The application of a cognitive and affective interviewing model in social work supervision

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Sch for Policy Studies


This project starts from a concern with the quality of social work thinking and assessment. Inquiry reports following high profile child death cases have repeatedly highlighted shortcomings in social workers' analytical and assessment skills and exercise of professional judgement. Recognition of these limitations highlights the need to explore what might help practitioners to 'think about their thinking'. Practitioners frequently encounter complex, emotionally charged and sometimes dangerous situations and these encounters provide the 'evidential base' on which decisions are made; so the nature and quality of information that practitioners draw from them is of vital importance. A number of writers have drawn attention to the connection between the nature and quality of thinking and the emotional content and context of childcare practice. Supervision provides a key forum in which thinking processes and practices can be explored, so has a critical role to play here in providing a safe space where practitioners can identify the emotional content of their experience and reflect on its meaning.
Given the centrality of the supervision-practice feedback loop for sound practice it is important that staff providing supervision have the competence to do this to the highest standards. To support their work, they need accessible and reliable methods and resource materials that can be readily used in practice. The proposed project involves collaboration with one local authority to develop and trial a new approach, based on Cognitive Interviewing (CI), for use in supervision. CI is an approach that has been developed to promote the accuracy and completeness of eyewitness accounts of events. Initially devised for use with witnesses or victims of crime, it draws on psychological understandings of memory and recall, and uses a particular set of questioning techniques to improve retrieval of information from the memory of a witness or victim. It has been chosen as a starting point here as it offers a tested approach to support the collection of information. Working closely with social work practitioners in the partner organisation, the project team will adapt the CI framework for use in supervision, developing an approach - the Cognitive and Affective Supervisory Approach (CASA) - that homes in on cognitive understandings of practice but in so doing also heightens practitioners' awareness of the affective dimensions of practice and of their thinking.
Dr Turney, the principal investigator (PI) and Professor Ruch, the co-investigator (Co-I), have extensive experience in both practice and research in relation to critical and analytical thinking in assessment and the role of emotion in practice, and of developing resource materials for practice. The partner organisation, a local authority in the South West of England, will work with the principal and co-investigator, providing staff time for the collaborative development of the CASA protocol and, after appropriate training, for its use in an agreed number of supervision sessions over an 8-month period. During this implementation phase, the PI and Co-I will provide monthly group consultation sessions for the supervisors, to allow them to reflect on the use of the CASA and the extent to which it assists the expression of both 'event' and 'emotion' information, and how this information has been used in supervision to inform case management.
Data gathered through the course of the project will be reviewed to assess the usefulness and impact in/for practice of the CASA framework. Drawing on participants' feedback during and at the end of the implementation phase, the project team will revise the CASA materials as necessary. A range of outputs including an executive summary of project findings, model guidance and protocols, workshop template and curriculum guide will be developed collaboratively by the project team for use by academic and practice audiences and disseminated.

Planned Impact

The impact of this research directly addresses the ESRC strategic objective 'Influencing behaviour and informing interventions', by examining how cognitive and affective factors influence social work assessment and decision-making practices. Whilst located in an English child care social work setting, the shared common concerns regarding the quality of thinking and decision-making and the paucity of supervision across social work sectors and national contexts suggests that the project findings will be of relevance for policy and practice across the social work sector, both nationally and internationally.
Supervisors and supervisees in the host organisation and across the national and international social work sector; children and families in receipt of social work services; local, national and international policymakers responsible for developing and promoting effective practice; social work academics delivering qualifying and post-qualifying social work programmes, nationally and internationally; the general public.
Model guidance and protocols
Practice workshops
Workshop template
Executive summary
Curriculum guide
Conference papers and presentations (academic and professional)
Enhanced skills in critical analysis and decision-making:
The project emphasis on the co-creation of knowledge will ensure immediate direct benefit to its participants who will acquire enhanced knowledge of and skills in critical analysis and decision-making. The host organisation will benefit from the practice improvements emanating from the findings. At a national and international level and across the social work sector the findings will enhance the quality of thinking in professional practice, leading to more accurate assessments and better targeted service provision for vulnerable people. The project team has excellent track records in engagement with practitioners at local, national and international levels and dissemination will occur through practitioner forums, from local authority training events to national/international conferences.
Indirect benefits will accrue to children and families in receipt of social work services who will be assisted by more accurate assessments and decision-making processes, contributing to the development of more effective services to safeguard vulnerable children and to support their families. The dissemination of the findings via service user organisations and national newspapers will maximise their reach and impact and enable service users and the wider public to have a more informed understanding of social work practices.
Professional Development Materials:
The creation of professional development materials for implementing the CASA will enable the widespread national dissemination of the project findings across the social work sector. Conduits for dissemination via workshops and electronic artefacts include: The College of Social Work, the Higher Education Academy, SCIE (all in England), Institute for Research and Innovation in Social Services (Scotland), the Care Councils in Northern Ireland and Wales.
Conferences and national workshops:
Conference presentations/workshops in academic and practice settings e.g BASPCAN and JSWEC conferences and employment-based conferences, will be collaboratively delivered by the researchers and participants and promote the project resources.
Peer-reviewed academic and professional journal articles:
Co-authored papers will be submitted to peer reviewed academic journals, e.g. British Journal of Social Work, Child and Family Social Work, Journal of Social Work Practice, alongside professional journals/in-house publications associated with the professional bodies e.g. Community Care, Children and Young People Now, Social Work Matters. Articles in national newspapers e.g. the Guardian, will inform the public of the complexities of social work practice and help promote trust in the profession.
Description The Cognitive and Affective Supervisory Approach (CASA) is designed to enhance the quantity and quality of information available for decision making by focusing on both the cognitive and affective dimensions of practitioners' experiences. It assumes that recognition of the emotional content of practice is key to safe and effective decision making but that supervision has not always provided the necessary space for this kind of reflection and analysis. CASA draws on Cognitive Interviewing (CI) techniques (originally designed for use in forensic settings to elicit best evidence from witnesses and victims of crime), and has adapted them for use in a new professional context to help practitioners provide fuller accounts of events they encounter in everyday social work practice - accounts that report both 'event information' and 'emotion information' (awareness of mood, changes of affect, emotional responses).

