MSW's Students (2007-2009), Christ College, Bangalore, India

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

supervision in social case work



Introduction 9
Functions of Faculty Supervisor 10
Functions of Agency Supervisor 12
Methods of Faculty Supervision 12
Methods of Agency Supervision 14
Administrative Supervision 17
Supportive Supervision 18


Social work education is a combination of practical training and theoretical learning. The origins of social work education can be traced back to the Charity Organization movement who from the very beginning encouraged discussions between visitors and paid agents. Gradually, the organization began to conduct more formal training programmes. The training was directed at new recruits who were selected to be paid agents. The new agents were apprenticed to more experienced workers, participated in group teaching sessions conducted by the general secretary of the organization and were assigned readings from a well developed library. Simultaneously, literature devoted to the principles and methods of charitable work and related subjects was growing. The development of a knowledge base accompanied by the realization that social service transcended charitable intentions and required intelligence and skill, saw the emergence for the need for social work education.
The development of a knowledge base made it possible to offer courses on social work at colleges and universities. However, the credit of introducing training programmes for students of social work goes to the New York Charity Organization Society. In 1898, it conducted a six week training program for twenty seven students of social work. This programme was seen as the beginning of professional social work education. This summer course expanded to become the New York School of Philanthropy, the first full time school of social work.
As social work education evolved, it became even more apparent that mere classroom lectures were not enough to comprehend practical situations, in professional education. It was this fact that led to the realization that formulating an extensive well planned fieldwork programme was inevitable. Fieldwork training thus started as field instruction through apprenticeship in social agencies.
A fieldwork programme provides an opportunity to students to apply their theoretical knowledge taught in the classroom appropriately in different practical situations. It is considered to be learning through doing. It can be seen as a way to transform knowledge through certain skills and techniques into action.
The significance and purpose of fieldwork training can be summed up in the definition given below:
Fieldwork in social work is carried out in and through social welfare agencies and communities, where the student learns skills, tests out knowledge according to an educational plan. The whole programme is student and field specific. Fieldwork training is a supervised practice of student social worker under the guidance of trained social work educator or field personnel.


