29 Mar 2021

Supervisor resource 4 - Professional values and identity in supervision

Supervisor resource 4 - Professional values and identity in supervision

Professional identity and social work values

The development of a professional identity based on social work values is important for NQSW and closely linked to job satisfaction. Supervision can also play an important part in supporting the development of values and professional identity.

Recognition of the need for protected time and space for focused reflection, particularly for supervisors, needs to be embedded in social services including both experiential training for supervisors as well as further recognition of the value of team and group supervision (Hawkins et al., 2020).

We include some ideas to think about professional identity here and some relevant links to reports and research in this area.

The importance of professional identity

Increasing specialisation of social work roles, health and social care integration and alignment of children and families social work with education departments have all raised awareness of professional identity issues particularly regarding post-qualifying learning with a recent SSSC report citing the “predominance of shared learning can contribute to a loss of professional identity and a dilution of learning specific to the social work role” (SSSC, 2019).

Changes in the organisational context for practice

NQSW’s should be supported to maintain the contribution of their professional training, values and ethics even when practising in generic assessment or intervention roles in integrated multidisciplinary teams. This includes having access to supervision with a social work supervisor where the line manager is not a registered social worker.

As mentioned in our What is supervision? resource, social work has been evolving for over a century and an important part of developing a professional identity is connecting with the development and wider state of the profession beyond individual localities and roles. This may include connections with local, national or global social work organisations and awareness of what their stance on supervision is.

The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) highlights the responsibilities of employers which includes a framework for supporting good practice that takes account of ethical principles and ensures “effective induction, supervision, workload management and continuing professional development” (IFSW).

The social work interest group of Unison Scotland developed a position statement for professional supervision in social work in 2006, which states that professional supervision involves:

  • Quality Assurance, including accountable and evidence-based practice.
  • Learning and Development, including developing individuals personally and professionally and ensuring that the Social Worker and agency maintain up to date knowledge about research, evidence and practice.
  • Support, including identifying resources to respond to stressful situations and constructive challenge in the interests of client, worker and agency.
  • Shared decision-making, including ensuring peer and management review of professional decisions and mutual learning and development.

The supervision policy of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW),suggests these key needs of social workers: 

  • Receiving regular, planned, individual professional supervision from registered and appropriately experienced social workers
  • Having routine opportunities for peer learning and discussion in the workplace and through professional networks.
  • Developing and maintaining relevant skills, knowledge and understanding to do their job through continuing professional development.

Reflecting on supervision and professional identity

Reflective questions

  • Listen to the Helpful Social Work podcast on supervision. Then reflect on the questions that follow.
  • What do you think about quality being measured by whether the NQSW feels they are making progress?
  • How does the NQSW influence the agenda to use the time in the best possible way for them?
  • How does the NQSW behave differently afterwards?
  • What might you do differently as a result of reflecting on these ideas?

Information and links

Go to supervisor resource 5 – Learning from reviews of practice

Contact information

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