Preparation for Independence—Is Your Student Ready for a New School Year?

Christy Oslund, Co-ordinator of Student Disability Services in the Dean of the Students’ Office at Michigan Technological University, shares helpful tips for parents on preparing students for a new school year and future independence.

Preparation for Independence

As students gear up for another year of school—perhaps even their last year or two before heading off to college or other independent goals—families tend to get caught up in last minute preparations. Do they have adequate school supplies, is it time to buy a scientific calculator, what will the schedule look like for classes and for after school activities? It is easy to get buried in details.

We need to remind ourselves to step back and remember the big picture. We need to help our students be prepared not just for the immediate school term but for the future when they will be required to live more independently. Consider the following questions:

  • Is my child able to take their medication reliably without reminders?
  • Does my child know how to wash their own laundry?
  • Could my child go shopping alone and find their own basic necessities?
  • Have we practiced the child getting up and ready for school without assistance/wake-up calls?
  • Has my child learned to shop for and cook a few simple meals?
  • Can my child wash up after preparing a meal?

Until a person has had the opportunity to practice all these steps towards independence, he or she is not really ready for life away from home, whether that be in a trade school, college, university, or first job. Particularly with high functioning children who are very smart, we can easily forget how important these other day to day life skills are for the young person to grow into a successful adult. Rather than trying to take on teaching all of these skills at once, consider working on them one at a time. It will depend on your child which of these steps will come easiest and which will require the most work.

Consider starting with the step that is likely to be the least difficult for the individual child you are working with, so that your student can build on success as they approach the next goal. If for example, your child is naturally starting to get up in the morning for school, allow that to become an independent activity where he or she is responsible for getting out of the home on time. Realize that this may mean that your child will be late a few times; this is the price that has to be paid in helping your student work towards independence. Once your child leaves home, there will not be anyone getting them out the door on time and this is a skill that is best learned before they are expected to act like an adult.

On the other hand, if your child has shown an interest in cooking, help them identify a few simple meals they would like to cook. Take them shopping and walk them through the process of choosing ingredients for the meal, paying, taking home the shopping, and preparation. For young people who find that process very involved, you may want to make clean up after the meal a separate lesson and learning opportunity.

Remember that almost everyone finds the most effective way to learn is to be given a chance for practice, with necessary explanation/information being provided by someone who has more experience with the skill being learned. If one wants to learn to milk a cow, one would look for a dairy farmer who has experience with milking; if one wants to learn to cook a meal, it helps if the person teaching has cooked before.

At the same time, parents and guardians can show the willingness to learn new skills themselves. If no one in the home is practiced at cooking a meal then helping the child prepare by learning this skill together—perhaps in a basic cooking class, or from a beginners cook book—demonstrates that learning new skills is always possible, and often necessary, no matter what stage we are at in life. By learning side by side with your child, you can demonstrate how to solve problems along the way:

  • How will we prepare for shopping?
  • How do we choose ingredients?
  • How do we decide which pan to use?
  • How can we tell if the heat we are using is too hot or not hot enough?

When more mature family members demonstrate how to solve problems as they are encountered, they also set another example that the child can learn from and call on later in life.

A new school year is an exciting, anxiety producing time of year. It is also a reminder that a child is continuing to grow towards eventual independence. Being mindful to include education and practice with the life skills needed outside of school is just as important as helping a child academically prepare for their future. Just as we wouldn’t expect a child to spontaneously start reading without previous education just because they have left home, we cannot expect them to suddenly know other life skills such as cooking, or getting up without reminders, just because they’ve moved. Use each day to practice these steps towards independence and you can ensure that your child has all the skills necessary to be successful.

Christy is the author of  Succeeding as a Student in the STEM Fields with an Invisible Disability: A College Handbook for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math Students with Autism, ADD, Affective Disorders, or Learning Difficulties and their Families and the forthcoming  Supporting College and University Students with Invisible Disabilities: A Guide for Faculty and Staff Working with Students with Autism, AD/HD, Language Processing Disorders, Anxiety, and Mental Illness both published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Creative therapists: How to be your own boss

Mikel_Art-of-Business_978-1-84905-950-3_colourjpg-webIn this extract from The Art of Business, author Emery Hurst Mikel takes a step-by-step look at the process of marketing yourself as a self-employed creative therapist, giving top hints and tips based on her own wealth of experience with this flexible way of working.

Read the extract here


JKP author Barbara Bissonnette Shares Helpful Insight for New Employees

Career coach and author Barbara Bissonnette shares helpful advice from her forthcoming book, Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace Survival Guide: A Neurotypical’s Secrets for Success, on how to succeed in the workplace.

Why You Need a Work Buddy

Many years ago, I read that someone had figured out 200 different ways to wash dishes. This underscored that there are many different methods for achieving the same result.

This is also true in the workplace. Every organization has unique systems and processes. Even if you have the same job at a new company, there will be differences in procedures, policies, and equipment. The reporting structures may be different. Certainly the people will be, and they will have different expectations, preferences and communication styles. The company culture might also be a departure from your previous experience.

The unique way that “things get done around here” can only be learned on the job, and from your co-workers. This is why I believe that one of the most important employment success strategies you can implement is to find a “work buddy.”

A work buddy is a colleague, preferably a peer or someone in your department. This should not be your supervisor or a human resources representative. This is someone who can help you to understand and learn the many specific details about how to do your job and interact with others in the company. Sometimes, this is a formally established partnership with a designated mentor or trainer. More often, a work buddy is someone who you like and trust.

There are many benefits of having a work buddy. He can translate unspoken workplace rules for you: what is a priority, how your supervisor prefers to get information, whom you can trust and whom you should avoid. He can explain office politics—who in the organization really has power, how decisions get made, what qualities are valued, and how various departments or divisions interact.

Your buddy can also provide concrete ideas about how to work efficiently. Paul was overwhelmed by the weekly volume of patients that he had to manage in his job as a physician’s assistant. He couldn’t determine whether he was processing paperwork too slowly or simply had too many patients to see. Paul asked his buddy, a fellow physician’s assistant, to review his case-management methods. The co-worker showed Paul short cuts that saved four hours of administrative time per week.

Dan’s buddy was able to give him excellent advice about how to handle various conflicts and frustrations. Once, he stopped Dan from sending an angry email to the director of the IT department. “He talked me out of something that could really have damaged my reputation, or gotten me fired,” Dan said.

We all need a reality check from time to time, and this is another way that your work buddy can be of great value. This person can provide feedback about things such as: Is my supervisor critical of just my work, or of everyone else’s, too? Are other people confused by the new system, or it is just me? Is everyone overwhelmed or am I the only one who can’t keep up? Was that comment a joke or a put down?

Your work buddy needs to be someone whom you explicitly trust. You may or may not decide to tell him about your Asperger’s Syndrome. Signs that a co-worker will make a good work buddy include:

▪ Patience when answering your questions: they don’t say, “I’m surprised you don’t know that;” or “It’s obvious;” or “Weren’t you paying attention?”

▪ Volunteering information that is important for you to know, such as: things that annoy your supervisor, who is trustworthy, or who to go to with questions.

