SCIE Research briefing 43: Effective supervision in social work and social care

By Professor John Carpenter and Caroline Webb, Bristol University, Dr Lisa Bostock and Caroline Coomber, SCIE

Published: October 2012

Key messages

  • Research has demonstrated that good supervision is associated with job satisfaction, commitment to the organisation and retention.
  • Supervision appears to help reduce staff turnover and is significantly linked to employees’ perceptions of the support they receive from the organisation.
  • Good supervision is correlated with perceived worker effectiveness. There is some evidence that group supervision can increase critical thinking.
  • Supervision works best when it pays attention to task assistance, social and emotional support and that workers have a positive relationship with supervisors.
  • The emotionally charged nature of the work can place particular demands on people in the field. It is important to provide opportunities for reflective supervision.
  • In an inter-professional context, workers relate job satisfaction and professional development to their supervisor’s expert knowledge, regardless of whether respondents shared the same professional background.
  • The impact of supervision on outcomes for service users and carers has rarely been investigated. Anecdotal evidence suggests that supervision may promote empowerment, fewer complaints and more positive feedback.
  • Overall, the empirical basis for supervision in social work and social care in the UK is weak. Most of the evidence is correlational and derives from child welfare services in the US.


This research briefing provides an overview of the evidence concerning the value of supervision in supporting the practice of social care and social work. It is relevant to both children’s and adult social care services and includes a consideration of supervision in integrated, multi-professional teams. While the focus is on social work and social care, some of the research reviewed includes participants from other professions such as nursing and psychology.

The briefing covers evidence on the use of different models of supervision and outcomes for workers, employers, service users and carers. It considers evidence on the costs of supervision and concludes with implications for policy-makers, practitioners, organisations, service users, carers and researchers.

About the development of this product

Scoping and searching

Focused searching was carried out between January and March 2012. The searches looked for empirical studies on the association between the process of supervision and outcomes for service users, workers and organisations. Searches addressed both children and adult’s social work and social care, including joint and integrated settings.

This research briefing identifies empirical studies that report on the association between the process of supervision and outcomes for service users, workers and organisations. Intervention studies are included. The methods used to identify and organise material in this briefing were developed by the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). These involved undertaking systematic and reproducible searches of the research literature, identifying relevant studies and assessing their quality. Empirical data were extracted using a structured pro-forma which focused on various outcomes of supervision.

Peer review and testing

The authors have research and topic expertise. The briefing was peer reviewed internally for methodology. It was peer reviewed externally by Professor Marion Bogo, Faculty of Social Work, University of Toronto, Canada. We are grateful for her comments.

About SCIE research briefings

SCIE research briefings provide a concise summary of recent research into a particular topic and signpost routes to further information. They are designed to provide research evidence in an accessible format to a varied audience, including health and social care practitioners, students, managers and policy-makers. They have been undertaken using methodology developed by SCIE. The information on which the briefings are based is drawn from relevant electronic databases, journals and texts, and where appropriate, from alternative sources, such as inspection reports and annual reviews as identified by the authors. The briefings do not provide a definitive statement of all evidence on a particular issue. SCIE research briefing methodology was followed throughout (inclusion criteria; material not comprehensively quality assured; evidence synthesised and key messages formulated by author).


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