“What happens in the Frontline Unit Meeting and can this model be of use to Children and Families Social Work?”

Smith, Henry (2021) “What happens in the Frontline Unit Meeting and can this model be of use to Children and Families Social Work?”. Professional Doctorate thesis, Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust / University of Essex. Full text available

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Social work supervision is consistently described by professional bodies and academic literature as key to the quality of social work practice. Despite this consensus, there appears an incongruence between models of supervision espoused in the literature and the reality of practice. This incongruence is attributed to pervasive technical-rational approaches to social work practice, synonymous with neoliberalism, which permeate supervision, and leads to the rejection of the notions of uncertainty and complexity, stifling the reflective practice espoused in the literature. This incongruence is further complicated by the paucity of empirical data regarding what happens in supervision, and as such the supervision evidence base remains weak. This thesis is unique as it analyses the contribution of unconscious processes, detailing how anxiety implicit in the social work task impacts the nature of supervision, and contributes to this schism between the rhetoric and reality of supervision practice. Six systemic group sessions are researched with the researcher physically present in half of the sessions, and the remaining half accessed online due to the Covid19 pandemic. A psychoanalytically informed research methodology drawn from the work of Skogstad and Hinshelwood (2000) is employed to explore the emotional atmosphere of the supervision sessions, the anxiety present, and the collective strategies employed by supervision attendees to address this. The subsequent data is analysed through a thematic analysis (Braun and Clarke 2006). Bion’s (1962) K and -K models of thought are employed to demonstrate how each group evidences a unique capacity to ‘think’ in light of its ability to contain the anxieties and frustrations implicit in social work. This demonstrates that when anxiety is not contained, supervision attendees operate social defence systems against anxiety which stifle supervision practice, resulting in a denial of the reality of the social work task. However, this study also evidences how supervision characterised by negative capability, reflexive practice, a non-directive leadership style, and creation of containment can process anxiety, leading to more thoughtful and effective supervision discussions, and more purposeful practice. In doing so it demonstrates how attention to unconscious processes, and the creation of containment, have critical implications for the functioning of the Frontline Unit Meeting, wider supervision practice and the social work profession.

Item Type: Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Additional Information: Thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Essex in collaboration with the Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust for the award of Professional Doctorate in advanced practice and research: Social work and social care
Uncontrolled Keywords: Professional Doctorate in advanced practice and research: Social work and social care, D55
Subjects: Children, Young People and Developmental Pyschology > Children and Families - Social Work
Social Welfare > Social Welfare Personnel
Social Welfare > Social Work
Department/People: Children, Young Adult and Family Services
URI: https://repository.tavistockandportman.ac.uk/id/eprint/2678

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