Potential factors contributing to harmful supervision of social workers

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Stellenbosch : Stellenbosch University
ENGLISH ABSTRACT: Supervision of social workers in South Africa is mandatory, as determined by the Supervision Framework for the Social Work Profession in South Africa. However, it is questionable whether frontline social workers are experiencing supervision practices as helpful. Recent international and local research reports indicate that in many instances supervision is not fulfilling its intended functions and goal, leaving supervisees vulnerable to inadequate and even harmful supervision. Harmful supervision may be defined as supervisory practices that result in psychological, emotional and/or physical harm or trauma to the supervisee, owing to factors such as the supervisor’s disinterest and lack of investment in supervision, power relations, generational and cultural differences and lack of resources. This research reports on potentially harmful supervision practices based on experiences of frontline social workers in a variety of social welfare organisations in the Western Cape, South Africa. Certain findings generated from a purposive, qualitative and exploratory study by means of individual interviews with 20 social workers suggest that supervision may often become a mere “box-ticking exercise”, is crisis driven and “on the run”, and is frequently reduced to little more than compliance checking. Some of these participants experience minimum support and consequently feel at risk and vulnerable. This research document contains two literature chapters. The first explores the current literature on supervision and its intended purposes and functions in order to generate a clear framework of what supervision is supposed to entail. The second extrapolates potentially harmful supervision practises drawing on work from other fields of expertise. Chapter four comprises the empirical study, where data was collected from participants and presented in an integrated manner detailing the specific potential factors contributing to harmful supervision. In chapter five, concrete recommendations are posed to supervisors, managers of organisations and policymakers to curb these potentially harmful supervision practices. The main conclusions drawn from these findings established that harmful supervision practise is indeed occurring and that supervision is no longer reaching its intended functions. This is due to the fact that the checks and balances in place are falling away, as they are being used merely as a formality. If supervision was returned to its all-encompassing purpose, supervisors and supervisees alike would reap the benefits of its practise. While time constraints and lack of training for supervisors are valid points as to why supervision is not happening correctly, this is not an excuse for this type of malpractice, which should be treated as a serious offence. Supervision is crucial for the benefit of practitioners, but if not carried out correctly is causing more harm than good.
AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Supervisie van maatskaplike werkers in Suid-Afrika is verpligtend, soos bepaal deur die Supervisieraamwerk van die Suid-Afrikaanse Raad vir Maatskaplike Diensprofessies. Dit kan egter bevraagteken word of maatskaplike werkers supervisie sonder meer as nuttig ervaar. Onlangse internasionale en plaaslike navorsingsverslae dui daarop dat supervisie in baie gevalle nie die beoogde funksies en doelstellings vervul nie, en dat werkers kwesbaar is as gevolg van onvoldoende en selfs skadelike supervisie. Skadelike supervisie kan gedefinieer word as supervisie wat lei tot sielkundige, emosionele en/of liggaamlike skade of trauma, as gevolg van faktore soos die gebrekkige belangstelling deur die supervisor, ongelyke magsverhoudinge, en generasie en kulturele verskille, sowel as ‘n gebrek aan hulpbronne. Hierdie navorsing doen verslag oor potensieel skadelike supervisiepraktyke, gebaseer op ervarings van maatskaplike werkers in 'n verskeidenheid maatskaplike welsynsorganisasies in die Wes-Kaap, Suid-Afrika. Bevindinge wat gegenereer is uit 'n doelbewuste, kwalitatiewe, verkennende studie deur middel van individuele onderhoude met 20 maatskaplike werkers dui daarop dat supervisie in baie gevalle bloot 'n afmerk van take is, krisisgedrewe is en informeel is. Supervisie vervul in baie gevalle bloot ʼn kontrolefunksie. Sommige deelnemers aan hierdie navorsing ervaar minimum ondersteuning en beleef dat hulle kwesbaar is. Hierdie navorsing bevat twee literatuur-hoofstukke. Die eerste hoofstuk verken die funksies van supervisie, ten einde 'n duidelike raamwerk te stel van wat supervisie veronderstel is om te wees. Die tweede hoofstuk ondersoek potensiële skadelike supervisiepraktyke. Hoofstuk vier van hierdie studie fokus op die empiriese studie waar deelnemers se ervaring van skadelike supervisie ondersoek word. In hoofstuk vyf word konkrete aanbevelings aan supervisors, bestuurders van organisasies en beleidmakers gemaak om potensiële skadelike in supervisiepraktyke te verminder. Gevolgtrekkings dui daarop dat skadelike supervisiepraktyke wel geredelik plaasvind en dat supervisie soms nie die beoogde funksies bereik nie, omdat dit as ʼn blote 'n formaliteit gebruik word. Terwyl tydsbeperkings en 'n gebrek aan opleiding vir supervisors geldige argumente is waarom supervisie nie funksioneel is nie, is dit nie 'n verskoning vir wanpraktyke in supervisie nie, wat as 'n ernstige oortreding beskou kan word. Supervisie is belangrik vir praktisyns in maatskaplike werk, maar as dit nie korrek gedoen word nie, kan dit potensieel meer skade doen.
Thesis (MA)--Stellenbosch University, 2020.
Supervision of employees -- Moral and ethical aspects, Bullying in the workplace, Supervision of social workers -- Psychological aspects, Social workers -- Supervision of -- South Africa, UCTD