Supervisory Experiences of Social Workers in Child Protection Services
Social work in the child protection field presents an opportunity to positively transform the lives and future of vulnerable children, but frequently at a cost to the mental health and well-being of the social workers concerned. Social workers must constantly manage children’s trauma, resource challenges and parents’ emotions. Providing supervision to social workers is mandatory in the social work profession. Although there are three functions of supervision, it is argued that the support function is neglected in favour of the administrative and educational functions of supervision. The support function of supervision aims to equip social workers to manage their work-related stress especially in the field of child protection. In light of the literature reviewed on the benefits of the support function of supervision juxtaposed with contrasting anecdotal evidence that suggests a neglect of the support function of supervision in practice, a qualitative study was undertaken in South Africa with the aim of enhancing the understanding of the experiences of social workers in child protection services in respect of the support function of supervision. The study’s major finding pointed to an absence of the support function in supervision. Child protection social workers experienced a need for continuing professional development to increase their competence and reduce burnout. The findings also highlighted the value of peer support as a significant experience in child protection work. It was concluded that organisational compliance with the minimum standards set out in the Supervision Framework of the Department of Social Development, in partnership with the South African Council for Social Service Professions, and the inclusion of peer mentoring could contribute significantly in enhancing the mental health and well-being of child protection social workers.