Professional supervision — Policy

Updated: 07 November 2017

What's Important To Us

It is important that our staff feel supported in the work that they do. Our work is complex and we need to ensure that there are opportunities to reflect on practice, learn new or different ways of doing things, and maximise the sharing of collegial skills and experience so that we see our individual and collective practice strengthen over time.

Professional supervision is one of the key enablers that can make positive shifts in practice leading to improved outcomes for tamariki. It provides a formal and on-going process that is vital to quality child-centred practice, professional development, relationship enhancement and practitioner wellbeing.

Benefits of supervision

Professional supervision supports practitioners to critically reflect and challenge their practice and enhance their professional judgment within a safe and supportive supervisory relationship.

Effective supervision can support practitioners with the impact of trauma and stress, increase job satisfaction and create a culture of continuous learning and development to support safe practice.

Cultural supervision

Cultural supervision supports accountability, best practice, and professional and cultural development. It helps maintain a focus on identity, belonging and connection for tamariki. It ensures the strengths and aspirations of people from diverse and different cultures are respected and explored to produce practice that is culturally responsive.

Professional supervision contributes significantly to improving best practice and outcomes for Māori. The Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 has three overarching principles that relate directly to working effectively with tamariki Māori. These are:

  • Mana Tamaiti (responsiveness and restorative) for all children
  • Whakapapa (identity and belonging)
  • Whanaungatanga (relational and responsibility).

Within Te Tiriti o Waitangi there is an obligation to recognise the significance of Māori as Tangata Whenua of Aotearoa. The principles of partnership, participation and protection are relevant within supervision and Māori centred supervision to strengthen staff responsiveness in supporting the oranga journey of tamariki Māori which is paramount. It also addresses practitioner capability in relation to the practice framework core element: 'Working effectively with Māori'.

Supervision policy and standards (PDF 690 KB)

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This policy sets out how professional supervision will be delivered to Oranga Tamariki practitioners.

It is designed to guide all Oranga Tamariki practitioners, who work directly with tamariki, their supervisors, team leaders or managers.

This policy will guide staff working in roles where they are required to maintain competence and/or an Annual Practicing Certificate under their professional association.

This is to ensure quality supervision is effectively embedded in ways that enhance outcomes for tamariki, their whānau and carers.

Scope of the supervision policy


The professional supervision policy and standards apply to practitioners employed by Oranga Tamariki on a permanent, temporary and casual basis. This includes, but is not limited to:

  • youth/social workers and practitioners
  • care and protection and youth justice co-ordinators
  • supervisors
  • practice leaders
  • regional practice advisors
  • team/case leaders of front line staff
  • managers.

Definition of professional supervision

Professional supervision provides a formal and ongoing process that promotes professional competence, accountable and safe practice, continuing professional development, critical reflection, and practitioner wellbeing.

It enables, guides and facilitates the practitioner to meet organisational, professional and personal objectives within the four functions of professional supervision.

Functions of professional supervision

The supervision process performs four critical functions:

Management — Focuses on the interests of tamariki, whānau and caregivers and ensures that policies, procedures, practice standards are understood and followed.

Development — Focuses on self-evaluation, building professional capability, linking practice to practitioner’s knowledge base, build on critical thinking and professional judgement.

Support — Focuses on the emotional impact of the work and any resulting stress or support needs and wellbeing of the practitioner in recognition of the impact of vicarious trauma.

Facilitation/Mediation — Focuses on engaging the practitioner with the organisation, role clarity and effective multi-agency and relationships across sectors, managing the tensions of the competing demands.

Functions of supervision

Roles and responsibilities

Supervisors* will: Supervisees will: Managers will: Leadership will:
• recognise that their supervision provides critical support to the wellbeing and professional development of staff
• recognise that they are instrumental in both helping supervisees to identify skills and knowledge gaps in their practice, and developing a plan to address these
• prioritise supervision and provide it in accordance with the policy
• have the skills, training, expertise and cultural competence
• participate in their own professional supervision and on-going professional development.

