Social work supervision in child and family services: Developing a working theory of how and why it works


  • David Wilkins Cardiff University, Wales, United Kingdom



Supervision, social work, children and families, what works


INTRODUCTION: Does social work supervision work? Social work academics and others have argued repeatedly that we need to focus more attention on understanding whether and how supervision helps improve outcomes for people who use services. As things stand, we currently have little evidence either way—and although the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, this is far from an ideal situation.

APPROACH: Taking inspiration from realist approaches to evaluation, this article sets out an initial working theory of social work supervision for child and family services, developed from an analysis of six significant reviews of the supervision literature. Each review was analysed to identify key contexts, mechanisms and outcomes for supervision.

CONCLUSION: Notable gaps within the theory are identified in relation to workers, outcomes for children and families and how supervision can promote a rights-based approach. The article concludes by arguing that this working theory offers the basis for future evaluative studies of supervision.


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How to Cite

Wilkins, D. (2019). Social work supervision in child and family services: Developing a working theory of how and why it works. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 31(3), 7–19.



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