“Moving out of the safe zone”: Promoting learning communities and reflective supervision in a social work statutory child protection agency


  • Matt Rankine University of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand
  • Andrew Thompson University of Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand




Supervision, social work, critical reflection, learning communities, professional practice


INTRODUCTION: Social work supervision in statutory child protection settings is often confused with line management and has little focus on professional development, critical reflection and exploration of practice. Within Aotearoa New Zealand, the statutory child protection agency Oranga Tamariki (OT), is under considerable scrutiny regarding the management of risk, child abuse, and the over-representation of Ma ̄ori tamariki within the child welfare system. This article covers the first collection of findings from a larger supervision study.

METHODS: Using critical reflection as the methodological lens, four experienced OT supervisors participated in a learning community where supervision recordings were brought to each meeting to improve reflective capacity, critical reflection and skills. Data were collected from the learning community and thematic analysis was undertaken to explore current supervision practice in OT.

FINDINGS: The three themes generated from the learning community discussions were: supervisory skills/interventions; the structure of supervision; and working with emotion and trauma. These themes highlighted the significance of the learning community as a forum for supervisors to share their existing supervision practice together, “moving out of the safe zone” as they engaged in positive and constructive feedback with their colleagues in a supportive space.

CONCLUSIONS: Reflective supervision, within statutory child protection, is essential for learning, critical reflection and cultivating robust decision making in social work practice. The creation and development of professional supervision spaces such as learning communities provide the basis for supervisors and supervisees to develop their skills and ensure accountable, anti-oppressive and ethical practice.


Baginsky, M., Moriarty, J., Manthorpe, J., Stevens, M., MacInnes, T., & Nagendran, T. (2010). Social workers’ workload survey: Messages from the frontline: Findings from the 2009 survey and interviews with senior managers. Department for Education.

Baines, D. (2017). Doing anti-oppressive practice. Social justice social work. Fernwood.

Bazeley, P., & Jackson, K. (2013). Qualitative data analysis with NVivo. SAGE.

Beddoe, L. (2010). Surveillance or reflection: Professional supervision in “the risk society.” British Journal of Social Work, 40(4), 1279–1296.

Beddoe, L. (2016). Supervision in social work in Aotearoa New Zealand: Challenges in changing contexts. The Clinical Supervisor, 35(2), 156–174.

Beddoe, L., Davys, A., & Adamson, C. (2014). Building resilient practitioners: Definitions and practitioner understandings. The British Journal of Social Work, 44(3), 522–541. https://doi.org/10.1093/bjsw/bcs142

Beddoe, L., Fouché, C., Bartley, A., & Harington, P. (2012). Migrant social workers’ experience in New Zealand: Education and supervision issues. Social Work Education, 31(8), 1012–1031.

Bernard, J. M., & Goodyear, R. K. (2009). Fundamentals of clinical supervision. Pearson.

Bhaskar, R. (1979). A realist theory of science. Harvester Press.

Boshier, P. (2020). A matter of urgency: Investigation report into policies, practices and procedures for the removal of newborn pēpi by Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children. https://www.ombudsman.parliament.nz/sites/default/ files/2020-10/He_Take__K%C5%8Dhukihuki_A_Matter_ of_Urgency-OT_Report-102020-DIGITAL.pdf

Bradbury-Jones, C. (2013). Refocusing child protection supervision: An innovative approach to supporting practitioners. Child Care in Practice, 19(3), 253–266.

Carpenter, J., Webb, C., Bostock, L., & Coomber, C. (2012). Effective supervision in social work and social care. Research Briefing 43. Social Care Institute for Excellence.

Carroll, M. (2010). Supervision: Critical reflection for transformational learning (Part 2). The Clinical Supervisor, 29(1), 1–19.

Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research. Meaning and perspective in the research process. Allen and Unwin.

Davys, A., & Beddoe, L. (2020). Best practice in professional supervision: A guide for the helping professions (2nd ed.). Jessica Kingsley.

Davys, A., Howard, F., Rankine, M., & Thompson, A. (2019). Supervision under the microscope: Critical conversations in a learning community. Practice, 31(5), 1–16. doi:10.10 80/09503153.2018.1558196

Davys, A., May, J., Burns, B., & O’Connell, M. (2017). Evaluating social work supervision. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 29(3), 108–121. doi.org/10.11157/ anzswj-vol29iss3id314

Fook, J. (2011). Developing critical reflection as a research method. In J. Higgs, A. Titchen, D. Horsfall, & D. Bridges (Eds.), Creative spaces for qualitative researching (pp. 55–64). Sense Publishers.

