Sensemaking and supervision: an ethnographic study of children and families social workers’ case-talk across formal and informal spaces

Gregory, Mark (2021) Sensemaking and supervision: an ethnographic study of children and families social workers’ case-talk across formal and informal spaces. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

[thumbnail of Final PhD thesis submission MG 3068315.pdf]
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The way that children and families social workers make judgements and take decisions in their day-to-day practice has been an area of significant interest in the early part of the twenty-first century. However, the sensemaking process that underpins decision-making and judgement has received comparatively little scholarly attention. Social work supervision should offer a space where sensemaking can take place individually and collaboratively, yet little is known about what actually happens in supervision.

This study contributes to addressing these gaps; using an ethnographic approach it explores how one-to-one supervision, informal supervision and peer discussion, and group case discussion support social workers’ sensemaking. Data are derived from semi-structured interviews (n=22), recordings of formal one-to-one supervision sessions (n=17), and from participant observation of office case-talk (n=19) and group supervision (n=2) across two local authorities. The analysis highlights that social work sensemaking involves the process of constructing a case narrative through three stages: initial formulations, developing the narrative, and adopted accounts. Five key themes, situated within the first two sensemaking stages, are explored in presenting the analysis: case framing, case history, testing and weighing information, generating hypotheses, and feelings and relationships.

In exploring key themes from the interview, supervision, and observation data, a key finding of the study is the context-dependence of how case narratives are presented and the role identity plays in these differing presentations. The way in which functions of supervision are dispersed across teams in day-today practice will also be highlighted as a key finding. Recommendations for practice are made, including the need for organisations to provide social workers and supervisors with spaces where they can engage with the emotional and relational aspects of their practice and explore their identity as social workers.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Social Sciences > School of Social Work
Depositing User: Chris White
Date Deposited: 13 Jun 2022 10:38
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2022 13:54


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