The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Supervision in Child Welfare: Multilevel Latent Class and Confirmatory Analyses of Caseworker-Supervisor Relationships

Friday, January 18, 2013: 10:00 AM
Nautilus 4 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Andrew E. Zinn, PhD, Senior Researcher, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Cheryl Smithgall, PhD, Research Fellow, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Robert Goerge, PhD, Research Fellow, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Supervision in child welfare is thought to affect the outcomes of children and families both directly, by helping to improve casework and service planning, and indirectly, by mitigating caseworker burnout and attrition (Chen & Scannapieco, 2010; Collins-Camargo et al., 2009). As a result, many state and county child welfare agencies have undertaken efforts to improve the quality of the supervision provided to front-line caseworkers. However, these efforts have been hindered by a lack of clarity about what constitutes the salient dimensions of good supervision, and how differences on these dimensions vary across organizational contexts. The current study uses a combination of caseworker survey and administrative data to develop a multi-level typology of child welfare supervisory climate, and to examine the interrelationships between individual caseworker-supervisor relationships, unit-level supervisory climate, and the broader organizational contexts in which they are situated.

Methods: The study sample includes child welfare caseworkers (N = 1,460) from 56 private and public agencies in Illinois who completed a web-based survey between August and October, 2010 (91% response rate). Respondents were queried about their experiences as child welfare workers, the characteristics of the organizational and resource environments in which they worked, and the nature of their relationships with their immediate supervisors. Using a variant of latent class analysis (LCA) suitable for multilevel data (Vermunt, 2003), we develop a typology of caseworker-supervisor relationships based on caseworker responses to six questions about different aspects of the supervision they receive, including guidance, support, and the extent to which supervisors focus on caseworkers’ mistakes. This typology is then used to identify distinct mixtures of relationship types at the supervisory unit and agency levels that serve to characterize prevailing types of organizational-level supervisory climate.

Results: Five distinct types of individual caseworker-supervisor relationships are identified corresponding to different combinations of extremes on two general dimensions of the caseworker-supervisor relationship: support and criticism. Based on the relative percentages of these caseworker-supervisor relationship types at the supervisory-unit-level, two distinct types of supervisory climates ("Mostly Supportive" and "Not Engaged or Critical") are also identified. Differences on number of other worker- and organizational-level measures -- including geographic region, organizational climate, caseworker burnout, and overall job satisfaction -- are found across caseworker-supervisor relationship types and supervisory climates.

 Implications: The findings of the LCA serves as a reminder that what is referred to as supervision per se is, in fact, a manifestation of individual relationships between workers and supervisors that coalesce at higher levels of aggregation (e.g., supervisory unit) to form distinct aggregate-level supervisory climates. Thus, for caseworkers within a specific supervisory unit, supervision is experienced both as a dyadic relationship with their supervisor and as a broader collective culture or climate. This observation has important implications for scholars interested in specifying and measuring differences in supervision quality and understanding the relationships between these differences and important service outputs and outcomes, as well as for agencies and supervisors interested in supporting caseworkers in their efforts to serve the children and families served by the public child welfare system.