and supervisor to meet the needs of children and achieving positive outcomes to the forefront.

It is important that the supervision is seen as non-threatening and is conducted in such a way as to allow for a free exchange of views and opinion. Such differences that may exist need to be both aired and valued. It is, after all, rare for there to be only one way of achieving a particular task or requirement and these sessions should provide a valuable opportunity for vital critical analysis of decisions and actions taken or planned.

A key element of the supervision session is the development of a mutual trust between the two parties, which will allow the sharing of concerns either within work or outside of work which might have an impact on performance.

All supervisors should ensure they provide planned monthly supervision for all supervisee's. Newly Qualified Social Workers or less experienced supervisee's will require fortnightly supervision. This is not to infer that more experienced supervisee's will require less supervision, it should be scheduled to meet the needs of the individual supervisee.

At times for example during the induction period or when supervisees return from a long period of absence additional supervision sessions will need to be undertaken either fortnightly or weekly as required.

Likewise, supervisee's should recognise that they too have a responsibility both to contribute to their own development and be accountable to their supervisor via their contract of employment to appraise them of the work situation and especially of any difficulties that may be happening or anticipated.

Supervisees should:

  • Be aware of the influence of previous experience of being supervised and their approach, expectations and response to supervision;
  • Be committed to, organised and prepared for supervision, ensuring actions are followed up;
  • Be self aware, know own preferred learning style and coping mechanisms;
  • Be able to reflect honestly about what is/is not their responsibility;
  • Be open to constructive and evidenced based feedback;
  • Be active in pursuit of their own development.

All supervisors and supervisee's of the department need to contribute to establishing a positive climate which allows for differences (in terms of culture, views and opinions) to be explored and to demonstrate a commitment to promoting anti-oppressive practice.

A supervisor may delegate some of the tasks to another appropriately experienced worker in order to meet the supervisees need and ensure better outcomes for children and families. However the supervisor should clarify which tasks from the four function model are delegated, these should not include the managerial tasks.

The following aspects should be adhered to in organising a supervision session:

  1. Location - supervision should be conducted in private comfortable surroundings, where interruptions are less likely to occur;
  2. Length - whilst the length of supervision sessions may vary, they are generally 1.5-2 hours. If unavoidable interruptions occur, the remainder of the sessions should be rescheduled and completed as soon as possible;
  3. Agenda - supervision should follow an agenda agreed by the supervisor and supervisee in advance or at the outset of the session an example format Appendix 3: Supervision Agenda;
  4. Recording - a formal supervision session must be recorded in writing by the supervisor. All allocation, case discussions and decisions made must be recorded on the IT system, the supervisors should ensure this is done as soon as possible; An example template for recording supervision is attached - Appendix 6: Supervision Record;
  5. Confidentiality - the supervisor should keep all the supervision notes for each supervisee on a separate file marked with their name and 'confidential'. The supervision notes should be agreed, corrected if necessary and signed by both the supervisor and supervisee at the earliest opportunity or at the next supervision session. It should be agreed as to who has access and in what circumstances the records could be used. It is recommended that Supervision notes will be retained throughout the supervisee's employment and for up to three years once they have left the Authority.

Whilst there is no formal supervisee appraisal scheme within the Staying Safe Children's Services supervision provides an opportunity to appraise supervisees as to how they are performing. The DfE advocate use of the Knowledge and Skills Statements (KSS) as an accepted bench mark for evaluating the effectiveness and quality of practice. Supervisors and Supervisees should reference the KSS during supervision and use this as a bench mark to identify any gaps in skills/experiences that could be met through additional development opportunities or training and by completing their Personal Development Reviews (PDR) as required.

5. Critically Reflective Practice

Reflective supervision has a clear tradition in social work as a way of supervisees gaining practice knowledge and as a prime site for developing professionally. Its potential in bringing practice experiences and theoretical perspectives together lends itself to this.

Critical reflection is significant in enhancing practice through all levels of social work and the importance of critically reflective practice to good social work is accepted regionally. Reflective supervision combines theories of adult learning and reflective practice. Reflective supervision can be defined as the process of facilitating and engaging in reflection and reflective practice.

Reflective supervision can be provided by the line manager. Alternatively, this task could be delegated to another person with suitable status and relevant experience. A key part of the supervisor’s role is the ability to utilise reflective supervision as a learning and management tool but also as integral to the development of the worker. Expectations of supervision should be clearly defined through the supervision contract.

The preferred model for reflective supervision, which will apply to the majority of staff in the service, should be that of ‘one-to-one’. If this model of supervision is not practicable, group reflective supervision may be acceptable providing that there is recorded evidence that supervisees are periodically offered opportunities for individual reflective supervision.

It is agreed that regionally, the service will ensure that all those facilitating reflective supervision have the necessary skills to supervise and will provide training as appropriate.

6. Quality Assurance

Staying Safe Children's Services is committed to ensuring that this policy is applied effectively and consistently. It is, therefore, important that a minimum level of supervision is undertaken on a consistent and regular basis across Staying Safe Children's Services.