* Roles that provide professional supervision
• recognise the support that supervision provides, as part of their wellbeing and professional development
• prioritise and actively participate in regular supervision
• be an active participant by engaging in the process of critical reflection and seeking professional development.
• recognise that supervision is a critical support for the wellbeing and professional development of staff
• ensure that professional supervision is a priority
• ensure that supervisors have the required skills, knowledge and expertise
• engage in their own supervision
• demonstrate and provide leadership for cultural competence
• ensure quality improvements processes are in place.
• recognise that supervision is a critical support for the wellbeing and professional development of staff
• ensure that professional supervision is available
• ensure that a programme of continuous professional development is available for all supervisors
• ensure that supervisors have the required skills, knowledge and expertise and cultural competence
• recognise the importance and provide investment for a culture of learning and development.

Types of supervision

There are many types of supervision depending on the learning and development needs of the supervisee and expertise of supervisors.

Each of the following types of supervision described below may be practiced in varying contexts in Oranga Tamariki, according to the needs of individuals and teams.

In the main, professional supervision will be provided as:

  • One-to-one individual sessions: this involves two participants where one is identified as supervisor.

Other types of supervision may be accessed in negotiation with your manager:

  • Group supervision: this involves one supervisor with several participants. This can be useful in settings where there are many staff to be supervised and few trained supervisors. (Residences may opt for this type of supervision)
  • Peer group supervision: this involves three or more participants who alternate roles to provide supervision to each other. This is recommended for more experienced supervisees; however, it can be done alongside another form of supervision.
  • Cultural supervision: this focuses on ensuring that practice is culturally informed and responsive to the cultural values, protocols and practices of tamariki (this includes cultural identities beyond ethnicity). It supplements existing professional supervision processes.
  • Open door: this involves incident or case specific consultations, as and when required with supervisor..
  • External supervision: In some circumstances, professional supervision may not be readily available within Oranga Tamariki. External supervision may be accessed as long as it is provided by a qualified supervisor and within the Oranga Tamariki policy and standards.

Frequency of supervision

Professional registration requires that social workers participate in regular supervision as per the Social Work Registration Board’s policy (2015): “… a practitioner will access regular and appropriate supervision at least monthly and in a manner that is consistent with reasonable expectations of the levels of skill and practice ability of the individual.”

In consultation with their supervisor, a practitioner may negotiate the use of different types of supervision such as cultural or peer supervision provided that it is of quality and supported by a supervision agreement.

Supervision agreement guidance

Additional supervision sessions may be negotiated as and when required.

The following table is the recommended frequency for one to one individual professional supervision for full time practitioners within Oranga Tamariki.

Note: The frequency for part time employees is to be considered on a pro rata basis and residential youth workers may attend 3 weekly group supervision sessions.

Position Frequency of supervision
All youth/social workers/practitioners/ co-ordinators (youth justice and care and protection) with less than or equal to 12 months Oranga Tamariki experience 1 hour per week
All youth/social workers/practitioners/ co-ordinators (youth justice and care and protection) with more than 12 months Oranga Tamariki experience 1 hour per fortnight
Contact centre staff, supervisors, practice/team/case leaders/managers 1 hour per month
Regional practice advisors, learning and capability development advisors, national office professional practice advisors 1 hour per month

Cultural supervision

Cultural supervision is separate from professional supervision, but is intrinsically part of the supervision and support provided to staff.

Cultural supervision is about both cultural accountability and cultural development. It is essential to ensure that the aspirations of all cultures are respected and explored within the supervisory relationship and that services are delivered through culturally responsive, effective and acceptable practices.

There are broad and varied understandings about cultural supervision; however there is general agreement that this process is founded on a major premise that the culture of the supervisor and supervisee invokes different needs, understandings and responsiveness.

