The National Association of Social Workers has established the month of March to honor social workers across the country. The 2014 theme, “All people matter,” seeks to help raise awareness about the American social work profession’s 116-year commitment to improving social conditions and quality of life opportunities for everyone.
Here at Liberty Lutheran, there are many ways social workers offer vital services to our residents, family members and clients. It is through their work that we see how these values are essential to improving relationships within families, contributing to the effectiveness of social systems and building stronger communities.
Two years ago, Liberty’s Lutheran Children and Family Service implemented what is known as “Reflective Supervision” to staff meetings. It is a way to increase team work and collaboration, and provide a forum for continual learning and professional development within the staff. This approach provides supervisors the essential tools to improve relationships, team work, and on-going support to their staff. And as program supervisors will explain, Reflective Supervision ultimately allows social workers to better serve their clients.
Mary McCann, Program Manager for In-home Protective Services (IHPS)/Family Reunification, shares her experiences implementing Reflective Supervision:
“Reflective Supervision is unique. It is a relationship-based method of supervision that is respectful and supportive. It encourages the examination of thoughts and feelings the staff have experienced delivering services to clients. It emphasizes all relationships including: supervisor/ supervisee relationship, the supervisee/parent relationship and the parent/child relationship. The focus is on the emotional content of the work and how our reaction to that content affects our work. There is a greater emphasis on the supervisee discovering solutions and concepts on his/her own. The supervisor must listen, wait and not interrupt the supervisee exploration of the client encounter. Using this technique is a great way to continue learning about ourselves.
As an LCFS social worker for 25-years, I have learned the importance of quality supervision. I know it can greatly affect the outcomes for clients, as well as the social worker. I have experienced many approaches to supervision as a social worker, supervisor, and now program manager. What I have taken away from various models, is knowing that when I have the opportunity to “think out loud” and to “wonder” about my families, my client, my staff or my supervisor, I learned to trust my instincts and professional training, and have the confidence to take the next steps. I have learned that trust, protected space and time, regularity, collaboration and reflection are essential in supervision.
The Platinum Rule in Reflective Supervision is, ‘Do unto others as you would have others do unto others’ (Shanok, 2011.) When my supervisor would hear me out, nurture my questions, challenge me with questions to think things through, I became more likely to do that with the children and families I served. It’s all too true, that the tough cases are the ones social workers remember – they stick with us. For me, I remember the little girl needing medical foster care for burns sustained over 80% of her body. I remember a teenager traumatized by family rejection for being gay and I remember families who have experienced the trauma of child sexual abuse generation after generation. I also remember the quality of my supervision during that time.
Reflective Supervision has shaped the way I think as a supervisor. I feel the responsibility to listen and act in a supportive, nurturing way. I know it matters that I do. It mattered to me when I was providing direct service. When our social workers hear the traumatic experiences of their clients and families, supervision must be a place to reflect, regroup and then respond. The Reflective Supervision Process provides the space to share the feelings we may experience with our families, to expand our thinking about what these feelings may mean and to experience the opportunity with your supervisor to come up with a response.
Reflective Supervision has also shaped the way I think as a coworker. ‘How are you feeling? What have you accomplished in the last week? What do you look forward to this week?’ These questions have now become part of my process of starting individual and group meetings since my orientation to the Reflective Supervision Process. They are the questions that represent the “community meeting” stage of the reflective process and for me have set the tone and my attention to my coworkers’ needs their success and their feelings. The Platinum Rule.”
Yodit Amaha, Senior Family Building Unit Supervisor with LCFS, also shares her experiences with ‘Reflective Supervision:
“As a supervisor using Reflective Supervision, I have found that by encouraging the staff to vent freely about their feelings, I have a better understanding of how to support each worker. In the past, I’ve assigned cases to workers whose life experiences were too similar to those of their client. Now I can help a social workers examine their personal feelings and reactions. This gives me greater insight about how to support and coach the worker. If the case is impacting her ability to cope with a particular case, I am able to coach her in areas of personal and professional growth.
As social workers, we are called on to help clients deal with their own unresolved issues in order to prevent them from repeating these patterns in parenting their own, or foster children. By listening we can guide them through a self- assessment without giving advice or counsel. This helps us learn about the patterns and actions they are accustomed to taking. In addition to listening, social workers offer parents the opportunity to talk openly. By acknowledging their situation and asking questions, they are able to gain greater understanding about the conflicts they have with their children.
Listening was the beginning of our ability to provide the support and help to sexually-abused children. In one such case, the abuse was not known when the case came to us, however, after a few months, the children shared that their older brother had sexually abused them in their parents’ home. At first, the legal mother denied knowing about this. After some time with her, she started talking about her own sexual abuse during her childhood. She told the worker that she didn’t know how to deal with it when it happened to her own kids. This mother may never have opened up if we did not listen to her without judgment. By doing this, the social worker was able to refer both the mother and children to the appropriate services they needed.
Reflective Supervision is a relationship that is non-judgmental and positive. It empowers the client or supervisee to be open, and creates an environment in which each person feels heard”
Whether they are offering guidance, resources and support to children and families through programs at LCFS, or supporting seniors receiving services from Liberty at Home, residents living at Paul’s Run, Artman and The Village at Penn State, social workers throughout Liberty Lutheran demonstrate their belief that all people deserve respect and dignity.
Thank you for all that you do to help individuals and families facing life-changing situations across Pennsylvania.