▪ Introducing you to other people in the company.

▪ Making sure that you are invited to lunches with your department or team members, or to social events outside the office.

Once you have identified a colleague with these characteristics, it is not necessary to ask that he or she become your work buddy. This will happen naturally over time. Be careful not to overwhelm this person with too many questions and requests for advice. Build the relationship through interaction and becoming friendly.

Express gratitude for the assistance you receive: “Thanks, Bill, for filling me in on the situation with Steve.” Be alert for ways to reciprocate, such as offering to pitch in if your buddy has a lot of work, bringing him a cup of coffee, or taking him to lunch.  You do not need to “keep score,” that is, do something for the person every time he does something for you. If you are uncertain of appropriate ways to show appreciation, talk the situation over with someone outside of work.

Excerpted from Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace Survival Guide: A Neurotypical’s Secrets for Success, © 2013, Barbara Bissonnette. Coming in May from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Common Interview Questions and What They Mean – from The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome

In this extract from The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome, career development coach and author Barbara Bissonnette translates some common interview questions to help literal thinkers understand what is actually being asked of them.

To answer a question well, you must understand what is being asked. This may not be readily apparent if you are a literal thinker. Josh was completely confused when he was asked, “Why should I hire you instead of the other candidates?” After thinking about it for a few seconds, he said, “I don’t know how to answer that, because I haven’t met the other candidates.” The interviewer knew that Josh had not met the other applicants. The intent of his question was for Josh to summarize why he believed that he was the best person for the job.

There are several types of interview questions. Some assess your abilities, depth of experience, and knowledge of a job function or an industry. Others are designed to tease out how well you work with others. Behavioral questions look at past actions as indicators of future performance. They typically begin with a statement like, “tell me about a time when,” or, “give me an example of,” or, “describe a project that…”

Here are some common interview questions, and suggestions about how to answer them. Even if you are not asked all of these questions specifically, you can use the information to respond to similar inquiries about your background, hard skills and soft skills.

1. Tell Me About Yourself

Translation: Summarize your relevant skills and experience.

This question is often asked early in an interview. It is not an invitation to share your life story. A good answer summarizes, in five to six sentences, the skills and experience that make you a good fit for the job. Mention your most relevant general and job-specific skills, as well as personal characteristics that are important for the position. An accountant could summarize experience in basic accounting principles, discuss proficiency with computer spreadsheets, and give examples of accuracy and attention to detail.

A bit of humor, if you are comfortable using it, can relieve nervousness and get the interview off to a good start. Accountant Todd could say, “I’m a numbers geek!” But don’t overdo the levity. One or two bits of humor per interview is enough. You want to project friendliness, not goofiness. You are not interviewing to be a company comedian.

Avoid long, rambling responses that contain irrelevant details: where you grew up, a list of classes you took to earn your degree, or your recent divorce. Don’t mention achievements from high school and earlier, unless they are truly significant. Earning the designation of Eagle Scout, for example, requires personal characteristics that include persistence, leadership, and teamwork. These are valuable in any job.

2. Why Did You Choose This Field?

Translation: What excites you about this work or this industry?

A strong response highlights aptitudes and abilities that are related to the job in question. For example, “Engineering appeals to me because I enjoy applying mathematical principles to solve real-world problems. During college, I did a project…”

A weak response focuses on your personal preferences instead of what you can do for the employer, “I like computers,” “There are lots of jobs,” or, “It pays well.”

3. What Are Your Greatest Strengths?

Translation: What makes you good at this work? (Be ready with three examples.)

It is not boastful to discuss your abilities and accomplishments at a job interview. This is your chance to describe knowledge and personal attributes that enable you to achieve results for the organization. Choose strong points that demonstrate your ability to perform the job well. An engineer might say, “I can form detailed pictures in my mind and see how design changes will impact product performance.”

Empty, self-serving answers are those that offer no benefit to the employer, “I’m a fantastic writer,” “I’m a genius at math,” or, “I live to write code!”

4. What is Your Greatest Weakness?

Translation: Do you have insight into your limitations and have you learned from your mistakes?

This is a tricky question. Everyone has weaknesses of some kind, so saying that you don’t have any is clearly not true. On the other hand, being too honest can disqualify you as a candidate. Think about a weakness that is also a strength, or a limitation that you have overcome. Aaron said, “I can be a perfectionist, however this has helped me in accounting because my work is accurate. And, it is always delivered on time.” This answer works because accuracy is important in this line of work, and Aaron added a sentence to let the employer know that his thoroughness would not get in the way of meeting deadlines.

Unacceptable responses are those that communicate a fatal flaw. This refers to an attribute that makes you unqualified for the position. Describing yourself as introverted and a little shy at first would be a fatal flaw for a salesperson, who meets with new prospects. It would not be a fatal flaw for someone, like an accountant, who works mostly with information. Some answers are fatal flaws for any job. Fatal flaw answers include, “I’m not a team player,” “My selfconfidence is low,” and, “I don’t like taking the ideas or direction of others.”

5. Describe Your Worst Boss

Translation: What type of manager have you disliked working with (and am I that type of manager)?

This question is not as simple as it may first sound. I’ll begin with the wrong answer, since it is the one so many of my clients choose. Rob is a good example. I could hear his agitation as he began describing a former manager. “He wouldn’t give me clear instructions, and then blamed me for everything that went wrong,” Rob began. “Once I asked to take a Friday off before a holiday weekend. He was so mean, he said no, but then let one of the other associates take Friday off.”

I’ll bet that you, like Rob, have a story or two about an unreasonable, jerky boss. However, sharing these anecdotes at an interview makes you look bad. Blaming problems on someone else, or making negative judgments about a person’s character, makes you sound like a complainer, and an employee who is difficult to work with. Companies do not want employees who are difficult. Avoid comments like, “He didn’t listen to me,” “She criticized my work,” and, “He was disrespectful and yelled a lot.”

When a hiring manager asks this question, he wants to know whether you will be comfortable with his management style. A manager who gives staff members a lot of autonomy would be concerned if you describe this style as difficult. Obviously, you cannot know a manager’s preferences in advance. If your styles are different to the point of incompatibility, it really means the job is not the right fit, and it’s unlikely that you’re going to get hired.

The right response to this question focuses on professional (not personal) characteristics, and frames negatives as differences in preference or style. For example, “My last supervisor preferred group brainstorming sessions. This was a challenge sometimes because I like to think about a problem on my own, then present my ideas to the group. We worked it out so I could contribute my ideas the next day.”

For more essential advice, tips and strategies for getting a job in the neurotypical workplace, buy your copy of The Complete Guide to Getting a Job for People with Asperger’s Syndrome by Barbara Bissonnette.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.


Challenges and opportunities of project management in social work and social care – An interview with Gary Spolander and Linda Martin

Gary Spolander is Principal Lecturer in Social and Health Care Management, and Linda Martin is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social and Community Studies, both at the University of Coventry, UK. They are co-authors of the new book, Successful Project Management in Social Work and Social Care.

In this interview, Gary and Linda discuss the core skills needed to successfully manage a wide range of projects within social work and social care.