Cultural supervision provides a direct lens over Te Mana O Te Tamaiti, whakapapa and whanaungatanga. In order to deliver better outcomes for tamariki, all supervisors should be able to provide culturally competent supervision regardless of their ethnicity. Supervisors should know when to seek cultural advice and/or supervision and have identified people they can access.

The purposes of cultural supervision

Māori centred supervision

Under Te Tiriti o Waitangi, there is an obligation that identifies a need for Māori centred supervision and directly links to the Oranga Tamariki practice framework core “working effectively with Māori”.

Several variations of Māori centred supervision may exist to meet the various needs of practitioners:

  • Tangata Whenua – where participants (supervisor and supervisee) are Māori
  • Tangata Whenua (cross-cultural) – Māori working with other cultures
  • Tauiwi (bicultural) – those who are not Māori who are working with Māori.

Supervision with other cultures

In addition, other cultural realities need to be taken into account when addressing supervision needs to strengthen workforce capability and responsiveness to best practice for all tamariki and their families.

In our work with Pacific children and families, practice principles of humility, dignity, responsibility, relationship, spirituality, guardianship and child’s best interest are integral to the supervisory engagement.

  • Tauiwi (cultural) – same culture e.g. Samoan working with Samoan
  • Tauiwi (cross-cultural) – where participants are working with cultures different from their own.

Other types of organisational learning support

In addition to professional supervision, there are other forms of professional learning, development and support activities to meet practitioners’ needs across their developmental continuum. This may be provided by one’s line manager, supervisor or another person depending on the developmental activity required.

Other types of learning support may include:

  • Technical abilities focused: this involves a variety of activities to orientate staff to the organisation, its policies, procedures, processes, and role specific functions.
  • Advice and guidance: this involves open door, informal or formal consultations with colleagues (supervisors, practice leaders, regional practice advisors, professionals from other disciplines, subject matter experts). This supports learning however critical reflection, inquiry, challenge and incorporating understanding is strengthened via formal supervision.
  • Group case discussions: frequent, high-quality, case based, reflective group discussion incorporating analytical and hypothetical thinking with action focused, goal oriented case planning.
  • Coaching: this is used to build the capability of practitioners, enhancing their existing skills and the development of new ones. It is also useful in assisting practitioners to gain a deeper understanding of practices for use in current and future work (Rush, Sheldon and Hanft, 2003). This is usually provided one to one.
  • Mentoring: this involves personal development activities in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person (NZ Coaching & Mentoring Centre, 2013).
  • Consultation with learning advisors: learning advisors will provide supervisors with additional support and guidance to align learning goals with professional development.
  • Cultural consultation: brings culturally specific knowledge, skills and expertise to the supervision session or may be case specific situations that requires cultural input.
  • Debriefing: may be a formalised de-brief sessions post a critical incident, or an informal discussion to debrief with a peer, supervisor or other trusted colleague.
  • Communities of practice: a community of practice is a group of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do, and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly (Wenger, 1998)

Criteria for supervisors

Oranga Tamariki staff who provide professional supervision will have the required skills, knowledge and expertise to deliver quality culturally competent supervision.

Learning pathways for new and existing supervisors and other on-going learning and development opportunities will be accessed by supervisors to maintain and develop their competence.

All staff members who provide professional supervision in any form, must themselves participate in regular on-going supervision.

The Social Work Registration Board (2015) states that those who provide supervision to registered social workers:

  • be registered social workers with a current Annual Practicing Certificate
  • have completed training in professional supervision
  • practice in accordance with accepted professional standards of experience and qualifications
  • understand the Board’s supervision policy and principles
  • provide supervision that is relevant to the supervisee’s spiritual, traditional and theoretical understandings, cultural worldview, experience, skills and requirements for accountability.