Through the fieldwork programme, students are helped to become competent professional social workers. Various objectives of fieldwork have been specified by organizations such as the Social Review Committee (1978) on Social Work Education in India, as well as the Delhi School of Social Work. These objectives can be summarized as follows:
Participation in the process of helping and change
Development of positive attitudes towards self and others
Acquisition and development of skills in collaborative teamwork, planning and organization
Experience of shouldering responsibility to deal with critical situations
Experience of confrontation with oneself as a means of self growth and its use in action
There are four components of fieldwork training in social work education:
the social welfare agency
the trainee student
the faculty supervisor, and
the agency supervisor
A student is placed in one or more social welfare agencies for fieldwork training throughout the academic year. The student will have to operate in different settings in each agency based on the programmes being run by the agency. For example, agencies working in a hospital setting will operate in an environment which is different from agencies working in a community setting.
The faculty and the agency supervisor aim at imparting training to the students who are learners.
Fieldwork training for a student is preceded by a meeting with the faculty supervisor to seek guidance. This meeting is more in the nature of acquainting the student with the relevant part of the theory, which needs to be related to what is learnt in practical situations. At the agency, students are once again guided by the agency supervisor on the procedure, methods and practices to be followed for learning in practical situations.
Thus the student operates between the work assigned at the agency which could be a client or a group, the agency and the supervisors.
The above relationship can be diagrammatically represented as follows:
As has been stated above, supervision is fundamental to the process of fieldwork training. The primary responsibility of a fieldwork supervisor, whether from the faculty or from the agency, is to perform three major roles, viz teaching, administering and helping.
Like in the case of social work education, supervision also has its roots in the Charity Organization Society movement. The societies realized that financial assistance was only one aspect of the service rendered by it. The more important component of help was offered by the "friendly visitors", volunteers who were assigned to families to offer personal support and influence behaviour in a socially desirable manner.
As volunteers, the ‘friendly visitors" were generally assigned to a limited number of families. Limited caseloads together with a high turnover of volunteers meant that the agencies faced a continuous problem of recruiting, training and directing new visitors. These tasks were assigned to a limited number of "paid agents" who were employed by the Charity Organization Society. Thus the paid agents were the early predecessors of modern supervision.
The origins of social work education also speak of the creation of educational institutions who were assuming the main responsibility for training a cadre of social work professionals. However, since the number of schools of social work was limited, the bulk of students received their training through apprenticeship programs at social agencies under the tutorship of more experienced agent supervisors.
In the current context, primary responsibility for professional education vests with the schools or institutions of social work. However, agency supervision continues to perform an educational function as a supplement to formal social work training institutes.
Supervision is also highly steeped in its origins in social casework. At the outset, the paid agent would investigate the family to be visited and thereafter select a visitor who would be of most likely benefit to the family. The paid agent supervisor would try to show the visitor one or more things that could be done on the first visit, or how to gain access to a family without seeming to have come to visit. The decision of what was best for the family was based on a discussion of facts by the visitor with the paid agent supervisor, after which the supervisor knowing what was best, told the worker what needed to be done. However, as social work developed, a greater appreciation of the need to actively involve clients participation in planning of their own solutions to problems, led to a change in the approach of supervision. Supervision moved from telling the supervisees what to do to a greater encouragement of supervisee participation in planning of the solution.
Today, the need for supervision is felt even in the areas of Group Work and Community Development.
The objective of supervision can perhaps be explained through this definition found in the Encyclopedia of Social Work, 1965:
"Supervision is a traditional method of transmitting knowledge of social work skills in practice from the trained to the untrained, from the experienced to the inexperienced student and worker."
The supervisory process in social work aims at the development of a field practicum, integration of theory and practice and creation of an environment through which the students should be able to learn practical aspects of social work theories and philosophies.
The objectives of fieldwork supervision are both short range and long range. The short range objective is to allow students to maximize their knowledge and skills to the point where he or she can perform independent of supervision. The long range or the ultimate objective is efficient and effective social work services to clients.
The objectives of fieldwork supervision can be summarized as follows:
To allow students an opportunity to learn the practical aspects of social work by creating a process of learning in different situations and in different fields of social work
To enable the students to develop the art of dealing with humans in various situations and develop a social attitude and perspective through their interactions and experiences
To allow students to enhance their interest in the social work profession
To provide them with a head start in their career in the field of social work by providing adequate practical exposure



Before looking at the functions of faculty and agency supervisors in fieldwork training, a brief description of the content of fieldwork supervision can be looked at. The basic content of fieldwork supervision is derived from material developed by Helen Harris Perlman who points out that what every social worker needs to know is concerned with people, problems, place and process – the four p’s. To this might be added the fifth p- personnel, the person of the worker offering the service. The nuclear situation for all of social work is that of a client (individual, family, group or community- people) with a problem in social functioning coming, or referred to a social agency (place) for help (process) by a social worker (personnel)
For each of these areas – people, problem, place, process and personnel – the supervisor has to teach something, irrespective of how diverse the agency or the setting is. The supervisor has to teach something about the how the particular agency is organized and administered, the causes of social problems, how human behaviour will respond to the stress of these social problems and the sequential nature of the helping process. In addition the supervisor has to educate the student (who in this context is the personnel) toward the development of professional identity by helping the student develop those attitudes; feelings and behaviour that help maintain effective helping relationships with clients.
With this perspective on supervision, the functions of the faculty supervisors and the agency supervisors will be discussed.

