Safeguarding supervision

Providing support and supervision to staff is an essential part of the Designated Safeguarding Lead's role. We explore how this role is held and offer you some support.

Supervision training? Scroll to the bottom of the page to register

It’s essential that staff are properly supported with their work. Supervision ensures work with young people is effective, safe and follows procedures. It helps staff manage the complicated feelings that arise and sometimes distort the way in which we respond to incidents and concerns (further highlighted by this TES article). This page provides some guidance and offers you help in your role.

At its core, Safeguarding Supervision is about improving the lives of the children and young people we work with, the experience of our staff and volunteers, and the quality and purpose of the work of the organisation.  Whilst safeguarding supervision has been around in other professional fields for many years, many education settings do not have this valuable support structure in place, although many child safeguarding practice reviews (formerly SCRs) have recommended this.

This article in our Safeguarding Insights series explores the reasons why supervision is both important and required, approaches used in education settings and a checklist to ensure your setting is on the road to developing a supportive safeguarding culture.

Safeguarding Network has much experience in supervision delivery and training in educational settings as well as across other professional disciplines. We also have an array of free resources to support supervision discussions around specific safeguarding topics. If you feel we can help your organisation, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Why have safeguarding supervision?

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The demands on staff time are many and meetings can detract from the core purpose of schools in educating children and young people. Why does safeguarding supervision matter and what difference does it make to children, young people and the organisation? We explore some of the rationale and research behind the development of a strong and sustained supervision culture.

Guidance & Regulation

Keeping Children Safe in Education expects the Designated Safeguarding Lead to “act as a source of support, advice and expertise for all staff” (Annex B). Inspection guidance for early years, education & skills settings then builds on this requiring “staff and other adults receive regular supervision and support if they are working directly and regularly with children and learners whose safety and welfare are at risk” (paragraph 13).

For Further Education settings Annex 4 of the inspection guidance requires they follow the Section 11 requirements in Working Together, to provide appropriate supervision so they may “fulfil their child welfare and safeguarding responsibilities effectively”.

Although safeguarding is now part of the wider leadership and management judgement it remains a limiting judgement on the effectiveness of a school. Secure supervision arrangements not only meet the requirements, but connect leadership to the experience of staff working with young people day to day, ensuring that safeguarding remains at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Anxiety & Confidence

Working in safeguarding can create levels of anxiety in professionals (Morrison, 2008). The impact of this can undermine the core purpose of authoritative and professional work with families, with stress and a sense of being overwhelmed being transferred between children, families and the staff working with them. The chaos in some families is often mirrored with chaos in the professional systems around them. Supervision is a cornerstone in leading a strong safeguarding culture, and “when functioning well it is seen as a positive and empowering system by practitioners and managers alike; it facilitates reflective practice and continuous improvement, along with a more proactive approach to case management.” (Sidebotham et al, 2016). The NAHT have highlighted the growth of threats and violence from parents – the intervention of the senior leadership team at such points to support or accompany staff can make a significant difference.

The personal toll for staff working with emotional trauma without sufficient support can be significant. Stress is endemic in schools, with senior leaders particularly affected, and it takes little time on social media to hear Designated Safeguarding Leads worrying intensely for their most vulnerable students, particularly around Christmas and other holidays. Many highlight a real need for more support, and the employer’s duty of care includes the provision of clear guidance and a reflective space which when alongside advocacy with other organisations can help to reduce such stressors.

“Research into what happens within supervision suggests that effective supervision generates good outcomes for workers while experience suggests that the consequences of absent, inadequate or negative forms of supervision may pose a threat to workforce stability, capacity, confidence, competence and morale.”  SCIE, 2013.

Good supervision allows the setting to become aware of the risks being encountered by teachers and other staff, and ensures they are following organisational processes and procedures, avoiding a “way we do it round here” culture. “Professionals’ familiarity and comfort using processes is integral to their effectiveness” (Sidebotham et al), so effective training, such as Safeguarding Network’s monthly training packs, can help, with supervision acting as a check and balance against whether training is actually making a difference in practice. Supervision also means staff feel less alone, more a part of the organisation and empowered to make a difference to children and young people.

Increasing pressures compound risk

The pressure on safeguarding leads has grown with increasing demands in Keeping Children Safe in Education and through inspection. At the same time, schools have experienced an 8% reduction in real terms funding over the last decade and services around the more vulnerable children have been particularly affected. This context of shrinking services and growing needs increases the case for effective supervision:

“Staff… worked under considerable pressure, dealing not only with their case load but the challenge of reducing resources. Professionals can develop an over committed approach to their work and it is at these times that effective supervision to maintain safe practice is even more important. If managers have to adopt the same over committed approach systems can become stretched, unreliable and potentially unsafe.” (Triennial Analysis of Serious Case Reviews, 2011-14).