How did you both come to work in social work and social care management?

LM: I’ve been in social work all my adult life, going into qualifying training straight from school and working since then. For the first decade I worked in the statutory sector, being involved mostly in children and families work as a social worker, then a training officer, and I dipped a toe into management at that stage. It was in my second decade when I moved to the voluntary sector that I gained most of my management experience before moving in my third decade to university life to teach management amongst other things. My immediate reaction to management in my first encounter with it was that it was antithetical to social work and it is the contradictions between the two that continue to present the greatest challenges.

GS: Since completing my social work degree, I have worked in a variety of settings in social work, health care and in the commercial sector. I started in the UK working for a well-known multinational company before returning to frontline social work. My social work experience included working in a variety of settings, including that of children and families, mental health and out-of-hour’s emergency teams. Following this I moved into community mental health team management, before taking up positions in local authority information management, the National Health Service and the Welsh Assembly.

Change has been a constant feature of my career and, whilst I have often wished that this was not the case, there have been positive features in enabling me to broaden my experience and use my skills in a variety of work settings.

Why is project management important for managers in social work or social care?

LM: Social work is complex so having clear methods and approaches to help manage the complexities is important. Change is constant and project management is particularly effective for helping social work and social care managers respond to evolving needs and requirements.

GS: The role of leaders and managers in health and social care is often isolated, compounded for project managers in the sector by stress, complexity, resource constraints and multiple demands. Feeling that you are not alone and having tools to support you can be helpful in managing this complexity.

What kind of projects do you write about in the book? How is managing projects in a social care context distinct from managing projects in other areas of business?

LM: There are three very different case studies in the book which are adapted from work of the three project managers. One looks at setting up workshops with a social work organisation; one considers changing the way services for young people seeking asylum are provided when faced with budget cuts; the third reports back on work carried out to develop a policy and protocol for safeguarding vulnerable adults in residential settings. There are also contributions from three services users who have been involved in project work including their thoughts on what worked and what didn’t.

What makes project management distinct in the field of social work and social care is the relationship with service users. They are central to the planning of social work services, and as a very diverse group with sometimes only a very quiet voice, project management techniques and approaches need to be adapted to ensure that voice is heard.

GS: Project management is distinct in social work and social care as often projects are being coordinated with limited resources, complex deliverables, sector values and sometimes changing requirements. Meeting service users’ and stakeholders’ requirements within limited resources and demanding timescales is difficult, but the use of tools and techniques can help project managers and provide confidence in being honest, critical and challenging when involved in projects.

What are the most common difficulties that social work and social care managers cite when trying to keep project on track?

LM: The difficulties faced by social work and social care managers in trying to keep a project on track are variable. There are tensions between everyday operational styles of management and project management which have to be worked through; because change is so constant, managers may be involved in a number of projects simultaneously, and at times of uncertainty within the public sector staff move on before projects are completed. I think the greatest challenge though has to be the one of resource management. The reality for social work and social care organisations today is that they are expected to produce more for less, so balancing quality and budget requirements requires good skills, resourcefulness and integrity.

GS: Trying to meet multiple stakeholders’ requirements, ensure effective communication, deal with different work cultures and manage expectations within limited resources are key challenges for project managers. Due to resource constraints, the lack of sufficient operational capacity in the sector and ever-changing sector requirements, project managers need to be resilient, confident in their approach and in the tools used, as well as be self-assured in dealing with stakeholders. Key challenges include (not in any order): unrealistic deadlines; changing project requirements which are insufficiently scoped; communication and resource constraints; insufficient team skills; maintaining stakeholder involvement and unclear vision and project goals.

Who was your most inspiring manager, and how did they inspire you?

LM: I’ve been fortunate in having had a number of good managers as role models. One of my first managers was a strong, charismatic woman who protected and cared for her team enormously and was a constant reminder of the importance of humanity in social work. More recently I worked for a manager who I admired hugely for her ability to manage delicate, painful and sometimes traumatic situations well. Her clarity, transparency and honesty meant that people could trust her to be doing the best she could.

GS: I have had a range of managers who, probably like most people, have ranged from “The Good, the Bad and The Ugly”. My best managers have provided me with the opportunity to grow, challenge, develop my skills, and provided support, compassion and humanity. They will no doubt know who they are, but would probably be too modest to highlight their own skills, honesty and commitment.

What do you hope the reader will take away from your book?

LM: I hope that by reading the book people will realise that they already use project management more than they might think in their everyday work, and that by choosing it as an approach we can add to the quality of work we produce. I also hope it will help them to put social work into project management.

GS: I hope that by reading this book, project managers might not feel that they are alone and feel empowered to use and develop their skills, tools and experience to ensure better outcomes for service users and stakeholders. I would also hope that the book recognises the challenges and the opportunities of project work, and empowers managers to be the “best that they could be”.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

How to Become a Better Manager in Social Work and Social Care

Book cover: How to Become a Better Manager in Social Work and Social CareTrish Hafford-Letchfield is Senior Lecturer in Social Work and Teaching Fellow in Interprofessional Learning at Middlesex University in the UK, and Les Gallop is an independent consultant and trainer with many years experience in social work, social work management and training.

In this interview they introduce their new book, How to Become a Better Manager in Social Work and Social Care, a researched and practical guide to the fundamental skills and knowledge that a manager needs, underpinned by the values and ethics that are inherent to social work and social care.

This is the first book in the new Essential Skills for Social Work and Social Care Managers series intended to help managers in social work and social care. Can you tell us a bit about the series, the need for it, and what readers can expect from books that are featured within it?

Trish Hafford-Letchfield: There are a lot of good quality books in our field which offer various critiques of management and models for thinking about how to be a better manager. I wanted to think about the actual skills that managers in social work and social care needed, for example, those which help people to practically grapple with the business aspects of management but which also pay attention to and value equally, the need to behave ethically in what can be very demanding environments. Managers that I have worked with in different settings often struggle with keeping up with new developments in management practice and particularly with having the time to think about their own learning and professional development. Becoming skilful as a manager does not always naturally emerge from one’s professional experiences although much of what we learn comes from what we do every day and the opportunity to reflect and consolidate those experiences. However, the need to develop more tailored or specific skills and to be a good manager might come to your attention for the first time when you move into a new management role or make a transition from one management role to another. Managers often acquire responsibility for managing others, without the benefits of formal management training, and they have to combine professional expertise combined with practice ‘know-how’.

This series Essential skills for Social Work and Social Care Managers aims to give front line or aspiring managers access to a practical quality guide to a range of different areas of fundamental management skills; areas that can often be taken for granted. For example, if you are about to go into a recruitment drive, you may want some tailored advice about how to write a job description or person specification, or if you are managing a difficult meeting, what are the quick tips to help you prepare? I hope that these short, handy but well researched guides are particularly tailored for those working in social work and social care environments or any environment with a core business of care.