Fook, J., & Gardner, F. (2007). Practising critical reflection: A resource handbook. Open University Press.

Hill, H. R. M., Crowe, T. P., & Gonsalvez, C. J. (2016). Reflective dialogue in clinical supervision: A pilot study involving collaborative review of supervision videos. Psychotherapy Research, 26(3), 263–278.

Hyslop, I. (2017). Child protection in New Zealand: A history of the future. British Journal of Social Work, 47, 1800–1817.

Kelly, S., & Green, T. (2019). Seeing more, better sight: Using an interprofessional model of supervision to support reflective child protection practice within the health setting. British Journal of Social Work. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcz030

Knowles, M. S. (1990). The adult learner: A neglected species (building blocks of human potential). Gulf Publishing.

Kolb, D. A. (2014). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. FT Press.

Mor Barak, M. E., Travis, D. J., Pyun, H., & Xie, B. (2009). The impact of supervision on worker outcomes: A meta- analysis. Social Service Review, 83(1), 3–32.

Morley, C. (2013). Some methodological and ethical tensions in using critical reflection as a research methodology. In J. Fook & F. Gardner (Eds.), Critical reflection in context. Applications in health and social care (pp. 166–178). Routledge.

Morrison, T. (2001). Staff supervision in social care: Making a real difference for staff and service users. Pavilion.

Munford, R., & Sanders. J. (2008). Building action focused research in social care organisations. Educational Action Research, 16 (1), 9–20. doi:10.1080/09650790701833071

Oranga Tamariki, Ministry for Children. (2017). Professional supervision: Policy and standards. https://practice. orangatamariki.govt.nz/assets/practice/use-professional- supervision/5139fa22bf/professional-supervision-policy-and-standards.pdf

Nickson, A., Carter, M., & Francis, A. (2020). Supervision and professional development in social work practice. Sage.

Noble, C., Gray, M., & Johnston, L. (2016). Critical supervision for the human services: A social model to promote learning and value-based practice. Jessica Kingsley.

O’Donoghue, K. (2008). Towards improving social work supervision in Aotearoa New Zealand. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work Review, 20(1), 10–21.

O’Donoghue, K., & Tsui, M.-s. (2011). Towards a professional supervision culture: The development of social work supervision in Aotearoa New Zealand. International Social Work, 55(1), 5–28. doi:10.1177/0020872810396109

Office of the Children’s Commissioner. (2020). Te Kuku O Te Manawa. https://www.occ.org.nz/assets/Uploads/ Te-Kuku-O-Te-Manawa-Report-2-OCC.pdf

Rankine, M. (2017). Making connections: A practice model for reflective supervision. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 29(3), 66–78.

Rankine, M. (2018). How critical are we? Revitalising critical reflection in supervision. Advances in Social Work & Welfare Education, 20(2), 31–46.

Ruch, G., West, L., Ross, F., Fook, J., & Collington, V. (2015). Researching critical reflection: Multidisciplinary perspectives. Routledge.

Stoll, L., Bolam, L., McMahon, A., Wallace, M., & Thomas, S. (2006). Professional learning communities: A review of the literature. Journal of Educational Change, 7(4), 221–258.

Terry, G., Hayfield, N., Clarke, V., & Braun, V. (2017). Thematic analysis. In W. Stainton Rogers & C. Willig (Eds.), The SAGE handbook of qualitative research in psychology (pp. 17–37). SAGE Publications.

Waitangi Tribunal. (2021). He Pāharakeke, he Rito Whakakīkinga Whāuarua. Oranga Tamariki Urgent Inquiry. https://forms.justice.govt.nz/search/Documents/WT/wt_DOC_171027305/He%20Paharakeke%20W.pdf

Wilkins, D., Forrester, D., & Grant, L. (2017). What happens in child and family social work supervision? Child and Family Social Work, 22(2), 942–951.

Wilkins, D., Khan, M., Stabler, L., Newlands, F., & Mcdonnell, J. (2018). Evaluating the quality of social work supervision in UK children’s services: Comparing self-report and independent observations. Clinical Social Work Journal, 46, 350–360. doi.org/10.1007/s10615- 018-0680-7




How to Cite

Rankine, M., & Thompson, A. (2021). “Moving out of the safe zone”: Promoting learning communities and reflective supervision in a social work statutory child protection agency. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 33(2), 88–103. https://doi.org/10.11157/anzswj-vol33iss2id871



Original Articles II