Functions of Faculty Supervisor

The prime responsibility of a faculty supervisor is to teach students theory and to orient them to practice, in their respective fields. This process involves
a) framing the practical and theoretical curriculum;

b) teaching the students fieldwork i.e., the meaning of professional relationship, to develop an insight into own and others behaviour and help them grasp the techniques necessary for successful discharge of their professional responsibilities; and

c) creating an environment for students to learn in practical situations
There are essentially four phases in fieldwork training – orientation, induction, implementation and evaluation. The functions of a faculty supervisor in each of these phases are briefly given below:

Orientation Phase

In this phase, the faculty supervisor needs to perform the following:
Introduce students to the fieldwork programme of the school
Explain their expectations from the students on professional training
Describe the process of supervision and the role of the supervisor
Induction Phase
The induction phase is more of an introductory and guidance phase before the students are actually sent out to social welfare agencies or communities for field work. In this phase, the faculty supervisor:
Introduces the students to the agencies where they will be placed for field work
Educates students on how to use the supervisor-supervisee relationship to seek guidance during fieldwork and in report writing
Implementation Phase
During this phase, the student social worker is working on the field at which point the faculty supervisor may be called upon to perform the following:
Clear doubts of the supervisees in solving the problems of the client
Help the students analyze their feelings through a sharing of their experiences
Extend support to the student in achieving faster growth and awareness
Carry out on the spot supervision
Ensure that relations between the agencies and the school is being maintained
Evaluation Phase
Evaluation is the objective appraisal of the students total functioning on the job over a specified period of time. In this phase, the faculty supervisors need to:
Formulate a pattern of evaluation
Carry out an evaluation
Assist the school in maintaining records of fieldwork for inspection by examiners
Functions of Agency Supervisor
The agency supervisor has the crucial task of ensuring that students are able to achieve the maximum learning while on the field. The functions of an agency supervisor can be summarized as follows:
Practical application of the principles of social work in providing suggestions to problems of individuals, groups and communities
Ensuring that as far as possible, solutions are achieved by the three basic methods of social work – casework, group work and community organization as well as the three indirect methods of social work – social welfare administration, social work research and social action
Helping students develop skills necessary to handle people in various situations, to solve their problems and make them self sufficient
Providing necessary skills to enable students to manage an office on their own in the future. This involves preparation of case sheets, reports, proposals, handling of accounts and administrative paper work etc.


The concept of fieldwork supervision in social work education is dual as it comprises supervision by faculty members and by practitioners or agency supervisors. It is evident that each has their own unique functions to perform in fieldwork training. Hence, the methods adopted by the faculty supervisor and the agency supervisor are suited to their respective functions.

Methods of Faculty Supervision

The methods followed by faculty supervisors at schools are given below with a brief description.
Individual Conference of Faculty and Students
An individual conference is a purposeful interaction between the faculty supervisor and the student to achieve the following objectives:
To guide each student individually in understanding the process of field work practice
To assist students identify any gaps in their learning during the practicals
To develop and nurture a professional relationship between the students and the faculty supervisors
There are certain advantages to individual conferences which are listed below:
Individual conferences meets the need of the individual worker
It provides a forum for the students to discuss regarding the problems they face
It gives the students the privacy required to express their thoughts and feelings to the faculty supervisor
Faculty supervisor is in a position to exercise better control over the student and take better care of their needs