So, the first book covers everyday skills such as time management, managing conflict and working effectively in partnerships. These are the background skills, so to speak. The second book in the series focuses just on project management and how to manage a project effectively, whether this is large or small. We anticipate further books in the series on skills in effective decision making, acting ethically and commissioning and contracting. I hope that people who have expertise and who are perhaps interested in sharing this with their colleagues as well as meeting the challenge of writing a book will come forward and submit a proposal for the series.

What do you think are the most common challenges for managers in social care?

Les Gallop: This is a question for our times. We live in difficult circumstances, with people in all social work and social care sectors facing uncertain futures. I want though to step back a bit from this and think about other sorts of challenges:

  • Dealing with targets: for many years and under various governments, managers have had to attend to ‘targets’ and all the associated activities, while at the same time recognising that even the neatest spread sheet about performance is not the same as performance itself. I love the quotation from Einstein, told to me by an old friend in management: ‘Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted’. Someone had better tell the government!
  • Remaining human: a silly thing perhaps, but pressure is relentless for a lot of managers, and it is easy to become jaded. Remaining human and keeping a sense of perspective (and humour!) is a real challenge but so important.
  • Reconciling demands: I have spent some time talking to managers recently about their work, and this challenge of keeping plates spinning, all of which are important plates, keeps them busy from the beginning to the end of most days. I’ve found myself comparing and contrasting it with my experience of management. It seems to me that theirs is a much more demanding world than I remember mine being, brought about in part by the target culture and by the increasing public visibility of social work and social care.

One thing remains, though, through the years: the sense of the sheer importance of social work and social care in any society concerned with inequality and social justice – and the healthy challenges that this brings about ourselves and our work environments.

How do issues for managers in social care differ from those faced by managers in, say, the financial sector?

Les Gallop: I’m sure that there are many overlaps between all sectors, given that management anywhere concerns ensuring that people work towards whatever are the organisation’s goals – I like the idea that the key task of management is to create an environment in which safe and creative work can flourish.

However, I do think that there are real differences between the various work places. In social work and social care, front-line staff are the service – whereas in the financial sector we can separate the person from, for example, the advice that they give. We discuss this in the book, using research by Bowen and Schneider on service organisations. They argued that the ‘products’ of such organisations are largely intangible, and service users will judge them therefore through impressions. A support worker’s performance will for example be judged by a service user partly in relation to their personal qualities. In many situations the act of providing the service and that of receiving it are simultaneous. The service user is an active contributor to this process. The Newly Qualified Social Workers with whom I have recently been working know this very well when a parent refuses to engage in discussion about a child’s well-being.

All of this means that in social work and social care organisations, supervision becomes particularly important. Front-line staff need support, motivation and time to reflect on how they work, along with some monitoring, in order that the vital exchanges between them and service users can be as effective as possible.

What originally spurred your interest in social care management?

Trish Hafford-Letchfield: I fell in love with management theories when I did my first post graduate course in health and social care management in the early 1990s. It was the first time I had been encouraged to reflect on my management practice and think about the specific role I played and my own management style. I always believe that until relatively recently managers in our sector have been much maligned and neglected even though they have a professional practice background. When I went into higher education in 2003, I was asked to teach a module on management and organisations. I found that there was not a lot of diversity in the learning materials for social work and social care managers which meant going to the more traditional sources and adapting and tailoring them for my students. I haven’t looked back since.

Les Gallop: My decision to apply for my first management post had a lot to do with my manager at the time. I had come to appreciate what a difference she made to my work and that of my colleagues, as well as to the people who needed our service. In fact, I still see the first-line manager as the key person in determining the quality of service people receive. She brought a great mixture of challenge and support to her work and had an undying commitment to individual team development. I had supervised a few students and started to get a real buzz from seeing them develop in competence and confidence, and that added to my interest in management.

In terms of writing about social work and social care management, I did some writing for a university Higher Award in Social Work Leadership and Management. I came across Trish then, who was also doing some writing for the course. Students seem to appreciate it, and I realised more than ever how starved so many managers are of opportunities to think about their work. Ever since qualifying and having a positive experience of being managed I have valued opportunities for thinking about my work, and know how much it has helped me. So – when Trish asked if I would like to work with her on this book, I couldn’t say no!

What is the biggest challenge you have ever faced as a manager?

Les Gallop: Like all the managers I know, every day brought challenges for me. I suppose it is one of the reasons we do it, in spite of cursing it sometimes!

Perhaps though the biggest challenges are those where we have responsibility but little obvious power. I still feel the nerve ends twitch when I think of a situation where the large organisation I was working in was being divided. I had a lot of responsibility for sorting out how the staff in my service might be divided while not knowing about my own future. In the months of working on this there were a lot of tears. Some people had worked together for some time, and so established working friendships were about to break up. We did not know about whether there would be sufficient posts in the new arrangements to go round, and so individual futures were at risk. When we had little information about the overall plans, rumours would start doing the rounds to fill the gaps.

It strikes me that in these times of public service cutbacks there will be many managers going through similar experiences. I needed a lot of support to help me maintain a ‘public’ face of at least some dignity whilst thinking that this just was not what I had come into management for.

Trish Hafford-Letchfield: I am just about to take on a challenge in my own university where I have recently taken on some administrative roles with some delegated management responsibilities. That has definitely made me anxious about whether I will be able to practice what you preach? I may even have to turn to this book for my own advice!. It’s a scary thought that people may think I am not true to my own espoused values. I have always maintained some sort of management role since entering higher education within the voluntary sector which keeps me in touch with the real world. I hope that I am able to keep learning and that I can support others in doing so.

If you could offer just three pieces of advice to a social work manager wanting to improve their management skills, what would they be?

Les Gallop: I am not often the first in the queue when it comes to offering advice! After all, what might work for me might not work for others and vice versa. However I would, with some hesitation, suggest the following, which probably fits with what I have said above.

In order to develop our skills we need to have and to nurture good support systems, so identify sources of support. This sometimes will be people in similar posts whose views and approach you trust. A life outside work is another source of support.

I think then that I have discovered the simple realisation that we will never be the ‘finished article’. It’s a bit of a cliché perhaps, but a commitment to continuing professional development is what separates effective managers from those going through the motions.

My third thought is about self-awareness, as we argue in the book. We all find ourselves able to do some things better than others, and, given scarce time, managers need to work on those skills that are less developed, as well as honing skills that come a bit more naturally. This is why we wanted to give people a chance to do an audit of skills.

Trish, you have written a number of books, and are now the editor of a series of books for JKP – I imagine the advice on time management must come in useful when balancing a busy academic life with writing projects. How do you get motivated and find the time to write?

Trish Hafford-Letchfield: Yes, a lot of people think that I am a workaholic and do nothing but write every spare minute of the day in order to produce the books I have managed to write. However, many are surprised to find out how many other things I manage to cram into my busy life, including my music and I always consider myself as a bit of a culture vulture given that there is always so much going on in London where I currently live. However, I am a great believer in Forsters principle of ‘do it first every day’ which means that I tend to write in small chunks but I also write very regularly and in a much focused way. First of all, I establish an overall plan in terms of the timescales and tasks required then I work towards that slowly and steadily. I do tend to write my goals down and plan quite well in most areas of work and I also move the goal posts quite a lot but I believe that by aiming high, it allows for a bit of manoeuvre or compromise. For me, a lot of the work is done in the mulling over and reading, which I do on the tube to work, and in the more unlikely places. Writing for me, is a habit and the more you do, the easier it becomes. My advice is that regular focussed action keeps an initiative alive or keeps you engaged with it. Don’t get me wrong, I love a bit of extended procrastination, like everyone else but I think it’s healthy to indulge in that, and for me, I need to feel the acute pressure on my time as a result of a good bout of procrastination and then the challenge to get on with it. It’s all about the balance and being honest with yourself. I would say, be kind to yourself and kind to others, we are only human after all!

