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Supervision is the linchpin of the child welfare agency. In many cases, people leave the supervisor not the job.  Staff surveys, agency performance reviews and other research consistently link strong supervision to worker satisfaction and retention (Robison, 2006).  In a 2005 national survey conducted by American Public Health Services Association (APHSA), good supervision was rated as the most important factor contributing to staff retention and lack of supportive supervision a reason for leaving child welfare (Nissly, Mor Barak, & Levin, 2005). Other studies have cited the importance of supportive and informed supervision as a reason for why child welfare workers remain on the job (Dickinson & Perry, 2002; Landsman, 2001; Little Rock School of Social Work, 2002).  Therefore, investment in supervision offers the potential for promotion of a learning organizational culture; a sound foundation for practice improvement and a sustained workforce.  The majority of states with the most improved data indicators in their Performance Improvement Plans (PIPs) included strengthening supervision. The strongest culture of development is created by the first-line supervisor who works with the employee each day by enhancing worker critical thinking and self-reflection, modeling evidence-based practice, establishing an organizational culture in which support, learning and clinical supervision are encouraged, and using case review to assess worker skills and gauge progress. Investing in supervision means assisting supervisors in their transition from line staff to supervision and in that process, providing them with assistance in viewing each case through the lens of task completion and role fulfillment by the worker, as well as assessing case progress based on whether the agency is effectively serving children and families. Supervisors also play a critical role in establishing agency credibility and building organizational and community expertise.  The multiplicity of roles played by supervisors makes selection and preparation difficult and critical.   Training for supervisors results in increased worker satisfaction, reduced preventable turnover and improved practice and outcomes (Collins-Camargo, 2005).  Supervisors need clear performance expectations and support for on-going professional development.  Their function is to provide administrative, educational and supportive supervision to staff.  


  • Improve selection process and criteria for supervisors
  • Provide performance expectations for supervisors
  • Provide learning opportunities for development including peer consultation and on-line tutorials (Arkansas)
  • Encourage group sessions to share good practice and develop skills (Arizona) (Robison, 2006)
  • Set up support groups for supervisors
  • Provide on-the-job skill-building in addition to classroom training; mentors to work one-one one with supervisors (Arkansas) (Robison, 2006)
  • Establish policies for regular case review and meetings (individual and group supervision) (Center for the Study of Social Policy, 2002)
  • Establish a Supervisory Academy and/or certification process for supervisors
  • Engage supervisors in preventing turnover; include turnover rate as a performance expectation (Delaware) (Robison, 2006)
  • Use feedback from staff and supervisors in design of supervisory training and support (Massachusetts, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee)(Robison, 2006)
  • Train workers and supervisors together as a team and reinforce transfer (Barbee, Antle, & Christenson, 2003)


American Public Human Services Association. (2005). Report from the 2004 Child Welfare Workforce Survey: State agency findings. Washington, DC: Author.

Barbee, M., Antle, A., & Christenson, D. (2003). Child and family service reviews (CFSRs): Preliminary results and implications for training (Working Paper #4). University of Louisville, KY.  Retrieved April 19, 2005, from 

Center for the Study of Social Policy. (2002, June). Improving the quality of human services through results oriented human resource management. Washington, DC: Author.

Collins-Camargo, C. (2005). Enhancements to supervisors and mentoring to improve practices.  Presentation at Children’s Bureau Workforce Development Institute, Washington, DC

Dickinson, N.S., & Perry, R. E. (2002). Factors influencing the retention of specially educated public child welfare workers. Evaluation Research in Child Welfare, 15(3/4), 89-103.

Graef, M. I., & Potter, M. E. (2002). Alternative solutions to the child protective services staffing crisis: Innovations from industrial/organizational psychology. Protecting Children, 17(3), 18-31.

Landsman, M. J. (2001). Commitment in public child welfare. Social Service Review, 75(3), 386-419.

Nissly, J., Mor Barak, M., & Levin, A. (2005). Stress, social support and workers’ intentions to leave their jobs in public child welfare. Administration in Social Work, 29(1), 79-100. 

Robison, S. (2006). Toward a high quality child welfare workforce: Six doable steps. Houston, TX: Cornerstones for Kids.

Little Rock School of Social Work. (2002). MS South Division of Children and Family Services Recruitment and Retention Study:             Supervisor Survey. University of Arkansas, Little Rock: Author.



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