While we may not be able to reduce workload, there is evidence to suggest supervision “can buffer against anxiety, stress and high workloads. Emotional support from supervisors may directly improve staff retention and build perceptions of organisational support” (SCIE, 2013).

The impact of not having supervision

Last, and by no means least, the absence, irregularity or quality of supervision is repeatedly highlighted in child safeguarding practice reviews. Staff are found working in isolation, not following procedures, not documenting their work and not linked to the leaders in their organisations. Some preventable mistakes are made which in child protection work can have the most severe consequences.

Arrange supervision

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Having a skilled supervisor is essential. We provide highly trained supervisors with a depth of safeguarding practice background and a good understanding of the task of the DSL and your team. Click EXPAND to read more.

Supervision can be provided to Designated Safeguarding Leads, deputies and other staff on both an individual or group based arrangement. We recommend supervision of an hour to an hour an a half, ideally half-termly, but the frequency and duration depend very much on your setting and are negotiated with you. Supervision can be provided on site, online or a combination of both – some schools have an annual safeguarding audit as part of their package. We see supervision very much as a process rather than a meeting, so when issues arise schools can make contact with their safeguarding supervisor between sessions.

Safeguarding Network staff have huge experience in supervision and are regularly commissioned by organisations (including a contract from a Safeguarding Children Partnership) to deliver Safeguarding Supervision training to staff. We provide a consistent expert response through highly experienced leaders with schools, social care, regulatory and safeguarding experience. Our supervisors all have the necessary DBS checks and references undertaken by Safeguarding Network.

We work to the Morrison 4x4x4 model ensuring attention is paid to everyone involved in a situation. Consideration is given to management, support, development and mediation functions and there is a strongly reflective but action-oriented grip on events. Our supervisor will ensure there is an analytic, risk mitigated approach to case analysis ensuring you have a clear approach on the more complex cases and support your teams in discussions with other agencies.

A record of supervision is produced by the supervisor and sent to the school within 10 working days of the supervision session. Separate sections are produced for any young people discussed that can then be added to their safeguarding record.

Overall supervisees feel supported, assured, challenged and developed through Safeguarding Network supervision. Children and young people have oversight of safeguarding concerns raised and a clear and sensible approach is taken with other agencies.

To discover more about the benefits of supervision (and to access training), please read on. If you are interested in Safeguarding Network’s external supervision please complete the form below:

Effective approaches to supervision

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Reflective supervision is common in many disciplines but is relatively new to education. We’ve drawn on a range of literature to set out some of the core principles underpinning successful safeguarding supervision.

A culture and ethos

Safeguarding Supervision should not be seen as an occasional meeting, but rather an on-going process punctuated by planned, face-to-face discussions. Informal supervision, such as the discussions at 4:30pm on a Friday, are sometimes necessary but are much safer within the context of regular meetings which create the space to reflect on decisions made in crisis. Planned supervision reduces the risk of these ‘corridor conversations’ becoming critical decision-points without the full information or use of recording as an analytic tool.

Ownership at a senior level is important, ensuring supervision is monitored so that it is taking place and effective. Designated Safeguarding Leads must always be available whenever the setting is open, but this flow can be better managed through planned discussions and opportunities that allow time and space to reflect and be more proactive around safeguarding. The organisation’s culture should recognise and prioritise the importance of supervision, rather than feeling it is squeezed into the margins of time, physical space and attention.

Safeguarding Supervision policy

Your supervision policy should reflect the emphasis on culture and the prioritisation given to supervision by the leadership. It should include

  • clearly defined supervision expectations (length, frequency, nature) for different roles
  • expectations of the quality of supervision, together with how it is monitored and evaluated
  • agreement about the staff who are to be supervised (and who supervises them), considering the access to supervision for the range of staff who meet the requirements
  • clear boundaries about what to do when worried about a child
  • a clear definition of supervision, together with the responsibilities of supervisee/supervisor and links with the line management of the supervisee
  • an outline supervision agreement, including resolution processes for any difficulties
  • recording tools to differentiate between case decisions (on the child’s file) and the wider emotional work of the supervision session
  • action to ensure recording of concerns is consistent, centralised and accessible to supervisor
  • use of chronologies to aid case analysis
  • consider the space and time that is provided for supervision
  • include a supervision template and agenda
  • training and development of supervisors

Safeguarding Network offers a template supervision policy that you may adapt to your needs. To preview or purchase a copy please contact us.