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Mastering Approaches to Diversity in Social Work – An Interview with Linda Gast and Anne Patmore

Linda Gast is an independent trainer and consultant in the social care and criminal justice fields. She provides training on diversity, equal opportunities, gender issues and working with hate crime offenders. Anne Patmore is an independent social worker, trainer and practice assessor. She has worked in child and family social work and trains on various topics including equality and diversity, safeguarding children, and working with disabled children.

In this interview, Linda and Anne discuss their new book, Mastering Approaches to Diversity in Social Work, which looks at a range of diversity issues in social work practice and includes a model for understanding discrimination.

Diversity is one of the nine overarching competences for social workers in the Professional Capabilities Framework for Social Workers in England. Why is this such a cornerstone in social work practice?

Linda: Everyone we deal with in social work requires us to think about difference; be it the culture of the different organisations with whom we work, the personal preferences of our colleagues or the socio-cultural aspects of our service users’ lives. We all have biases which incline us to see the world from a particular perspective, so to work effectively with diversity we need to understand ourselves, recognise our biases and work constructively to overcome these.

Anne: Understanding ourselves and the people we work with, both service users and colleagues, is crucial if we are to be effective as social workers. In our day to day interactions we are required to understand and work with a wide range of differences and the importance of being able to do this effectively is why diversity is the cornerstone of professional capabilities frameworks for social workers in England, Scotland and internationally.

This book is one of the first (alongside Jane Wonnacott’s book, Mastering Supervision in Social Work Practice) to feature in the brand new JKP series, “Mastering Skills in Social Work.” Can you tell us a bit about the need that these books aim to meet, and the approach you have taken to writing it?

Linda: After social workers have qualified they find it hard to keep focused on reflection and development as they are very busy learning the job and managing the considerable workload. This series tries to provide stimulating ideas in a succinct manner and sufficiently closely related to everyday practice where learning takes place.

Diversity is addressed very fully during the social work training programme, but as we move into being experienced practitioners we can become “unconsciously competent” so we start to take our knowledge for granted. It is possible to become complacent and drift into less thoughtful practice. The series overall seeks to remind practitioners and managers of the level of “conscious competence” where practice is thoughtful, learning is continued and self-exploration is actively pursued.

Anne: We set out to provide a straightforward, accessible and thought provoking resource to assist busy social work practitioners and managers make sense of their day-to-day professional experiences. Through our daily interactions with a wide range of practitioners at all levels of social work, we recognise the challenge of keeping abreast of current thinking and debates, particularly given the pressures they are experiencing in the current climate. With this in mind we have explored a range of different approaches and made links to practice across a range of settings, as well as including tools to enable the reader to reflect on and develop their practice and confidence.

You regularly train social workers on this subject. Do you find that trainees feel confident talking about diversity?

Linda: On the whole newly qualified social workers are not very confident in talking about diversity. It is an area that receives considerable attention during training, but there is often a sense that there is a ‘right answer’ and people are frightened of speaking for fear of getting it wrong. Most people do not want to offend anyone else, so become self-monitoring and wary of the subject. It is only in a spirit of learning – where we can all get things wrong on occasion, and need others to be able to point things out and explain why particular words, phrases or behaviours are not acceptable to them – that we are then able to modify our own behaviours.

Anne: In my experience of working with student social workers and those undertaking post-qualifying awards, there is a tendency to think ‘race, culture, religion’ when asked about diversity. Recognising the importance of other aspects of difference may be more of a struggle for people, and takes more teasing out. There can also be a feeling that ‘it will take too long’ to explore and address all areas of difference, and yet in reality doing so effectively from the outset actually makes better use of precious social work time.

What are the most common issues that social workers flag as problematic?

Linda: Race is still the issue that raises the most concerns, but much of this is about finding the right language to be able to talk about skin colour, culture, and difference. More recently race has become confused with religion with a media antagonism to “Muslim terrorists”, and the suggestion of a very close co-relationship between the two words, such that anyone who looks like they come from South East Asia is (a) assumed to be a Muslim, and (b) assumed to be a terrorist! Rationally we know that is not the case but, particularly after incidents like the London bombings, emotions can take over. Being able to talk openly about reactions that we have, which we certainly aren’t proud of, is more honest and beneficial than trying to pretend that these reactions don’t exist.

Anne: Much of my training is around aspects of working with disabled children and their families, and so for me disability is usually the main area for discussion, often alongside race, culture and religion. As Linda says, there remains for many people a fear of ‘getting it wrong’ and causing unintentional offence, which can hamper the debate. Accepting that it’s OK to get it wrong as long as we learn from and correct our mistakes, and freeing people up for discussion and exploration of issues has got to be the best way of moving forward in my view.

This book takes a very broad definition of diversity considering ‘difference’ in all its forms, and you’ve avoided using common terms such as ‘anti-oppressive’ or ‘anti-discriminatory’ practice. Can you tell us more about the approach you put forward in the book?

Linda: Anti-discriminatory practice is the legal basis for all social work. Similarly anti-oppressive practice should be an underpinning principle for all work with others. However they are both a stance ‘against’ either treating different groups of people less favourably, or exerting inappropriate power over people. This book tries to explore the positive aspects of each person being different, with a different set of personal preferences, prejudices and opinions. As long as we are aware of the biases which we hold, we can take other people’s behaviours as ‘reasonable’ by understanding the different preferences that they might have and their different perspectives on the world. It avoids putting things down to personality difficulties, and the more explicit we are about our approaches to the world, the more we can harness the benefits of these differences.

Anne: As you say these terms are both in common usage, although in my experience they are often used interchangeably, sometimes with little real comprehension of the meaning of either. As Linda says, in the book we have aimed for a positive approach, based on respect for those we work with, in the hope that it will widen the debate.

The book is very readable and practical, combining relevant theory with a number of different models and tools for practice. Can you tell us about some of the models that feature?

Linda: Some of the models are well tried and tested, such as the Kolb learning cycle as developed into learning theory by Honey and Mumford and used as the basis for the reflective practice cycle developed by Tony Morrison. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicators based on Jungian psychology is also used quite widely, but we are not sure that it has been considered seriously in working with service users.

Other models are less well-known and one developed by Conroy Grizzle has been taught to hundreds of practitioners but has never been published. This model provides an understanding of the different meanings that can be attached to a diversity issue word, such as ‘racism’, such that different people mean different things by it and it becomes a source of antagonism and dispute. By appreciating that there are different meanings it is easier to begin a discussion about what each person means by their use of the word.