In order to Quality Assure supervision the relevant Senior Manager will have a quarterly monitoring system in place. They will show evidence of file sampling through a bi-annual audit of supervision files, to ensure front line supervisors are effectively providing supervision to all supervisees. A signed record of this audit (Appendix 8: Audit Signature Sheet) to be placed on the file. The Assistant Director (Staying Safe) will also periodically verify this.

Records should be kept on the supervision file of meetings that have been cancelled either by the supervisor or supervisee and these should be available to the senior manager when they audit the record.

If the Senior Manager finds that supervision is not taking place effectively and regularly with supervisee, it is their responsibility to address this with the supervisor.

7. National Guidance

In February 2014 the Department for Education published Making the education of social workers consistently effective: Report of Sir Margin Narey's independent review of the education of children's social workers of the education of children’s social workers - Making the education of social workers consistently effective. In his report Sir Martin identified the need for a single, concise document setting out what a newly qualified social worker needs to know and be able to do. Consequently, the Chief Social Worker for Children and Families developed the Knowledge and Skills Statement - Knowledge and skills for child and family social work, published in July 2014.

The statement of Knowledge and Skills provides the basis for accreditation in child and family social work. This document recognises the importance of emotionally intelligent practice supervision and emphasises the importance of supervision and research in the professional development of social work practitioners. Section 10 of the document focuses on the role of supervision and research.

The Knowledge and Skills Statement highlights that children and families social workers should be able to:

“demonstrate a critical understanding of the difference between theory, research, evidence and expertise and the role of professional judgement within that; how to utilise research skills in assessment and analysis; how to identify which methods will be of help for a specific child or family and the limitations of different approaches; and how to make effective use of the best evidence from research to inform the complex judgements and decisions needed to support families and protect children”.

There is a clear expectation from the statement that practice supervision should seek to explore how different relationships evoke different emotional responses, which impact upon the effectiveness of social work practice. There is a need for practitioners to be creative in their approach to supervision, to help identify bias, shift thinking and the approach to case work in order to generate better outcomes for children and their families. Managers are guided to promote reflective thinking to drive more effective discussions so that reasoned and timely decision making can take place.

The College of Social Work - Professional Capabilities Framework is clear in its stipulation of providing reflective supervision as part of Domain 9 - Professional Leadership. Similarly, for workers, their development and active participation in reflective supervision is essential and is linked to Domain 1 - Professionalism of the PCF.

8. Models and Recording

There are a number of different reflective supervision models that can be adopted. A selection of models and templates are appended to this document along with a list of useful questions to guide reflective supervision.

A copy of the supervision record should be kept on the social worker’s supervision file or stored in line with the respective Local Authorities’ supervision policy and procedure.

9. Workload Management

Caseloads in Social Care are of key importance for social work practice and this was emphasised in The Standards for employers of Social Workers in England, published by the Local Government Association stating that:

9.1 Standard 3 - Workload management

As a social worker you should expect to:

  • Have benchmarks for safe workloads set for your area;
  • Have your workload regularly assessed in agreed/planned reviews taking account of its complexity, your individual capacity and time needed for supervision;
  • Have your work allocated transparently and with prior discussion;
  • Have your professional judgement about workload capacity issues respected;
  • Have your workload adjusted where demand exceeds staffing capacity.

The purpose of this policy is to set out the Services’ aspirations in respect of social work caseloads across the service in light of the Employer Standards.

9.2 Objective

 The objective of this policy is to enable social workers and other practitioners to:

  • Deliver consistently high quality services;
  • Achieve positive outcomes for children and families; and to
  • Prevent work overload and safeguard staff and service users from the risks associated with high caseloads and unallocated cases.

9.3 Standards

There is no clear national or local guidance regarding caseloads with great variations between Local Authorities. Within this service it is likely that there will be variations in caseloads between teams reflecting the differences in the nature of the work being undertaken and the risks being managed. For example the Children with Disabilities team will generally have higher caseloads because of the number of cases in receipt of short breaks.

It is likely that there will be times when the actual caseloads will be higher than the aspiration set out in this policy. This should only be the case temporarily and if there are reasons to believe that such a situation would last longer than it would be sustainable it is the Team Manager’s responsibility to raise this critical issue with the respective Head of Service/Service Manager.

