29 Apr Support Child Welfare Supervisors if Your’e Trying to Change the Response to Domestic Violence
While the right training and resources are important for systems change, the role of child welfare supervisors is critical.
During a Q&A session after a recent conference keynote, an administrator from a child welfare community provider agency posed the following question: “We’ve trained all our staff in better identification of domestic violence and better case practice but we are not seeing the practice changes that we expected. What are we missing?” The question excited me because he was speaking directly to the central question of my work:
How do we make sustainable real change in a child welfare system that has a historically poor overall track record in partnering with survivors and intervening with domestic violence perpetrators?’
In my experience, lots of things can contribute to training that does not translate into consistent practice change, but one of the most critical, is the role of supervisors in the practice of their team of social workers.
Child Welfare Supervisors determine the focus and quality of practice
It is the supervisors, through their directives and expectations, that determine the focus and the quality of social work practice. For example, supervisors are the ones giving workers written or verbal instructions to either: “Go out there and get her to sign a safety agreement that she won’t let him back into the house” (usually not recommended) or “Go out there and engage her in a conversation about what will make her safer.” (better)
The supervisors are the ones who review the information that comes from the worker and guides the social worker through their follow up questions. It really matters if the supervisors ask their workers questions like “What did you learn about the father’s pattern of coercive control?” or “How does the father interfere with or support mom’s parenting?”
Beyond just reviewing case details and supporting case practice, it is the supervisors who often have the final say about who the child welfare agency is going to indicate for child abuse and/or neglect. And, it is the supervisors who define good child welfare practice to new workers. They can encourage them to partner with the domestic violence survivor as key objective or they can discourage it.
Expectations of Child welfae supervisors
Supervisors don’t operate in vacuum. What they do and say is highly influenced by their supervisors and their agency policy. But here is an important fact: much of what supervisors do is not a matter of policy but practice. And in many agencies ,supervisors do not get specific training on supervision in general and rarely do they get training on supervision specifically around domestic violence issues. Why should we expect supervisors to do a good job with these cases, many of which are complex and high risk, without support and training?
An example from Connecticut
In Connecticut, I’ve spent the last year training supervisors and administrators on how to better supervise domestic violence cases. These trainings begin by having them identify their concerns about their workers practice in domestic violence cases. Then, I outline how to apply the Safe & Together Model to supervisory practices including:
- how to give better, more specific directives to workers
- how to evaluate the quality of information a worker presents, and
- how to identify and address workers’ thinking errors.
A recent survey of supervisors and managers who participated in the training indicated that that some supervisors have made changes to their daily practice. These supervisors report that they are now asking more specific questions about coercive control and expecting workers to be more explicit in their descriptions of the perpetrator’s behavior. Some of the supervisors report that the changes in their practice have resulted in fewer removals of children from domestic violence survivors, less victim blaming and more batterer accountability. These changes are consistent with the Safe & Together Model and what I had hoped to see when I developed the training.
Supervisors are the next step to improving your response to domestic violence
So for child welfare agencies who want to take the next step in improving their response to domestic violence cases, ask yourself:
“What can we do to improve the focus and quality of the supervision our workers get around domestic violence cases?”
“What values and expectations are our supervisors transmitting to their workers through their questions and directives?”
Our Safe & Together Model training for Supervisors and Managers both in-person and e-course versions now available.