Key findings
The study's findings add to understanding of the role and practices of supervision in everyday social work settings, and contribute to developing the evidence base in relation to 'reflective supervision'. This is relevant in the context of findings by Carpenter et al. (2013) concerning the "surprisingly weak" evidence base for social work supervision. The main findings relate to i) the utility and application of a new approach for use in supervision, ii) particular practice challenges in delivering reflective supervision and iii) understandings of 'practice-near' research

I. The study introduced an innovative approach for use in Children & Families social work supervision. While this was a small-scale project, feedback from participants demonstrated that the Cognitive and Affective Supervisory Approach (CASA) has practical utility and can be used to support supervision discussion of a range of practice situations and encounters. Practitioners and supervisors reported that the CASA allowed for a kind of discussion that was different from 'business as usual' - the latter defined as more focused on case management and direction, and problem solving. Utilising CASA gave the practitioner time and space to explore a particular element of their work (a visit, meeting, etc) in more detail and they reported that in many cases this allowed new insights to emerge, affecting future case planning. Findings suggest that the capacity of the model to disrupt conventional linear patterns of thinking allows for emotional dimensions of practice to be more readily accessed and drawn on to accommodate more expansive and in depth understanding.

II. Using CASA highlighted how difficult supervisors found it to utilise 'active listening ', as opposed to 'problem solving', skills. The tension experienced shed light on the pressures of the everyday practice environment and the difficulty in preserving reflective space for both practitioners and supervisors.

III. In terms of methods/approach, the study provided useful findings in relation to the challenges and benefits of practice-near research. The project was designed as a collaborative knowledge exchange between the participating social workers and their agencies, and the academic team. While trying to achieve co-production presented a number of challenges (mainly related to the work-based demands that participants were managing), this approach nonetheless offered a creative and constructive way both to generate practice-focused research data and to provide opportunities for continuing professional development. Working with the participating supervisors in the reflective discussion groups allowed the researchers to learn from their uses of the CASA in everyday practice - and the significant difficulties encountered in the process. At the same time, the monthly reflective discussion groups provided a supportive space for the supervisors to process and reflect on their own experiences and to share learning in the group.
Exploitation Route Research outcomes will be taken forward in different, complementary ways, where possible co-produced / in consultation with study participants; to include:
• Development of electronic and paper-based supervision resources for professional use, and including model guidance and protocols for using the CASA in practice; workshop template; an executive summary of study findings and accessible summaries for wider public consumption
• Publications in academic and professional journals
• Academic and professional conference presentations
• Learning events and/or resources to support relevant professional knowledge and skills development
- A workshop delivered in collaboration with representatives of the participant group of supervisors and supervisees will be offered to disseminate the research findings in the host organisations.
- Resource materials will be available to the practice community nationally and dissemination of the research findings will be pursued through engagement with knowledge transfer bodies such as the Social Care Institute for Excellence and Research in Practice.
- An executive summary outlining the key findings will be made available to other organisations that have responsibility for providing information or training on, or for the inspection of, supervision as a component of children's social care services
• Development of curriculum material addressing skills for supervision, for social work qualifying and CPD programmes
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy

Description CASA collaboration 
Organisation Bristol City Council
Department Children and Young Peoples Services (CYPS)
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution The research team brings academic expertise in relation to social work supervision and reflective practice, and experience in supporting work-based reflective discussion groups. Such groups have been included as a key part of the project and are intended to support practitioners in implementing the new CASA approach and also as a source of data, building understanding of practitioner's experiences of using this way of gathering and using information in supervision..
Collaborator Contribution The local authority partner provides the practice component of the project through the involvement of practitioners, (both supervosrs and supervisees) who are helping to develop an innovative approach to social workpractice supervsion.
Impact No outputs/outcomes at this stage - project is still under way.
Start Year 2015