Supervisor characteristics

These are the key characteristics of a good supervisor:

  • Professional values such as honesty, loyalty and integrity (Hensley, 2003)
  • Behaviours such as role modelling, the use of humour, offering support, communicating complex concepts and promoting critical thinking (Clark et al, 2008)
  • A sound knowledge base (Rushton & Nathan, 1996) and use of evidence informed models (O’Donoghue, 2017)
  • An ability to challenge in a supportive way (Davys, 2005b)
  • An ability to manage power and authority (Davys, 2005b)
  • An openness to feedback and an ability to be self-monitoring (Davys, 2005b)
  • Emotional intelligence within the human interactional process to manage the emotional impact of the work upon the worker (O’Donoghue and Tsui, 2011, 2015).
  • Cultural awareness and competency (Eketone, 2012)

Establishing a supervisory relationship

The most important part of effective professional supervision is the relationship between the supervisor and the supervisee. In fact, “the ability to establish and maintain the supervisory relationship is a core requirement of a supervisor.” (Davys and Beddoe, 2010).

Developing the supervision agreement is critical for an effective supervisory relationship as it determines how the participants will work together to achieve mutually set goals. It is more than a task, rather a process of collaborative negotiation between the supervisor and supervisee. The supervisory relationship is underpinned by the development of a trusting, respectful and open relationship and within which “risks may be taken, innovations attempted, challenges raised and development enhanced.“ (Morrison, 2005).

The participants will need to negotiate the terms of the agreement in relation to practicalities, organisational and professional requirements, setting clear expectations, managing conflict, resolving concerns, goal setting.

The supervision agreement

Oranga Tamariki has a professional supervision agreement template available on the practice centre.

An agreement should include the following:

  • purpose and goals that considers type of supervision process, roles and responsibilities
  • frequency and duration of supervision sessions
  • identify other processes that may be used between supervision sessions or to augment formal supervision
  • who will provide supervision if the supervisor is absent
  • evaluation of the supervisory relationship
  • regular reviews of the agreement

Other subjects to include when establishing a supervision agreement are covered in more detail in the following sections: confidentiality, documentation, supervision records and resolution of concerns.

Supervision agreement guidance

Supervision agreement — template (DOCX 201 KB)

Supervision record — template (DOCX 153 KB)


Within the supervisory relationship, discussions are considered confidential. This excludes concerns or issues around safe practice.

The supervision agreement should cover the process for dealing with unsafe practice issues. The process should be discussed and agreed to early in the supervisory relationship.

The need to share information from supervision sessions should firstly be discussed with the supervisee. This may not always be possible if immediate safety concerns are present.


Formal casework decisions must be recorded on the case management system, and who will do this is negotiated in the supervision agreement.

Supervision records

A supervision record must be maintained for each session that captures discussions and agreed actions. Is also provides evidence of attendance. A template can be found on the practice centre.

Resolution of concerns

At times, a supervisee and their supervisor may disagree. It is important to discuss the concern together and work to resolve any ongoing issues in a timely and direct way.

If a compromise cannot be reached, they are encouraged to discuss the matter with an agreed third party in order to reach a mutually acceptable outcome. For example, a practice leader may be used when issues are practice related.

This is an area that should be covered at the time of negotiating the supervision agreement. It is essential that a pathway for the resolution of concerns is clearly articulated at the beginning of the supervisory relationship.

Review of the supervision agreement

Ideally, the initial supervision agreement should be reviewed at three months then yearly thereafter.