Anne: We’ve intentionally drawn on a variety of theories and models, including some which have previously been used more in human resource settings than in social care. We are hoping this will encourage practitioners to be more creative in their use of models and tools for practice. It’s not a case of ‘throwing out the old’, but more ‘if it’s out there and helpful, then why not try it and see if it works for you?’

How have attitudes to diversity changed since you started your own careers in social work and criminal justice?

Linda: When we started in social work, diversity was firmly considered from an anti-discriminatory, anti-oppressive viewpoint, and it had the feeling that if you were white, male, heterosexual and able-bodied, YOU were part of the problem. A lot of the training at that time induced guilt but was not very helpful in encouraging best practice through open exploration of the subjects of difference.

Since then diversity has come and gone from the political agenda, with more or less focus on it in day-to-day practice. It tends to oscillate between being a subject of great importance and one that is a distraction from doing the day-to-day job. Hopefully at the moment we are so focused on best possible practice that consideration of ‘all the ways in which we differ’ is intrinsic to good practice.

Anne: I totally agree. What has been really heartening over recent years is people’s willingness to explore and engage in debates about diversity, recognising that in doing so they are more likely to make positive and purposeful relationships with service users and colleagues. This is firmly on the current agenda in social work and will hopefully remain so!

Finally, what do you hope the reader will take away from this book?

Linda: As with all of our training courses what we hope people will take away is a ‘can-do’ approach. We seek to engender a sense that it is possible for all practitioners to move from their knowledge base into their practice base, and feel that they can move on confidently into discussing and exploring all issues of diversity with their practice supervisors, colleagues and service users.

Anne: Social work continues to be an incredibly challenging profession, but it is one that offers endless possibilities for learning and development. My hope for the book is that it will excite and energise those who read it, provide them with fresh insight and ideas, and renew their enthusiasm for this complex and rewarding task.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Understanding and maintaining professional boundaries in social care work – An interview with Frank Cooper

Frank Cooper is a freelance trainer specialising in professional boundaries in social care, and has over 16 years’ experience as a social care professional. He previously also taught in the fields of volunteer training and drugs awareness, and has developed accredited courses in his chosen fields of specialty.

In this interview, he discusses his new guide, Professional Boundaries in Social Work and Social Care; explains why professional boundaries exist and why they can sometimes be difficult to maintain; and shares his personal experience of what can happen when those seemingly clear lines are crossed.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you come to write this book.

I have worked doing a variety of social care roles since I was 18, starting with youth work and then moving on to drugs work with young people and then drugs/addiction work with adults. Along the way I have also been a care assistant with stroke victims, worked in children’s homes and with the homeless. I have always delivered training, firstly for my employers and then freelance. As time went on I came to realise the importance of boundaries and noticed the lack of training available. Having delivered the training for a while, the book seemed like the natural next phase.

Why are professional boundaries important in social work and social care?

Professional boundaries are vital in social care work because we are working on a deep level with vulnerable people. This means that we have a responsibility to them to do things to the best of our ability and to ensure that our help and support does not damage or disenfranchise them. Working with difficult issues can also be very stressful and draining work, and professional boundaries help us to manage ourselves and our emotions.

How do they differ to professional boundaries in any other sector?

Whilst the basic boundaries within this book are similar to many other sectors, the application, understanding and maintenance of the boundaries is more complex. The relationship that social care workers hold with their clients, the amount of time they spend with their clients, and the nature of the subjects they deal with all complicate things. The most complex area of professional boundaries is managing the relationship between client and worker, and social care workers often have the most complex relationships with their clients.

Who have you written this book for?

This book is aimed primarily at students in the social work/social care sector or those working in the sector who have not received any formal training on boundaries. However, given the lack of detailed training in the sector generally, it is suitable for people at all stages of their career. Boundaries is an area that is always worth reflecting on in order to improve your practice, and going over the materials in the book should provide food for thought for anyone involved in social work or social care.

You are an experienced trainer in this area. What do you tend to find trainees struggle with the most in relation to professional boundaries and confidentiality?

Most of the training work that I have done is with professionals who have already been trained and are experienced. In terms of confidentiality, the area that they seem to find difficult is managing the complex boundaries when working jointly with other social care professionals supporting a single client. Once you are working with other professionals you feel part of the same team and it can be difficult to withhold information. The other area that people often find difficult is dealing with concerned family members.

Can you give some examples of the negative consequences of failing to maintain boundaries?

At its most extreme, failing to maintain boundaries can lead to issues of serious neglect and abuse with clients, either through the failure to offer necessary support or by the relationship slipping into deeply inappropriate areas.

A more common example would be allowing a client to feel that they have a ‘special’ relationship which could lead to them becoming overly dependent on you as a worker. If you then move jobs or have to refer them on, any positive work that you have done could fall apart as a result of the difficulty they have in separating from you.

As a worker it is very easy to slip over the line without noticing that you have done so, particularly if the client you are working with brings up strong feelings or memories for you. Being self-aware and keeping a check on yourself is essential. The book contains signs to watch out for in both worker and client behaviour, and also some insights into issues such as co-dependency that can be both a cause and effect of boundary issues.

Have you ever experienced conflicts relating to your own professional role?

I have had many situations involving boundary crossings and issues, I think that anyone working in the social care field will have had many similar experiences.

One of the most difficult experiences I had was working in a children’s home. I was a new, locum worker. One of the older boys started to regularly punch me in the arm and despite my best efforts to deal with the situation I couldn’t control him. I went to a senior member of staff and asked for support in dealing with the situation. I was advised to give the boy ‘a little dig in the ribs’ and that would sort the situation out. In the end I stopped working at the unit and made a complaint about the member of staff.

I have also had a situation where a teenage female client I was working with, repeatedly turned up at the project late at night whilst I was working – threatening to kill herself (or me) when I didn’t let her in – after I had refused her request to be her father. This situation was much more complex to resolve and involved working closely with my manager and other members of staff to support her.

One really useful feature of the book is a self-assessment questionnaire for the reader to fill in. Tell us how it was devised and what kind of feedback you have had on it to date.

What I wanted was a format to engage people in the subject. I have always enjoyed filling in those questionnaires and it is a format that people are familiar with. It has been incredibly popular and I get feedback all the time on it. I use a version of it in all my training sessions and a version has been published in Community Care Magazine. Most recently some social workers in Florida have requested to use it at a conference and I have had many lecturers and managers request to use it in their work.

Take a Professional Boundaries Quiz.

Finally, the book is full of very practical and hands-on advice. Can you give us a few examples of the kind of tips that feature in the book to take away?

The aim of the book is to be practical and hands on reference guide. It includes signs that you or a client are crossing boundaries and that the relationship may be heading in an inappropriate direction. Methods to help challenge and manage client’s behaviour and also action points to deal with and manage crossed boundaries. There are tips about assertive communication, which is essential to enforcing boundaries successfully; a list so high risk situations; and guidance on how to react to boundary crossings and high-risk situations. There is a whole chapter on beginning and ending relationships which gives very simple step-by-step guidance on how to successfully start and finish a relationship in a “boundaried” way.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2012.

