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'Supervision of social workers does not consider emotions'

3 minute read

Home health visiting is very important. It involves community workers' making regular visits to pregnant and new mothers and newborn in their home environments. To deal with all the stress and emotions that are often involved, health visitors need to share thoughts and feelings with their supervisors and colleagues. But the structured supervision of social workers doesn't provide any room for emotions, scientific research shows us.

Everyone knows health visitors may have to deal with difficult home situations, for example because the mother or the baby has severe physical problems, or the involved family hasn’t enough resources to properly take care of a newborn. But as outsiders, we often are not aware of the extent of these situations. A serie of scientific interviews, conducted among experienced health visitors managing preschool children, unfortunately shows us health visitors are more often confronted with hard situations than we maybe thought.

The researchers recently wrote the following in the Journal of Clinical Nursing:

The role of health visitors is variable and unpredictable due to the universality of the role, with emotion management involved in a large proportion of the work. Emotion work ranges from supporting a new parent with anxiety about the care needs of their child to one of managing distress. The data suggest that to do this effectively, the main skill required in child-focused practice is the ability to assess, recognise and respond in contentious situations. This involves emotion work to manage, de-escalate and maintain work with families that promote positive outcomes for children while avoiding emotional responses that would jeopardise professional relationships and personal safety.


You can imagine that when you consider the care needs health visitors have to meet, they also have to manage one’s own emotion. This is especially difficult for health visitors, because they operate alone, without direct mental support from supervisors or colleagues. Therefore, it’s very surprising to read that supervisors also do not serve mental support from a distance. The researchers conclude that supervisors are solely focussed on complying the work protocols.

According to practitioners, the structured supervision they receive does not consider their emotions or recognize a relationship between these and their professional well-being needs. Supervisors have a superficial understanding of their role and focus solely on protocol adherence. This approach appears not to provide a safe ‘backstage’ area where health visitors are comfortable to remove their professional mask and attend to the emotions they feel.

The health visitors expressed that interactions with ‘trusted’ colleagues were invaluable in supporting them to ‘normalise’ their emotions and affirm decisions taken. They highlighted that they seek this from colleagues due to their timely availability, perceived credibility and the understanding they have about the pressures and complexity of the job

Recommendations of the researchers:

  • Examine the supervision and support infrastructures that are in place in relation to practitioners who frequently have to manage of emotions.
  • Organize a practitioner led campaign to increase people's awareness about the complexity of the child safeguarding role.
  • Explore the emotional experiences of diverse groups undertaking this work.
  • Explore the impact the management of emotion can have on practice within child safeguard and protection services with a
  • specific focus on assessment abilities

Bas was Speakap's first marketing manager. He enjoyed gaining a lot of scientific insights about the value and impact of internal communications.

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