22, No. 2
Supervisors: Suggestions for Making Sound Decisions
U.S. President Harry S. Truman famously had a sign on his desk that read "The buck stops here." If you're a child welfare supervisor, the "buck" often stops with you. You are responsible for understanding how things are going with each child and family and for contributing to--and signing off on--all the big decisions. Here are some suggestions for making sure the decisions you make with your staff are effective and sound.
Guard against common reasoning errors. The box below shows mistakes that lead to poor decisions in our field. How can supervisors avoid--and help their staff avoid--these errors? The first step is to be aware of them, acknowledge they are indeed common, and strive to avoid them. The second is to think critically about information you obtain from both the family and collaterals.
Gather quality information. Sound decisions require good information. As supervisors, we must remind and encourage staff to slow down enough to obtain quality information so we can make informed decisions (Action for Child Protection, 2004a). Here are some tips for doing this:
(Action for Child Protection, 2004b)
Use your data. Data is a powerful yet under-used tool for guiding child welfare decisions. When you consistently collect and analyze performance data for your team, you can use it to drive quality improvement activities with your staff (Reveal & Helfgott, 2012). Specifically, we recommend looking at trends in decision making, such as substantiation and out-of-home placement rates among workers. You can then use this information to provide targeted feedback, coaching, training, and support to staff to address any concerning issues or trends. To learn more about using data, NC county child welfare professionals can login to ncswLearn.org and register for the one-day course Introduction to Child Welfare Data Sources.
Use supervision to spark reflection. Self-reflection is a key element of critical thinking. Seize opportunities before, during, and after contact with families to encourage workers to reflect on what they know about the family and what questions they still have. Use multiple perspectives and explanations to explore and challenge the worker's thinking (Dill & Bogo, 2007) and to help them guard against the reasoning errors in the box above.
When you focus on developing employees' critical thinking and problem-solving skills, they'll be strong partners and allies for you when it is time to make thoughtful choices and well-developed plans for and with the families you serve.