Model of practice

Oranga Tamariki supports the use of the integrative model of supervision (IMS):

  • Keeping the child at the centre of supervisory discussions
    Tamariki are placed at the centre of the supervisory relationship, and their experiences are the focus of supervision and are considered in the context of their whānau and environment.
  • Knowledge and skill development
    By establishing a collaborative learning environment facilitated by both the supervisor and supervisee, varied kinds of knowledge, skills and learning can be shared and the process of critical reflection used to enhance professional judgement.
  • Leadership and management
    Supervisors demonstrate leadership by being fair and transparent, acting as change agents, assisting to effectively balance the five dimensions of supervision.
  • Advocacy
    The supervisor is able to proactively advocate on behalf the supervisee and tamariki and mediates the various demands of working in this environment.
  • Safety
    A safe supervisory relationship is essential to effective supervision. It is co-created and maintained by both the supervisor and supervisee and enables the impact of trauma to be proactively responded to.
Model of supervision practice

Safety as a Fifth Dimension in Supervision: Stories from the Frontline

Reflective supervision

The use of reflective supervision is a key part of the supervisor’s role in developing practitioners. It provides a discrete and safe opportunity that assists staff to:

  • Reflect on how their own perceptions, biases, attitudes and beliefs impact on practice.
  • Identify knowledge and skill deficits and seek clarification.
  • Reflect on any feedback and integrate changes into practice.

Reflective supervision provides an opportunity for the supervisee to examine their thoughts, feelings, actions and reactions that may arise within their work with tamariki and whānau. It aligns closely with the concept of learning from experience. The supervisor assists the supervisee to think about what they did, and what happened, to consider what was effective in their practice and what could be strengthened, then decide from these insights, what they would do the same or differently next time.

“All practitioners working in the complex and ambiguous world of child protection need to have the capacity to critically think about the ways they make sense of complex situations, cases and problems”. (Leading Practice, 2014)

Reflective supervision shifts away from a task based, compliance, case management approach as it utilises:

  • reflective questioning
  • critical thinking
  • exploration and feedback
  • It aims to move the practitioner towards:
  • increased professional judgement
  • an informed and intentional application of knowledge and skills in practice
  • practice aligned with the Practice Framework Principles and Standards.

“When reflection occurs in supervision, it can be in relation to reflecting on day to day practice, triggered by a challenging (clinical) encounter or in anticipation of having to manage a complex situation. It is imperative that reflective practice is conducted in a supportive environment to allow individuals to freely share information that promotes learning” (The Superguide, 2012).

The supervision session

To make the most of supervision, it is important that the sessions are structured.

O’Donoghue (2014) proposes an interactional map for the supervision session. The relationship between supervisee and supervisor is interactional and collaborative.

This process is also useful for assisting new supervisees and supervisors as a lead in to their supervisory discussions in the beginning phase.

The interactional map can also enable the participants to return the session into focus, as well as a method to review their sessions.

Map of session stages and phases

(O’Donoghue 2014)

Session stages Supervisee phases Supervisor phases
Preparation Continual consideration
Session preparation
Reviewing records
Thinking about the forthcoming session
Attending to the setting
Beginning Social engagement
Planning Agenda setting
Prioritising items
Agenda setting
Prioritising items
Working Telling the story or presenting an item Clarifying and exploring the story or issue
Ending Summary and review
The practicalities of next session
Reviewing what was covered
Finishing up the session
Finishing the notes

Kieran O’Donoghue: Towards an Interactional Map of the Supervision Session

Towards an Interactional Map of the Supervision Session: An Exploration of Supervisees and Supervisors Experiences

Outcomes and quality assurance

We will measure the effectiveness of professional supervision from the following outcomes:

  • an increased amount of time spent on supervision across the workforce
  • an increased satisfaction level with the quality of supervision received by staff members
  • an increased knowledge and awareness of the standards and processes of supervision from supervisees and supervisors
  • an increased level of supervision information (at a non-sensitive level) used to inform the system of continuous quality improvement, in terms of further staff and workforce development
  • an improvement in the quality of professional judgements and decisions for tamariki, including culturally responsive practices.

Examples of collection methods

  • Regular surveys.
  • Session observations.
  • Evidence of supervision in case records.
  • Supervision agreements and notes.
  • Feedback loops.
  • Interviews with supervisors and supervisees as part of quality assurance reviews.
  • Activity studies.