Trained supervisors

Supervisors should properly understand the supervision task – adopting an empowering approach rather than a top-down decision-making style which then creates the conditions for support for families,  placing more authority in the hands of those working directly with children and young people. However, not one size fits all, and style may well vary depending on the experience of the staff being supervised. Safeguarding Network draw on the social discipline window to create high support, high challenge approaches that link closely with  models of restorative practice in schools:

Supervisors should have a depth of practice experience and be able to draw readily on research to aid staff in their understanding of the work. Part of the supervision process is evaluation — evaluate the quality of supervision,how do you know it is making a difference? Supervisors should be able to balance the range of tasks in supervision (see below) to meet the needs of the staff member, the organisation and other agencies without losing sight of the child.

Arrangements should be in place to ensure the supervisor is also able to access support. We often work with amazing DSLs who are looking after everybody except themselves!

A structured approach

The safeguarding supervision policy should contain a sample agenda to support discussion with an underpinning framework. Supervision should be reflective, described by Eileen Munro as “time and attention given to mulling over the experience and learning from it”. At Safeguarding Network we use the  Morrison 4x4x4 model which aids analysis of cases through the use of Kolb’s learning cycle, providing encouragement to view the situation from each stakeholder’s perspective and ensuring that attention is paid to four functions of supervision: management, development, mediation and support.

Supervisees are required to prepare for supervision, summarising the progress and issues for young people they are working with together with a suggested course of action, so that supervision is a space for critical reflection and recognition of good practice, rather than information exchange.

Supervisors provide another perspective on work with families and can help staff understand some of the dynamics at play in relationships. This allows exploration of blockages to understanding or effective safeguarding work – is the father really being ‘unreasonable’, or were we to be in his shoes might we be quite defensive too? To work effectively with families it is sometimes important to ‘walk in their moccasins’ for a while, and understand the choices open to them, maintaining and comprehending aspects of the family’s behaviour, such as disguised compliance.

Ultimately, however, safeguarding is about understanding the level of risk, whatever the factors at play. Supervision is a good opportunity to review and reflect upon risk assessments that link closely to the local thresholds and legislation, and to test the efficacy of risk management plans. Supervisor and supervisee should leave the room with a clear plan they are confident will make the young person safer.

Emotionally supportive

One of the other functions of supervision is support – our understanding of safeguarding work highlights the impact emotions can have on the work we do. The Skills for Care/CWDC Effective Supervision guide highlights the importance of the supervisor/supervisee relationship in containing the issues and anxieties described above. This is a key element of the 4x4x4 model.

Hearing all children and young people

Children and young people considered within supervision should not be solely those most in crisis:

“The opportunity for critical reflection on practice is crucial particularly in situations which are “bumping along the bottom”. However, it is often just these situations which are not discussed within supervision sessions” (Triennial analysis).

Supervision should be planned to deal with the pressing issues, but also to sample the range of work being undertaken.

Conclusion

Ultimately, safeguarding supervision is best measured by the experience of children and young people discussed. Within case discussions and in setting up supervision arrangements staff and supervisors should consider what impact supervision should have to make this time well spent. Consideration on the progress of the supervisee and young people discussed is an essential starting point for safeguarding supervision as it allows opportunity to reflect on the impact of the session, but also to think about how such valuable space and time is being used.

Safeguarding supervision training

We are recruiting for our second cohort of Safeguarding Supervision training. This series of six two-hour online sessions explores models of supervision and working with staff, thinking about the dynamics in safeguarding discussions in a practical but developmental way.The course aims to equip supervisors with the skills and confidence to support and challenge staff to better understand risk and the quality of work being undertaken with children and families.

“This is the best CPD I’ve had in ages, I’m learning so much”, DSL

Ruby Parry has nearly 40 years of experience in child protection roles to Director of Children’s Services & Communities level, has been an Independent Chair of Local Safeguarding Children Boards, authored numerous serious case reviews including a joint domestic homicide review, and designed and led the delivery of safeguarding training for Ofsted from 2012 to 2014. Hugely experienced, her engaging and personable approach enables leaders to develop their supervision skills in a meaningful way.

Supervisors will:

  • understand the principles behind supervision models
  • recognise and apply reflective supervision
  • undertake dynamic risk assessment during supervision
  • Create clear, focused and reviewable plans and actions

The course runs for 6 weeks and is currently being scheduled for late Autumn. Where necessary sessions are recorded to allow you to ‘catch up’ a week or two. To register please add your details below and we will be in touch shortly with joining details. If you’re unable to make these dates express interest below and we will be in touch about future cohorts. The full programme is £249 (£199 for Safeguarding Network members).

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  • Training resources for Safeguarding Leads to use in team meetings;
  • Reference documents for additional information;
  • Handouts for school staff summarising each topic;
  • Quizzes to test staff understanding.
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