Over the past five years we have worked with hundreds of youth workers who are struggling in the field. We have searched for a model to explain this to no avail. We heard stories of the challenge of youth work and we heard stories of the need for support.We have done the research and we can tell you why people leave the field. We can tell you how to keep people in their jobs. However, there was no neat package that we could use to help managers understand what was going wrong and frontline staff to recognise where they were at… until now.
You need more supervision!
When we tell people what we do at Ultimate Youth Worker and that youth workers need more supervision we often hear “But I get supervision at work?”. When we unpack this with staff members what they mean is that their boss knows something about their caseload or program and occasionally allows them to do some professional development. When we ask how often they get this supervision most say that it is sporadic at best. In the AYAC National Youth Work Snapshot 2013 a survey of youth workers showed that 8.4% of surveyed youth workers had never had a supervision session and around 51.7% receive it less than once every three months. As an industry that claims professional status this is appalling. It is no wonder that the sector in Australia turns over staff at 23% every year. Supervision is important to staff retention.
- You are bored at work. One of the most damaging things that can happen to a youth worker in their role is boredom. I know what you are thinking. How can I be bored when I am up to my eyeballs in trying to meet KPI’s. When we meet youth workers for external supervision one of the biggest issues we see is that they are not being challenged. At least not in the right ways. We all need to be stretched just a little bit to be our best self. We need to try new things. We need to find new solutions. If you do the same thing day in and day out you get bored. If you are bored in your role you need more supervision.
- You see supervision as punishment rather than development. Maidment & Beddoe (2012) believe that supervision must be placed at the core of professional development for staff, “We want to place supervision at the heart of professional development, which is career-long and where, via diverse learning activities, practitioners refine and augment their knowledge, develop skills, and undertake supervision to enhance critically reflective practice”. If you see it as a chore in which you will be rebuked for doing the wrong thing rather than encouraged towards best practice then you need more supervision.
- Your boss only talks about tasks in ‘supervision’ sessions. If like most youth workers your boss is giving you their version of supervision which most likely is checking in that you are completing all your tasks then you are not getting supervision. You are getting the administration part of good supervision. Making sure your cases are going well and your paperwork is done is only a small part of it. Tasks take up less than a third off good supervision practice. Hence you need more supervision.
- You have less than one hour once a fortnight. Best practice in supervision says you should be getting at least one hour of reflective supervision every two weeks. If you are not getting the opportunity to develop you as a person and as a practitioner as well as to deal with the admin side of your job then you are not developing as a youth worker. This takes more than one session a month or God forbid one a year. Supervision takes time, but it also pays dividends. In our experience, for every hour spent in supervision it gives you an ROI of 24 hours of exceptional practice.
- You have started to look for a new job. You don’t necessarily hate the job you have but you are starting to feel that if you don’t move on the job will eat you alive. This sense of needing to begin a career search is often where we see most of our clients. Either they or their manager refer them on in an attempt to keep them going. But its hard to stop the Titanic sinking with a bucket. In short if you have started to look for a new job it may be too late. This is always a clear sign you need more supervision.
- You are not up to date with youth work theory and practice. One of the key reasons for youth work supervision is to keep up to date with best practices and current research. If you are not getting this then you are not getting supervision. If you are not being moulded into a better youth worker every session then something is not right. Your supervisor must grow your knowledge and help you to critically reflect.
- You don’t remember the last time supervision looked like this. If your supervision seems lacking after reading this you are not alone. most youth workers we speak to feel the same way. Most managers and team leaders wish they could provide this level of support too. The key is to recognise it and move forward. If you feel like you need more supervision then get it. If your organisation won’t provide it Then get an external supervisor who will.
If you have read this post and you are now wondering what to do then we suggest you look at the links throughout the post as they are a rich source of wisdom in this area. If you can’t find a supervisor in your organisation that is able to provide good supervision then you really only have a few options. Stay and suck it up. Stay and find an external supervisor. Leave the organisation you are currently at for something better. Unfortunately, the stats would say they are few and far between.
At Ultimate Youth Worker we want to see a well supported youth sector. It is why we began back in 2012 and why we started providing supervision from day one. If you need a benchmark then use the resources on this site. If you want us to supervise you we do face to face in Melbourne and Skype throughout the world. Our biggest wish though is that your organisation will provide you with the best supervision.
Let us know if you think we are on the money.
Leave us a comment below.
Life is tough, and so is youth work. Keeping motivation can be difficult. From the outside most people only see the coffees, conversations and if everything goes well a young person who appears to be well rounded. What they don’t see is the hours of paperwork, the phone calls, the parent meetings, the heartache and tears. When all of this gets mixed together with the trauma our young people experience and the lack of structured support from our organisations we come up against vicarious trauma. When this happens it is really hard to stay motivated.
