Findings on Research on Peer Supervision in Rural and Remote Australia using technology Amanda Nickson BSW MSW MAASW (Acc)
The Australian Association of Social Workers (AASW) requires regular supervision of social workers to gain and maintain accreditation with the association
The National Practice Standards of the AASW: Supervision, requires:
1.recent graduates (< 3yrs full time experience) to have the equivalent of one uninterrupted hour individual supervision weekly
2. Social Workers with > 3yrs full time experience to have the equivalent of one uninterrupted hour individual supervision fortnightly
Difficulty accessing supervision for workers in rural and remote areas – impact on recruitment and retention of staff
Personal experience of inadequate peer supervision at a senior social worker level within a large government department
Turnover and burnout of social workers in rural and remote Australia
Lack of available supervisors in rural and remote areas
Gap in literature
Technology can overcome the tyranny of distance
The National Practice Standards of the Australian Association of Social Work: Supervision”, AASW, (1993) document states that “the primary purpose of professional supervision is to facilitate competent, independent practice”. It refers to three equally important components in supervision being administration, education and support.
Supervision - definitions
Kadushin and Harkness (2002), observed that “the ultimate long term objective of social work supervision is to provide efficient and effective services to clients. In the short term, the objective of administrative supervision is to provide frontline social workers with a context that permits them to do their job effectively. “
Difficulties identified with terminology, the word supervision having negative concepts around power imbalances, status and knowledge hierarchy for some (Cuss, 2005).
Other words such as mentoring, coaching, peer support and debriefing are used in some work environments.
Ideas on alternative terms may be sought from participants during the research
Peer supervision in virtual teams refers to a team or group whose members work together to explore and reflect their own and each others professional experiences by supporting, analysing, planning and hypothetically testing the changes in their professional &/or personal life of each other through telecommunication
Virtual teams: a collection of individuals who are geographically &/or organisationally or otherwise dispersed and who collaborate via communication and information technologies in order to accomplish a specific goal. Virtual teams have a common goal and rely on technology (Zigurs, 2003)
Interpretivist approach, that is interpretation or the act of making sense out of social interaction (Glesne & Peshkin, 1992). Use of “thick description” (Geertz 1973),
Trialling different peer supervision models in virtual teams using action research
Step One : Participant interviews (pre –trial)
Step Two : Peer supervision groups, 4 groups of 4 (total 16), meet once a month, for 12 months, using technology (phone or video link) Each session is for one hour.
Step Three : On-line evaluations of each supervision session completed by participants monthly for 12 months, immediately after each peer supervision session.
Step Four : Individual exit interviews with each participant at the end of the 12 months trial period to evaluate the peer supervision models and processes.
Methodology - continued
Step Five : Four focus groups will be conducted by the investigator as part of the evaluation of the peer supervision groups.
Structured Supervision Model
Use of The New Zealand Mentoring Centre (2000) “The Power of Peer Supervision”
Very positive feedback from participants
Use of eight prescribed processes:
practice review , good news analysis , upsetting or critical incidents, Veridical Report , Professional Issues Review , Peer Review, Dress Rehearsals , Peer Responses
2 x Individual interviews with the participants (1x interview pre trial
& 1x interview post trial )
12 online evaluations per participant using JCU web technology
3 focus groups at conclusion of trial.
2 x focus groups at mid point (after 6 months of trial)
Individual interviews will be analysed and main themes identified and collated
Data in the monthly evaluations on LearnJCU will be collated Significant feedback will be noted and fed back to participants monthly in line with the action research component of this research
Focus group discussion will be taped, transcribed and analysed. Use of tecnological help such as the Nvivo program is being considered
Participants have been recruited through contacts with two North Queensland organisations and a professional body, the AASW North Queensland and Queensland Branches. An email was forwarded to these contacts who forwarded it in turn to their employees and members, inviting interested social workers to participate in the peer supervision group trials.
Some individual social workers in rural and remote areas outside Queensland, also interested in participating, were contacted and forwarded information through their networks
Participation was voluntary
After 6 months, invited further participants by emails to SA and NT AASW membership and interested individuals at some conferences
The research has ethics approval through JCU’s Ethics committee.
All participants were voluntary, and could withdraw at any time.
All participants were professionals
Early Data Analysis
Recruited 20 participants from 6 states:
4 x WA; 6 x Qld; 3 x SA; 3 x NSW; 2 x Tas; 2 x Vic
Years of experience:
6 < 5yrs; 5 x 5-10yrs; 4 x 11-20yrs; 5 > 20yrs
Receive Supervision: No – 75% (15)
Yes – 25% (5)
Employing agency type: Government -15
Non- government - 5
Early Data Analysis
Participants’ reasons to become involved:
“ to sustain the profession”, “very important”, “free”, “cost an issue”, “finding a good supervisor is hard”, “haven’t had supervision”’, “to be a role model – lead by example”, “to get supervision”
One comment from a participant: “The AASW rhetoric re supervision is not matched in the workplace”
Early data analysis
Participant feedback on experience so far:
“ The mix of people seems good and I think that we will all have something that we can learn from each other and contribute to each other’s practice”
The fact that “ this group was meeting solely for the purpose of providing peer supervision, that we all had a commitment and a motivation to be involved” was of most benefit.
