The three main functions of social work supervision are administrative, educational, and supportive. Of the three, many social workers do not look forward to having their casework administration being reviewed during supervision sessions. While the educational function promotes professional growth and the supportive function addresses the social worker's emotional struggles when working on specific cases, the administrative function feels like a fault-finding exercise.
Worker's Struggles with Administration
Social workers are already feeling guilty about not keeping their records up-to-date or organised according to practice standards. So, while supervision may start with a sense of hope and feeling emotionally supported, it could end with the worker leaving the room feeling administratively incompetent.
When caseload is high and the work is intensive; responding to one crisis after another; writing case recordings is often left to the last part of the day - which by then would render the worker's energy all spent. The physical and mental exhaustion at day's end drains any enthusiasm for sitting in front of the screen to document what happened for each case.
Facing Secondary Trauma, Again
While some social workers might see doing case recording as a way to organise their thoughts and provide clarity for assessment and plan of action, some go through another round of secondary trauma when trying to recall the crises that they have to face earlier in the day: the difficult decision of separating the abused child from the parent, speaking to a patient diagnosed with stage-4 cancer about treatment options, or weighing the dilemma of teen pregnancy with the family.
Doing case recording is difficult because of the emotions that surfaced when thoughts become words. Some workers struggle to convert value-laden events into non-judgmental statements of facts and objective assessments. Social workers have to grapple with making sense of what had happened to the clients and their impact on them as the worker dealing with the problems. This may also unconsciously result in delays in preparing application forms, doing referral letters, and writing social reports.
As supervisors, we will need to look at the underlying reasons for the social worker's administrative non-compliance to practice standards. It is not simply procrastination, poor workload management or a character flaw. This is their silent scream for help.