The supervision environment is important to staff uptake
All to often I hear from youth workers that they don’t want to do supervision sessions. The concerns range from the classic ‘it would breach confidentiality‘ to the obscure, ‘it doesn’t fit well with my existential philosophy‘. The main reason we hear is that staff don’t feel comfortable. Whether meeting with their manager or an external provider the staff member must feel comfortable with the supervision environment.
Many staff feel that supervision sessions with their manager are really uncomfortable. The meetings are usually had in the managers office with all the managers stuff on the desk and a mountain of paperwork which needs to be dealt with beside the computer. The manager says they are 100% engaged in the session while looking over the pile of paperwork and listen to their staff intently while the email toast pops up on their computer screen.
In the case of external supervisors if they come to your office to work with you or your staff, using the store room as a spare office does not make anyone feel like this is a worthwhile session. If you go out from the office you have issues of privacy and confidentiality. If you go to the external supervisors office they should have a space which is dedicated to sessions like this.
Your environment for the supervision session is really important! If the staff member does not feel comfortable then they will not be open to challenge and change. It needs to be an area that does not have too many distracting qualities and gives the person attending a feeling of safety and warmth.
|Would you prefer this?|
You should be doing internal supervision
- More communication is better. These sessions are a way of not only speaking about their practice but building a relationship with your staff member. Many managers believe that they are communicating a lot with their staff… you could triple it and it still wouldn’t be enough. In the words of Steven Covey, ‘seek first to understand, then to be understood’.
- You speak for the organisation in all things. As a manager you have role power. It is written all over your face. When you speak to your staff you are speaking with all the authority of your organisation. When you encourage it is like the board has given encouragement. When you admonish they see the CEO getting ready to fire them. Be aware that in their eyes you are the organisation!
- Have a best practice framework for the session. In youth work there has not been a lot written about frameworks for professional supervision. In the social work setting there has been quite a lot. Whether you use Alfred Kadushan’s model or another… use a model that has been tried and tested.
- Have an agenda. This is a business meeting like any other. It requires an agenda! What case do you want to work through? What policy do we need to analyse? Is there an organisational framework for the work we do? Whatever you choose as your model for practice will frame your agenda.
- One hour EVERY fortnight. Consistency is key. You need to do these sessions regularly with your staff. We recommend every fortnight. when you start it will seem like a lot… but give it time. Even if you are travelling for work use Skype or the phone tot have your session. I was a way at a conference not long after taking on my first managing gig. When I told my staff that we would still be doing our sessions they were amazed. It shows that you care about them.
- Its about your staff member. These sessions are not a time for you to reminisce about the good old days when you were on the frontline. They are not for you to sprout from the font of all knowledge. They are all about your staff! What are they struggling with? What do they need to know? What is the best way to deal with the issue they have? Overarching your model of supervision is the fact that it is all about your staff development.
- You need to be more knowledgable than your staff. If you know less than your staff then you are in trouble. Read a book. Do a course. Get your own external supervision. In the sessions your staff will expect that you can lead them through the maze of case work to pop out the end with their objective well in hand. You need to know what you are doing! If you don’t you may want to look at contracting an external supervisor.
- They must have a youth work background. It should not come as a surprise but many other professions do not work with young people. There are also issues which youth workers face which are not covered by other professions. I have heard of social workers, psychologists, OT’s and nurses supervising youth workers when they have never worked with young people. A great external supervisor will have extensive youth work experience… at least five years direct practice is a minimum.
- They must be qualified. They must hold a qualification in youth work. Minimum of a diploma level however we recommend the degree. They must also have some qualification in supervision. The minimum standard should be one of the five day courses available by many professional associations.
- They must have an articulated best practice framework of supervision. If they cannot articulate the framework they use and why then do not hire them. They must address how they will work with you and the areas they will cover with you.
- They must have a track record of other clients. If it is the first time they have supervised people you don’t want to pay to be a guinea pig. If they are genuine they will have a record of staff they have supervised.
- They must be a member of a professional body. Whether it is a youth work professional association, a peak body or another professional body. You want to know that they are being kept accountable for the work they are doing within the youth sector.
- They must be accessing supervision themselves. Good supervisors have to talk things through too. They need to make sure they are supervising well and ethically. They need to unload the traumas they hear as much as their supervisees.
- They must hold professional indemnity insurance. While you should never need it, if you get advice and you use it and something goes wrong you need to be aware that they are insured.
- They must be a fit and a challenge. This one takes time and why we recommend a review after the first few sessions. They must fit you personally. Your personality and where you want to be going. And, they must be able to challenge you. to help you step outside yourself and try more.
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Organisations must care for their staff
|The average youth worker drowns in bureaucracy and its worse if they don’t look after their self care|
Many of the staff that we come across at Ultimate Youth Worker want to do their job to the best of their ability and they all say that they could use more support from their managers. Most managers we meet would love to support their staff but are drowning in paperwork and their own lack of support to be able to help anyone. Then when all hell breaks loose we crucify the staff and managers for not doing their job right. If there is not time to reflect and maintain self care what do we expect!!!