Building opportunities for reflection
: Exploring the use of the ‘Mapping Tool’ in group supervision for social workers working in child protection

  • Ciara McKillop

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Social work with children and families has rapidly changed over the last twenty years, reflecting the United Kingdom governments neo-liberal agenda. Supervision has also changed, moving towards managerialist approaches focusing on outputs and outcomes, leaving opportunities to reflect on practice reduced.

This research evaluated the impact of the introduction of facilitated group supervision, as a complement to traditional individual supervision in two teams of child protection social workers. Four phases of research were undertaken. Firstly, a case file audit of fifty-seven cases referred into group supervision provided a context to the research. Within the sample concerns about neglect, domestic violence and parental substance misuse the most frequently cited reasons for involvement.

Secondly, Social Workers completed a survey to capture their views on the group supervision modality. The key findings were that group supervision was viewed positively, with main concerns relating to the potential bureaucratic burden of this modality and the transition to a more strengths-based practice focus.

The third stage involved in-depth semi-structured interviews, which were completed with eight social workers. For this stage, Houston's (2015) model of reflective practice was used as a theoretical scaffold against which the participants' views could be explored. The findings were positive, in regard to this modality supporting reflection on practice, but less positive when exploration around power dynamics and differentials were explored, meaning that critical analysis was not achieved. This was of particular relevance given the social and community contexts of practice for these teams.

The final stage of the research involved senior social work managers. This group identified costs and benefits of this model, and acknowledged challenges in bureaucracy and the significant limitation that parents and children were not included in the research.

The thesis concludes by outlining suggested changes to policy and practice for academics, and for employing organisations in how Social Workers and students are supported to reflect on their practice.
Date of AwardJul 2021
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorJoe Duffy (Supervisor) & Davy Hayes (Supervisor)


  • Social workers
  • supervision
  • group supervision
  • reflection

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