The internal/external debate: The tensions within social work supervision


  • Matt Rankine University of Auckland New Zealand



Supervision, external supervision, social work, reflection, professional practice


INTRODUCTION: Supervision is crucial to social workers’ practice. Within the current managerial social services environment, the supervisor juggles organisational and professional accountabilities—organisational agendas often dominate practitioners’ reflection. In response, alternative types of supervision have emerged, one of which is external supervision.

METHODS: This paper analyses qualitative discussions with key informants and supervisory dyads in community-based child welfare services regarding reflective practices in supervision. Internal and external supervision arrangements were discussed in depth relative to their impact on social work practice.

FINDINGS: Analysis of discussions identified four themes: the significance of external supervision for building capacity, resilience and confidential reflective space; the role of internal supervision for managerial and organisational agendas; tensions associated with external supervision regarding funding and accountability; and important attributes of the supervisor in successful working relationships.

CONCLUSIONS: External supervision is essential for professional competence but considerable inter-organisational variation exists in how this is utilised. Three key considerations emerged: accountabilities of external supervisor, supervisee and internal supervisor towards collaborative practice, evaluation and feedback; purchasing of external supervision; and the professional development of external supervisors. Further education connecting the importance of the supervisory relationship to realise critical thinking and practice development is essential for the future of social work.


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How to Cite

Rankine, M. (2019). The internal/external debate: The tensions within social work supervision. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 31(3), 32–45.



Original Articles