Group Conference of Faculty and Students

In a group conference, the faculty supervisor attempts to educate students in a group with the objective of achieving the following:
To exchange ideas of each student within the group and help each member of the group learn from the experiences of the other
To increase co-operation and mutual support between members of the group
To encourage students to speak their mind so as to increase their confidence through group interaction
Group Conferences also provide certain advantages in supervision which are listed below:
It brings about economy of time and effort since information can be disseminated at a stretch to all supervisees at one time
It brings about a wider variety of teaching and learning experience
It provides skills to the faculty supervisor to supervise students more effectively than in an individual conference
Field work seminars of the Students
The purpose of field work seminars is:
To enable students to learn how to present the work done by them in the field work agency
To develop their art of presentation, self confidence and help them overcome stage fear
Spot Instructions by the Faculty Supervisor
The objective of spot instructions is to:
Allow faculty supervisors to help students learn in practical situations by giving them on the spot instructions
Maintaining a Record of Field Work
Since it is very difficult to remember all that is learnt on each day of field work, students need to maintain a record of what they have done during field work. The faculty supervisor uses the field work records for:
The purpose of guidance, evaluation and reference
As a reference to students when they are dealing with clients, and to guide the students for further practice
Evaluation of Field Work Performance
As mentioned earlier, a student’s performance needs to be objectively appraised so as to assess his/her growth as a professional. This process is carried out periodically by the faculty supervisor to understand the abilities and progress of the students. The other benefits are:
To help students clear their confusions
Enable the faculty supervisor to bring any inadequacies that are impeding the professional growth of the students to their notice
Methods of Agency Supervision
Agency supervision begins when the students are placed at the social agencies for field work. The methods followed by the agency supervisor can be explained through a series of steps:
An orientation to the students on the programmes and work of the social agency
Guidance to students on observations to be made in the field
Guidance to students on how to interact with clients professionally. This could comprise written or oral instructions on how to work with clients, groups or communities
Assist the students to participate in the work of the agency
Guidance on methods of collecting information on the field
Interaction with the students on their professional observations of work done on the field
Help students to establish contact with concerned people who will help them in finding solutions to their problems


Casework is one of the direct methods of social work. It helps individuals to solve their problems effectively on their own. Students are given practical training in casework at social welfare agencies to train them in dealing with any kind of problem in the field.
Casework training has the following objectives:
To provide students an opportunity to study the nature and scope of casework practice in different fields of social work
To enable students to understand how casework principles are applied in practice
To assist students to study the process of casework, to study ways of diagnosing problems, preparing treatment plans and evaluating casework practices
To help students learn techniques and skills in interviewing people
To enable students to prepare casework records for practical use
In casework training, the onus is on the student to acquire as much knowledge and experience as possible. In this venture, the faculty and the agency supervisor can be of immense help to the student.
Firstly, acquiring theoretical knowledge before doing practicals is essential. Students should request their faculty supervisors to orient them on casework theory in brief, if not in detail. The teaching by the faculty supervisor should be supplemented by the students with additional reading on social work concepts, skills, principles and components of casework etc.
Relating theory to facts is another relevant part of casework training. This kind of comparison of facts to theory could give rise to a need to have a deeper insight into aspects like social system and social structure, the scope of social casework in different fields of social work etc. All this increases the level of understanding of the student, but there may be concepts, terms, processes, procedures and practices which may not be clear to the student. In these cases, discussion with the faculty supervisor will help students get a clearer picture of casework.
With this theoretical preparation, students should observe physical handling or dealing of some cases by the agency supervisor. This observation by the students will help them increase their understanding of the casework process.
Once the students, have gained sufficient practical knowledge to deal with cases individually, they should request the agency supervisors to allot some simple cases for study and practice. They should request the agency supervisors to allow them to go through the personal files of the clients allotted to them for better handling of the cases. In situations, where this request is denied by the agency supervisor, the student can ask the faculty supervisor to intervene, if sincere efforts to obtain the information are not successful.
A formal introduction of the student to the client must be done by the agency supervisor. This helps the students to initiate the process of establishing a rapport and professional relationship with the client. The student then goes through a process of collecting information from the client, the family and other related persons using the techniques that have been studied and observed.
Once the information is collected from the concerned individuals, the data collected should be interpreted for the right meaning and the responsible causes or set of causes should be arrived at. After this interpretation and preliminary conclusions regarding the reasons, the students should discuss the matter with the agency supervisor as well as with the faculty supervisor to confirm their diagnosis. Ensuring that the diagnosis is correct is essential to ensure that the treatment is correct and that the reputation of the agency is protected. The role of the agency and faculty supervisor in validating and correcting if required the interpretations of the student is extremely important.
The overall process of casework undertaken by the student should be recorded and submitted to the agency supervisor and the faculty supervisor for evaluation. The process of evaluation will help the students to identify their weaknesses and help them overcome this in the future to perform better casework on scientific lines.