Mastering Social Work Supervision – An Interview with Jane Wonnacott

Jane Wonnacott is Director of In-Trac Training and Consultancy, UK, and is a qualified social worker, independent trainer and consultant. She has a long-standing interest in supervision and has trained social work supervisors across the UK. She co-wrote, with Tony Morrison, the Children’s Workforce Development Council’s guide and training programme for the supervisors of social workers in the first three years of their professional development.

Jane is author of the new book, Mastering Social Work Supervision – the first book in the brand new JKP series, Mastering Social Work Skills, of which she is also the Series Editor.

In this interview, Jane shares her views on the difference good supervision can make for social work practice, and some of the tools she has helped develop to ensure good supervision.

You are the series editor of the brand new JKP Mastering Social Work Skills series and one of the first books to publish within it, Mastering Social Work Supervision. Can you tell us about the series and the need that it is designed to meet?

The series will be written by social workers who spend most of their working life delivering training across the UK and occasionally further afield. They are therefore in touch with many social workers and hear first-hand the challenges of day-to-day practice. The series draws on this experience and is designed to put into an accessible format the materials and ideas we use in this training. These are designed to give social workers the knowledge and tools to undertake what are frequently challenging and complex tasks.

Supervision has been identified as a critical part of good social work by the Social Work Reform Board, Lord Laming and Eileen Munro. Why is supervision so important?

One of the most important reasons is that good supervision can make a real difference to the outcomes for the users of social work services. Social workers are day in, day out working with situations where emotions are running high and the capacity to make positive working relationships with a variety of people is crucial. This combined with the need to have high-level critical thinking skills and make decisions which will frequently have a profound affect on service users lives means that space is needed to reflect on the emotional impact of the work, the way in which emotions might be influencing their analysis of the situation, the decisions they make and the actions they are taking.

Although social work is always likely to cause social workers a level of anxiety, good supervision should assist in managing this anxiety, reducing stress and helping clarity of thought. Good supervision can benefit social workers by encouraging innovative practice, and helping social workers to focus on the value of the job they are doing. Through good supervision, social workers are far more likely to feel safe in their role, motivated in their work and encouraged to develop their practice.

What are some of the qualities that make a good supervisor?

I would say that one of the most important qualities is self-awareness and overall a high level of emotional intelligence. Supervisors need to be aware of the impact they have on their supervisees and how this might influence what is said within supervision. Supervisors need to be genuinely interested in the work of their supervisees and able to motivate and enthuse the people they are working with. It should be pointed out that this is most likely to happen when supervisors receive the right support themselves – something that is too often neglected.

Is there such a thing as being a good supervisee?

Undoubtedly yes! A relationship is a two-way process and supervisees also have a responsibility to participate, and to come prepared and open for an exploration of their practice. Clearly the organisation has a role here in mandating supervision and ensuring that expectations are clear, as does the supervisor in establishing a safe relationship.

Can there be a tension between supervision as a managerial process for monitoring and as an opportunity for staff development and reflection?

There can be, but this book encourages an approach where this should not be the case. The book argues that, starting from a positive expectations perspective, the quality of performance can be and worked with in a positive way. One participant on a course where the functions of supervision had been split commented that there was a danger of “outsourcing reflection” rather than encouraging reflection as part and parcel of day-to-day case management. At the end of the day, supervision (regardless of who the supervisor is) is an authority relationship and the issue is how this authority is used. My view would be that (in most cases) we need to support managers to supervise well rather than impose a structural solution. There will be exceptions, most notably in integrated teams where the manager is not a social worker.

In your opinion, are social workers currently receiving good supervision?

I think the answer must be that it varies, although there have been signs of improvement with many more participants on our courses eager to consider how to deliver supervision, which includes reflection and encourages critical thinking. The worry is that, with the drastic cuts that are having to be made within the public sector, this progress might be reversed with supervisors left feeling too overwhelmed with work. In fact supervising effectively does not need to take more time but supervisors do need emotionally energy and support.

The book features a model developed by yourself and the late Tony Morrison. Can you tell us about how you came to work with Tony and the model you devised?

I should say that the basic model was fundamentally Tony’s, although I have been using it for nearly twenty years and had developed it particularly in relation to the supervision of child protection practice. Tony had always been a major influence on my work and it was a privilege to work closely with him in developing the supervision model for the national training programme commissioned by the Children’s Workforce Development Council. The model (often referred to as the 4x4x4) takes an integrated approach to supervision, locating the functions of supervision within a framework which acknowledges the impact the supervision will have on all the stakeholders. The supervision cycle is the glue which hold the model together, using an understanding of adult learning to integrate a focus on feelings, thoughts and actions. Later developments of the model which are in this book (and not published elsewhere) include the 6 stage cycle which focuses specifically on the supervision of assessment processes.

The book (and others in the series) are grounded in relevant theory, but focus primarily on practice, and feature useful tools and models throughout. Can you talk about some of the other resources which professionals are likely to find useful in their daily work?

We have drawn on several tools which practitioners will be familiar with and looked at how they apply to the topic concerned. For example, in the supervision book we have used genograms and ecomaps and considered how these might support good supervision. One new tool which we have now used extensively in training is a matrix to help social workers and their supervisors identify discrepant information – an issue that has featured in many serious case reviews.

I hope readers will feel re-energised and enthused about the difference good supervision makes, as well as having some practical tools to help them in the job.

Finally, can you share with us your most positive experience of supervision?

One of the reasons that I am so convinced about the importance of supervision is the experience I had as a trainee social worker over thirty years ago. My supervisor was absolutely committed to social work, genuinely interested in me and how I was developing, challenged me when needed and encouraged me to try out new ways of working. At times I might have taken a few (manageable) risks, but it was a from a safe secure base. I think it was the combination of a supervisor who was motivated herself and able to motivate and encourage others that made the diference.

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.

Transformative Supervision for the Helping Professions – An Interview with Nicki Weld

Nicki Weld is Social Work Professional Leader (general health) for the Wellington district health board in New Zealand. She is also Director of CNZN Ltd, New Zealand, which provides training, facilitation, supervision, consultancy and solutions for child protection and social service management and workers. She has worked for a number of years in a variety of social service and child protection roles, including senior social worker, supervisor, senior trainer, and as a national social work advisor, and is co-creator of the Three Houses information gathering tool.

Here, Nicki shares her take on the valuable role of a supervisor for the “helpers” in our society, and discusses her new book, A Practical Guide to Transformative Supervision for the Helping Professions.


Nicki, please tell us about your background and what attracted you to working in the “helping professions”.

I live in Wellington, Aotearoa New Zealand, and I grew up in Christchurch in the South Island. I come from a long line of New Zealanders who came to New Zealand in the 1860s, and my immediate family all live here. The land and sea are very important to me; they bring me balance and inspiration.

My journey into the helping professions came from a very early age, I’ve always been acutely aware of unfairness, injustice, and had empathy for all sorts of things! As with most people drawn to working in the social services, my life also threw a range of challenges in front of me, and these coupled with global challenges in the 1980s, such as the threat of nuclear war and human rights issues in my own country and abroad, made me decide to study political science. After a variety of work experiences I then went back and studied social work and knew I’d found a profession that would allow me to grow my skills and challenge myself in a variety of ways.

