Part of an occasional series on domestic violence-informed supervisory practice
By David Mandel, Executive Director
Safe & Together Model training for supervisors is one of the tools we offer to help organizations and systems become more domestic violence-informed. It is not enough to train frontline workers in new thinking and skills; they need direct support and guidance to translate their learning into consistent day-to-day domestic violence-informed practice. Agency leadership can offer this through multiple means: changes in policy and tools; practice coaches who are subject matter expert resources in the new practice; and direct supervision that integrates the new approach into case discussions and directives. Like our CORE training, which focuses on key frontline skills such as interviewing and documentation, our Supervisor Training focuses on critical supervisory skills such as assessing the quality of workers’ practice, managing safety, and critical decision making.
Throughout my career of working with systems, I witnessed many practice models or tools being rolled out within child welfare without any specialized training related to role, e.g. worker vs. manager or supervisor. This meant there was little to no guidance for supervisors and managers about how the new framework should be applied within their role. While not unique to the issue of supervising domestic violence, it is still relevant to the successful implementation of domestic violence-informed change (Chenot, Benton, & Kim, n.d.; Landsman & D’Aunno, 2007). Supervisors (team leaders), because they are the first layer of case decision-making and quality assurance, can really support or hinder domestic violence-informed practice change. A supervisor who is onboard with a perpetrator pattern-based approach is more likely to promote the same skills and approach in their workers.
While resistance to change can be generic, resistance to domestic violence-informed change seems to have additional content specific challenges. Since the prevailing state of child welfare practice is domestic violence-destructive or -neglectful, agencies often provide supervisors with insufficient training on domestic violence as a child welfare issue, and supervisory practice often reflects the prevailing “failure to protect” paradigm for managing risk and safety.
To become domestic violence-competent or -proficient requires multiple recalibrations of supervisory practice. For example, domestic violence-informed supervisors need to regularly practice “pivoting,” which involves redirecting workers to focus on the perpetrators’ pattern before discussing the challenges related to working with the survivor. Early on in my career training child welfare workers, I learned from new workers the powerful role that their supervisors played in shaping their developing child welfare skills. New workers would regularly say things to me like, “David, this is great material, and I want to practice this way, but this isn’t the way my supervisor thinks or what they want me to do.” So even though their agency was supporting their learning new methods right at the beginning of their enrollment into child welfare work, their supervisors were holding back that change. Our Supervisor Training also tries to impact the common problem of supervisors often being engaged in mostly administrative supervision of their staff and spending much less time on what could be described as clinical or reflective supervision. Supervisors often do not feel like they have the time, leadership support, and skills to actively and systematically address workers’ needs around things like unconscious biases around gender, or techniques for engaging resistant clients. When I provided domestic violence case consultation directly to workers, I often found that the questions I was asking and the guidance I was offering was not being provided by supervisors, and was often undercut by supervisors who hadn’t been involved in the consult, had an “older,” outdated paradigm of practice, or hadn’t been exposed directly to the Model.
Targeting supervisors for training is beneficial for promoting agency-wide practice change as they are more likely to be a stable presence in the organization, and turnover rates for supervisors are lower than frontline workers. In a positive example of how supervisors and managers can play a critical role in changing practice, I worked with one child welfare investigation manager, who after being exposed to the Model, told her workers that she would not approve domestic violence cases for closing or transfer unless she felt they had made a meaningful effort to find and meet with the domestic perpetrator. This simple change in expectations combined with a tangible consequence (workers were monitored for caseload size meaning that they were flagged if their cases numbers got too high) led to a sizeable increase in workers finding domestic violence perpetrators. In another example, a supervisor who was receiving domestic violence-informed coaching made sure that her workers, not only met with the survivor but expected them to regularly meet with the perpetrator. Both these examples belie the belief that domestic violence perpetrators cannot be found or engaged by child welfare. It provides evidence that the lack of “finding” perpetrators may say more about our child welfare systems than it does about perpetrators. It also shows the results that changes in supervisory practice can produce.
Chenot, D., Benton, A. D., & Kim, H. (n.d.). The Influence of Supervisor Support, Peer Support, and Organizational Culture Among Early Career Social Workers in Child Welfare Services. CHILD WELFARE, 88, 21.
Landsman, M. J., & D’Aunno, L. (2007). Supporting Child Welfare Supervisors to Improve Worker Retention: (522532014-205) [Data set]. https://doi.org/10.1037/e522532014-205