The purpose of social work education, whether theoretical or practical is to create social workers who are able to execute their tasks professionally, effectively and efficiently. Hence, it is important to briefly touch upon the methods of supervision available to social workers in a professional setting.
Administrative Supervision
Social workers work in organizations which have their administrative hierarchy, a set of clearly formulated rules and procedures, and clearly defined roles and statuses, all designed to achieve specific objectives. These organizations need to have a process of achieving their objectives in a coordinated and cooperative effort. Hence, organizations have first line supervisors, administrative personnel directly responsible for and in contact with direct service workers.
In an organization setting, the first line supervisor needs to organize the work place, and human resources to achieve the objectives of the organization in accordance with agency policies and procedures. The supervisor needs to perform certain key tasks for the supervisees who are under his supervision. These are:
Staff recruitment and selection
Inducting and placing the worker
Work planning and assignment
Work delegating
Monitoring, reviewing and evaluating
Co-coordinating work
Acting as a channel of communication
Supportive Supervision
Supportive supervision is concerned with helping the supervisee deal with job related stress and developing attitudes and feelings conducive to the best job performance. The main sources of job related stress for the supervisee are the demands of administrative supervision, the clients, the nature of social work tasks and at times the relationship with the supervisor.
The role of a supervisor in supportive supervision is to prevent the development of potentially stressful situations, remove the supervisee from stress, reduce the stress of the supervisee and help him or her to adjust to stress.


Supervision can be made an effective process if certain aspects are kept in mind by the supervisors and the students. These aspects are given below in brief:
The faculty supervisors should inculcate the principle of self discipline in students
To create responsible and mature social workers, faculty and agency supervisors should teach students etiquette, manners and effective communication skills
Faculty supervisors should educate students about the necessity of spending sufficient time in field work (a minimum of eight hours). Students who are irregular should be dealt with sternly
The performance of the faculty and agency supervisors must be overseen by the higher ups in the schools and agencies
The supervisors should look into the problems faced by students on the field
Regular individual and group conferences must be held a day before the field training commences between the faculty supervisor and the students to give instructions and check the field work records


As with any process, supervision in field work training has its share of problems. With regard to students, the effectiveness of supervision can be impeded due to factors such as lack of professional interest in the student, the placement of students at agencies without considering their interest and the lack of social attitudes and perspectives among students which makes it difficult for them to grasp practical aspects.
In relation to faculty supervisors, lack of training and practical experience often acts as a deterrent in imparting sound and effective supervision. In addition, the lack of infrastructure at schools to develop a sound curriculum in field work could also hinder the process.
Agency supervisors are employees of the agency and have their own set of responsibilities to fulfill. Often, this leads to a limited amount of time which they can spend with students assigned to their agencies for field work training. Also, the limited number of hours that the students spend at the agency could result in problems like non continuity in learning and lack of association with the work of the agency. These factors could reduce the effectiveness of agency supervision.
However, not withstanding these types of problems, field work training and the role of supervision in this training will have its desired effects if the students have the right attitude towards learning. Students should take full advantage of fieldwork supervision and try to make the best of the situation to learn professional skills and enrich their field knowledge to practice social work in the field on scientific lines for effective solution to the problems of the needy and sufferers in society. The following principles will help both students and supervisors to extract the maximum from this process:
We learn best if we are highly motivated to learn
We learn best when we can devote most of our energies to learning
We learn best when learning is successful and rewarding
We learn best if the content is meaningfully presented
We learn best if the supervisor takes into consideration the supervisees uniqueness


Subedhar, I.S, Fieldwork Training in Social Work, Rawat Publications, 2001
Kadushin, Alfred & Harkness, Daniel, Supervision in Social Work, Rawat Publications, 2004

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