I’m currently a Professional Leader for general health social work at Wellington Regional Hospital here in New Zealand, and I also am a director of a training, consultancy and supervision company called CNZN Ltd and work both nationally and internationally through this. So my work has moved to having more of a leadership focus and supporting workers in a variety of organisations. It’s exciting and challenging work that I love doing.

What led you to write this new book?

I’ve been supervising for sixteen years. I started supervising quite young when I became a senior social worker, and really enjoyed hearing other worker’s successes and challenges and playing a role in enabling reflection on these. When I took up my current leadership role, I decided that to best support my clinical knowledge development as a professional leader, I would undertake supervising social workers across various health specialities. So I supervise six social workers at the hospital who work in women’s health, neonatal care, child oncology, adult oncology, cardiac care, intensive care, emergency department, and a cultural specific service for Maori. I also supervise four other people externally from a range of professions.

Being so immersed in supervising, made me think here is this organisationally approved space for people to pause and reflect on their work, so what better place for transformative moments to occur through turning up the volume on the insight a session can provide, hence the subtitle ‘amplifying insight’! I wanted to take reflective practice to another level. I got bolder in what I was doing as a supervisor and I wove in counselling techniques and other ideas. The New Zealand supervision conference back in 2010 was really inspiring to hear what different things people were trying in supervision. I discovered working in a more transformative way makes for such a richer supervisory experience that I just had to write about it. I was exploring and connecting with what was happening in the world on many different levels and exploring leadership and personal development concepts which I draw on in my book. I also had some great conversations with some of the supervisors at the hospital. Everything started to come together so I started writing and the book almost wrote itself! There’s something really amazing about taking supervision to this level.

What do supervisors struggle with the most in facilitating change for themselves or their supervisees?

I think instead of facilitating change and professional development, supervisors can get stuck on trying to be experts on practice and having lots of answers. Its tempting to provide a ‘goodie bag’ of information rather than working with a workers existing resources and stretching these to find a pathway forward. That’s what I like about supervising people in so many different roles; I freely acknowledge my clinical background is child health and child protection and yet I supervise people working with people who are 90! They can get good advice and information about resources from a range of places, and I’ve decided my job as a supervisor is to locate back to them in their work and what they are discovering and developing personally and professionally.

As I talk about in the book, my best transformative moments in supervision both as a supervisor and supervisee have come from boldness and braveness. They’ve also come from courage and creativity, where the supervisor has brought their knowledge and understanding of a person into the room and made a connection, or asked a question that takes the supervisee on a new direction. It’s also when a supervisee has said, “I want to go further, I want to look deeper, not just ‘debrief'”. Transformative work is awesome work, and I think my book provides lived out examples and techniques to help support this.

You have experience supervising workers involved with child protection – what are the particular challenges of working with this group and how have you managed them?

When supervising people who work in the field of child protection I am always conscious of what Tony Morrison called the ‘anxious nature’ of this work. People need a chance to clear their emotional reactions and have questions and constructs that can help them feel confident about how they are building safety around the situation. It requires in depth exploration of what the worker has done and what they are thinking and experiencing, it requires me as supervisor to notice any areas that may have been missed due to the emotional intensity of the work. It’s kind of like being a satellite; the supervisor takes a really big picture view to scan the safety planning or actions taken and then respectfully checks any detail that may need further clarity along with how the worker is doing.

My experience is that the most helpful way as supervisor approaching child protection work is to support the principles of not working alone – so be along side the worker in the session as a partner in helping build safety, to reinforce clear steps and processes that support safety as a way of bringing some objectivity back into emotionally charged situations. It also requires being aware of any professional dangerous dynamics that may inadvertently be occurring. What I’ve found is that the principles of safety and wellbeing apply across the spectrum of the work we do and apply to the worker just as much as the individual or family. My job as a supervisor is to explore both of these levels in supportive constructive way that ultimately supports professional and personal development that positively benefits those we are in service to.

In the book you talk about “honest honesty” – what do you mean by this, and in which situations is it appropriate or even necessary to help another supervisor or supervisee?

Ah yes! Here in New Zealand we are so far away from the world we get to make up new language concepts like that one! This came about because I’d noticed as supervisor that sometimes I’d come out a session thinking ‘Damn, I so missed an opportunity to really name something there, instead I kind of went around the outside of it and hoped they’d get it. I call that ‘soft honesty’ – it’s honest but could have gone deeper and been more direct. By ‘honest honesty’ I mean when you take a deep breath and say what you are really thinking in a way that invites discussion and reflection. You put it out in the room and it takes courage to do it because it’s usually the more personal self of the supervisee you might be connecting to. It requires careful thought and is linked to something that you believe is really important from a professional or personal development or practice perspective to name and be direct about.

I give a couple of really good examples in the book where supervisors were honestly honest and it created a transformative change. Another example is recently a colleague of mine was noticing their supervision with a worker had no depth, it was pleasant but didn’t get to the heart of anything, and outside of this the worker wasn’t doing too well in her interpersonal relationships with others. I suggested to my colleague (and gave her the section in the book to read) that she use honest honesty about the issues, to put her observations on the table in a direct and transparent way. So she did, and the worker burst into tears and said how glad she was that the issues had finally got named and their whole supervision changed. That’s honest honesty.

Why was it important to you to include the chapter on “Global Influences”?

Believing we are all separate is what is causing much of the damage to our world. It is impossible to just pretend we have our little individual piece of the universe and what we do doesn’t impact on others. Everything and everyone is linked through interdependence and as workers we exist as a part of a greater whole of humanity. Watching the impact of the worldwide recession and also the impact of natural disasters reinforced this for me, we can’t pretend there is no wide felt impact from such events. When my home city of Christchurch – with nearly all my family living there – was hit by two devastating earthquakes, all of New Zealand experienced an enormous traumatic impact. We also had immediate help internationally which was so heartening and supportive. In a time of a national crisis the world came to help us, this little country at the bottom of the world. That alone shows me the connections that exist globally amongst us.

So this chapter and the one on the environment of workers are drawing on ecological and systems type thinking so supervisors also stay mindful of impacts occurring on many levels for workers and ourselves. By talking about global influences I also wanted to say that through engaging in our own transformative proves and self actualisation we ultimately contribute back to the world. I sincerely believe my life is not just about me, it is about having learning experiences that I can give back to the world that I inhabit. This comes through me taking every learning opportunity that is put in front of me and through this help support positive change on many levels. Self-awareness and reflection is the first part of this which is way supervision is such an amazing resource and opportunity.

What do you see as the fundamental role or first responsibility of a supervisor to her colleagues and supervisees?

To support professional and personal development that enhances service to others and contributes to positive change in our world. Supervisors are leaders, sometimes we haven’t quite realised that. Our world needs many good leaders. My book is ultimately about transforming yourself, because that’s always where you have to start, be brave in your work and enjoy it!

Copyright © Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2011.