“ I think the group size is very workable”
Initial data analysis
“ Interaction with co-workers and exploring their work environments as well as professional practice models” has been most beneficial
“ Part of the discussion was a debrief for me. I was feeling tired and overworked but the discussion was stimulating and energising”
More participant feedback
Re a 2 nd session of a group: “Session very informative, interesting and stimulating. Excellent quality of information from the 3 SW presenting their Good News Stories which were counselling, case management and community development. Good trust and openness in the group.”
“ Of most benefit was the high quality of information from all 3 Good News presentations. Lots of process was discussed and social work assessment, intervention and advocacy were clearly demonstrated.
..Changes in the lives of the clients was positive and significant to them. SW theory was being put into the workers practices. Great teaching and learning for me from listening to them. I felt I gained a richness of ideas. I also realised how helpful SW supervision is in overcoming the professional isolation of being a sole worker in multi-disciplinary teams. I am reminded of the need for reflective practice”
Feedback from Focus Groups – June and July 2007
“ The level of trust developed was such that we could expose our vulnerabilities and yet be safe”
“ Having the peer supervision was de-stressing” “Good support, reflecting with other people encouraged a time of reflection” (on practice)
“Multiple perspectives” good
Focus Group feedback
“ Hearing only vs seeing and hearing – a different way of working – initial struggle but then made me focus more”
NZ Model accepted – used a range of processes in the model. Good process tools – used well.
Choices in the model good. Its processes and language good.
Focus group feedback
Shared Social Work knowledge – sharing with people who understood. Purposeful and positive; encouraging
Sense of belonging
Good value supervision – values clear, ethics and frameworks. Perspectives from across the sector – slice of different organisations
Focus group feedback
Advantages of peer supervision include that you get a “slice of peoples’ experience. If limited to one supervisor, you are limited to their experience. Greater exchange from more careers – more opportunities”
“ Took a commitment. Sometimes not prepared – difference in quality if not prepared.”
Focus group feedback cont’d
“ Forced me once a month to think about my role, skills and issues as a social worker”
“ In different areas – gained information, knowledge and skills”
Prepared – looked to the model.
Not prepared – “winging it” model.
Focus group feedback
“ Unstructured = unprepared”
“ Minimum size 3, for an hour. Two people too small.”
“ One hour for 4 too short – even 1 hour 20minutes would be ok for four. Three in one hour worked well.”
“ Anonymity by phone – contributing strength.”
Supervision with line manager – much more guarded / filtered
Feedback from exit interviews, July 2007
“ I experience supervision one to one and meet with a group of social workers in a group regularly. This peer supervision is on a par with those experiences, but different. It is similar in terms of impact, however, I have put less time into the peer supervision”
Exit interview feedback
“ The social work values and processes were beneficial. What developed exceeded expectations – great camaraderie”
“It was a developing process where other people could discuss cases. Could give and receive. Good to offer support.”
Exit interviews continued
“ Evolving process. Had to build trust and camaraderie.”
“ Flexibility proceeded by structure.
Need structure or it doesn’t work at all.”
Model interesting. Started structured…. Then structure to develop flexability in the model”
Issues to date
Cost of teleconference calls - $$$ - now resolved
Lack of access to video link technology
Participants travelling across large geographic areas affecting availability
Turnover of rural staff – changing jobs, resignations – no longer able to participate
Two of the four groups folded after the first few months (reasons included – too busy to continue involvement; under-staffed – can’t commit to extra activities; un-structured format not meeting needs; resignations; job changes). Fifth group struggled with numbers, availability to meet.
The 12 months trial has finished
Have completed focus groups for 2 groups at the mid point (at 6 months) and with three groups at 12 months.
Have completed exit interviews with all participants
Comprehensive data analysis yet to be done
The research is relevant and important because:
Gap in current literature
provide a method of supervision that will assist in the retention of skilled professionals in rural and remote areas
of interest to other allied health professionals for similar reasons
contribute to the acceptance and use of peer supervision as a preferred and valid form of supervision for social workers
Contribute to the acceptance of using technology as a legitimate method in the provision of professional supervision
The trial has provided evidence of the experience and effectiveness of different models of peer supervision
Recommendations for best practice in peer supervision using technology will be developed on this basis