In light of this it is important to define some clear standards:

  • All cases should be supervised no less that every 3 months;
  • All cases should be supervised at least once when in the assessment service;
  • It is our aspiration to achieve an average caseload of not more than 25 children or young people across Children’s Social Care, or pro rate for part time, to enable Social Workers and other practitioners to provide a high standard of practice to children and families they work with;
  • There may be deviations from the average caseload of 25 depending on the range of responsibilities for safeguarding children carried by practitioners in different teams;
  • The number of cases on the caseload of a practitioner is in itself not a reliable measure of the workload in the day-to-day work and as such cannot be used as an aid for the line manager to decide whether or not the practitioner has the capacity to take on new work or is able to deal with the current workload. Discussion about the relative complexity of cases and the impact on capacity should be recorded in the supervision record;
  • For practitioners who do not carry case responsibility for Child in Need, Child Protection or Looked After Children the average caseload may be higher; IRO caseloads will be higher than this average in all cases;
  • It is been recognised that ASYE Social Workers initially should have approximately 80% of a caseload in comparison to a post ASYE qualified Social Worker. However, their capacity increases throughout their assessed year as they gain experience. This will be agreed in supervision between them and their line manager;
  • Any deviations from the average caseload have to be agreed in supervision;
  • If a team holds a caseload higher than the overall average this will have to be agreed by the Departmental Management Team (DMT);
  • Student Social Workers/Graduate Trainees will not be allocated cases directly. They will be recorded as ‘involved’ workers and the cases will be primarily allocated to their supervisor;
  • Team Managers should not carry a caseload.

9.4 Responsibilities

Caption: Responsibilities table
  Task Responsible Offer Record Required
1. When allocating new cases the line manager has to review the current caseload of the practitioner who will be receiving a new case. Line Manager Recorded on personal file
2. Where the workload of a worker exceeds the maximum workload the reason for allocating a new case has to be clearly recorded in the personal supervision folder. Line Manager Recorded on personal supervision file
3. The Social Work Manager retains the right to allocate cases to social workers even if such allocation exceeds the maximum workload. Social Work Managers must explain the reason for this action to the social worker and take responsibility for reprioritising their workload. Such allocation must be time specified and subject to regular review. Line Manager Recorded on personal supervision file
4. If the caseload continues to exceed the maximum workload for any longer than a three-month period, and it is the assessment of the Social Work Manager and the Social Worker that the work will be ongoing, Senior Managers must be informed who will attempt to rectify the situation. Line Manager & Service Manager Recorded on personal supervision file

An analysis of Caseloads should be undertaken at least every 12 weeks as part of supervision.

This analysis includes:

  • Any issues relating to the extent to the time available to work directly with children and families;
  • Any issues to meeting other demands.
Line Manager Recorded on personal file
6. Average Caseloads of staff per team need to be reviewed by DMT quarterly. DMT Recorded in minutes of DMT

10. Regional Standards

To summarise, the importance or detailed, regular supervision is acknowledged and accepted on a regional level. In addition, it is agreed regionally that critical reflective practice is the main vehicle for continued professional development - related to social work standards, the HCPC Proficiency and the overall regulation of professional practice.

The importance of critically reflective practice to good social work is recognised by its inclusion as one of the nine domains in the Professional Capabilities Framework and its inclusion in the newly developed Knowledge and Skills statement and is significant in enhancing practice in all levels of social work.

Each Local Authority has its own supervision policies and delivery methods which fulfil the requirement of the individual service. Therefore it is not possible to adopt a standardised approach to delivering supervision across the region. However, the following minimum regional standards are agreed and accepted.

  • Although the practice models may vary, it is accepted across the region that regular, planned and competent supervision is both a right and a requirement for all members of staff working for children's services, regardless of role or grade;
  • The importance of critically reflective practice to good social work is accepted regionally - all practitioners will be offered the opportunity to engage in critical reflection at regular intervals;
  • Records from critical reflective sessions will be stored on the individual workers supervision file and may be used as evidence to support continuing professional development;
  • Reflective supervision can be provided by the line manager or be delegated to another person with suitable status and relevant experience;
  • Each Local Authority will ensure that all those facilitating reflective supervision have the necessary skills to supervise and will provide training as appropriate;
  • The frequency of supervision for an individual will be dependent upon various factors; including the length of time in the job, complexity of their work and individual support needs. This will be negotiated on an individual basis and clearly recorded in the supervision contract;
  • Regionally, there is an agreed commitment to provide supervision in line with the minimum frequency set out The Standards for employers of social workers in England;
  • All supervision sessions will take place in a suitable, private place; free from interruption;
  • All supervision should reflect the respective Local Authority's commitment to anti-discriminatory practice; respecting and valuing diversity and addressing the causes and consequences of discrimination and inequality.


Click here to view Appendix 1: Assessment Practice Standards.

Click here to view Appendix 2: Supervision Contract.

Click here to view Appendix 3: Supervision Agenda.

Click here to view Appendix 4: Useful Questions to Guide Reflective Supervision.

Click here to view Appendix 5a: Supervision Preparation Form.

Click here to view Appendix 5b: Supervision Preparation Form Continuation Sheet.

Click here to view Appendix 6: Supervision Record.

Click here to view Appendix 7: Supervision Audit.

Click here to view Appendix 8: Audit Signature Sheet.

Click here to view Appendix 9: Documents Referring to Requirements for Supervision.

Click here to view Appendix 10: 4 x 4 x 4 Integrated Model.

Click here to view Appendix 11: Gibbs Model of Reflection.

Click here to view Appendix 12: Rolfe So What? Model.