Monday, January 26, 2015
Reducing Vicarious Supervisor Risk
Supervision is a vital element in the practice of social work. Supervisors provide advancement of the social work profession, develop individual social workers to perform with professionalism and protect clients. The focus of this work is done in multiple ways, depending on the environment. In some settings, the supervisory process may be very complex, functioning in multiple supervisory roles on multiple levels, often at the same time. The supervisor may assign cases, monitor productivity, address disciplinary issues, implement administrative policies, access funding for critical services, establish departmental priorities and dealing with licensing audits may be activities that arise. All of these activities may occur within the scope of one day and require a specific skill set.
In complex settings, the supervisor may find him or herself overwhelmed by the extensive demands of the job and curtail supervision from time to time in lieu of competing demands. While temporary suspension of supervision may not seem to be problematic, it opens the supervisor to vicarious liability through actions of supervisees, both omissions and commissions. Court rulings have repeatedly underscored the need and crucial nature of adequate supervision.
Supervisors may minimize vicarious liability risks and maximize the likelihood of a favorable ruling in a malpractice suit through a variety of ways. A supervisor can clearly define expectations, set or follow standardized policies and guidelines, be aware of high-risk practice areas, provide pertinent training and structured supervision. To further reduce risks, the supervisor can fully assess the supervisee's performance strengths and weaknesses, document all supervisory sessions, develop a written supervisory plan, develop and use a feedback system and provide sufficient support for challenging cases.
Supervisors often get into trouble, entering into vicarious liability, via multiple activities. Some supervisors do not give adequate information for proper practice. Others do not adequately review supervisee work to assess for errors or progression of skill or skill level. Some cases require specialty care, beyond what a supervisee can provide, and the appropriate action, referral or intervention process is not put into place. A supervisor may not put coverage into place when he or she is not available or may fail to meet with on a regular basis. Supervisors are bound to relay information on the context of dual relationships as defined by the NASW Code of Ethics, but often fail to have a specific conversation about this issue or to deal directly with boundary violations, such as the exertion of undue influence, romantic issues or any other type of dual relationship.
Actions supervisors can take to reduce risk include the following:
* Put in writing expectations for supervisees, including the purpose of supervision, expectations for the supervisee, supervision plan with specific objectives, method of supervision, frequency/duration/format of supervisory meetings, how supervision relates to personnel evaluations, plan for conflict resolution, specific responsibilities of supervisor and supervisee, method for evaluation, termination process and applicable payment or fees
* Document all supervisory sessions, including dates, goals and objectives addressed, progress toward goals, and any recommendations made to the supervisee or client
* Include discussion about the NASW Code of Ethics and supervise in accordance with its values
* Set a reasonable standard for the supervisee and ensure he or she is performing beyond a minimal level
* Seek consultation when a case or supervisee issue is beyond the scope of practice or ability of the supervisor
* Make sure all appropriate releases are signed as required by standards of practice for supervision, including client informed consent and appropriate releases of information
* Maintain confidentiality with supervisory relationship, do not engage in dual relationships and provide fair evaluations
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