There were few in probation and social work at that time, that explicitly made the case for management as a support to staff and therefore requiring management activity to be valued and protected from being swamped by practitioner demands. There were times that I wavered from this belief and took on practitioner work, and it usually proved a mistake – either because it was too demanding to do in addition to team management, or because it meant that the clients got a poor service taking second place to other work. Mostly therefore, I held out from this pressure, feeding into some of the hostility of some staff. It did mean however that I could prioritise staff supervision.
The pattern was weekly supervision for officers in their first year and fortnightly supervision thereafter. This in these days seems like an intensive approach . I found when promoted to more senior roles that almost no-one provided more than monthly supervision of their officers. I was however, and remain convinced that this higher level of attention to staff was needed. It meant that supervision had enough time to go beyond the practical management of workload and of the few dominant cases that would easily soak up time. It was frequent enough for people to hold on to problems until their set supervision session, minimising the kind of day to day attention that fills up the working week when supervision sessions are set too far apart. Supervision could be about both the cases, and about the worker’s experience and learning in the role.
Regular supervision, plus ensuring that team meeting time had space for reflection about cases (and not just the business of allocating cases, Court rotas etc) made it possible to gradually model case discussion so that the question of who was ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ did not impoverish learning.
My survival was also assisted by the fact that the probation service in the new city was growing to serve the growing population. This meant that the teams would be augmented by new staff who would arrive without the baggage of defending themselves, and whom we could have a hand in choosing. This meant that the established staff would see that other colleagues would see us differently and without their anxieties. The fact that I could feel useful to at least some of the staff in those early months was an important part of my survival, I think.