YRES 2023: Start as you mean to go on… but, it’s never too late! Thoughts on supervision

We were so pleased to be invited to attend the excellent YRes Conference 2023 as family law supervisors. There was a wonderful sense of energy and enthusiasm throughout the day. The conference highlighted changes needed in the legal profession to try to ensure we can all sustain long, healthy careers and for the future of good family practice.

What change is needed?

In short, more open discussion and awareness of the importance of looking after ourselves and about available support. We should be striving to make sure that every family justice professional has the support that they need from the very start of their career.

At the conference we were asked, “how do we ask our boss to provide us with supervision?” On talking further, it was clear that this question stems from concern: “If I ask my boss for supervision, that might suggest that I’m struggling and unable to do my job properly. That is not the case but I don’t want to risk losing my job…”

Given these commonly expressed concerns, we really do need to change the perceived culture that seeking support is a sign of weakness or failure. On the contrary, seeking support is a brave and powerful thing to do at any stage of a career and should be fully supported, without fear of being judged.

YRes are helping to drive change

It was so good to see and hear that YRes recognise that change is needed, and have wellbeing firmly on their agenda. As Ellen Wilkinson said in her excellent opening address, “the work is rewarding but also hard… and for juniors there are unique challenges that too often turn into struggles”.

And, as our Chair, Grant Cameron, wisely continued, “this is an incredibly demanding and emotionally charged profession. We can no longer use ‘wellbeing’ as a strapline.”

We were also privileged to hear a particularly powerful session “A Frank and Open Discussion on Wellbeing”, in which three colleagues shared their experiences of traumatic home and professional life events. The two are often intertwined. This was poignant, a brave and very hard thing to do, especially on stage in the presence of others.

But we would suggest that this was also very healthy and empowering and will help others to feel better able to share too, if they wish to do so.

As the speakers encouraged: be brave, be bold!

Seeking support

No matter your level of experience, you are unique and special and deserve to have the support you need. So, try to make sure you focus on your needs and put in place what works for you. Others may feel differently and that’s fine; just make sure you look after your needs.

Perhaps we tend to put things off when we have busy lives and do not feel we need help and support in the moment. But putting that support in place now, so you know it is there, especially when things are difficult, is so important.

Supervision is proactive and the sustained support that it provides can make a real difference. Many family law supervisors have been on a similar journey to you and will understand the challenges you face. We both wish that supervision had been available to us when we started out in practice.

What is supervision?

The word “supervision” was used in several different contexts during the conference. It can have unfortunate connotations for some, perhaps suggesting a hierarchical relationship in which a person and their work is judged or assessed. But the nature of family law supervision is the very opposite of that. It offers a supportive, confidential space and time just for you. A chance to share and reflect on anything impacting on your work, with someone who is trained to provide support for you.

It is not therapy but it does have therapeutic benefits. There is no agenda and you won’t be judged. It is empowering and transformative. It really will make a difference.

As family professionals, we pride ourselves in helping our clients in every possible and reasonable way, to make sure they can begin to plan for their future and start to believe that their lives will be okay. We want to (and often do) make a difference. It’s what attracts most of us to family work in the first place. And, of course, it is very rewarding when we see our clients on the road to recovery following the trauma of their separation. But often we don’t apply this same committed and caring approach to ourselves. We really do need to learn to do so.

It may be difficult to do this on our own. We know we can achieve so much more through sharing and working together. We often seek expert support from other professionals in our lives – whether to do with money, medicine, education – without hesitation. Indeed, we would think it foolhardy not to. So we should keep that in mind if we hesitate to seek support for our own emotional and mental health too.

We know from our professional lives that some of the best work we do stems from working with others we have not met or known well previously. When we find the right people, we can quickly build rapport and trust and achieve excellent outcomes. We know too that clients need support and we have become much better at signposting to therapeutic and other expert help, or building teams of professionals to provide collaborative support along the way. So, we need to get better at allowing ourselves to feel entitled to support too and then take action to make this happen. In turn, this will help us to thrive and sustain a long and healthy career.

Why is supervision not (yet!) required for all family justice professionals?

For most front-line professionals, regular supervision is a requirement to continue to practice and forms part of day-to-day work. In the mediation world, every mediator has a professional practice consultant (a PPC). It is very hard to understand why equivalent support is not already in place for all family professionals. It is available and cost effective. It does not involve significant amounts of time.

More importantly, mediation practitioners find the time invaluable. It is not mandated because of doubts about competence or ability. It is helpful, practical, supportive, empowering and energising.

PPCs are external. It is not a problem. Yes, it is mandatory but it is also embraced and has been for many years.

You don’t need to be struggling to benefit from supervision. Supervision is intended to be an integral part of all family practice. To be there for all the ups and the downs during a career.

The pressure of billing targets should not be underestimated. But firms that fully embrace supervision recognise how much more effective and productive their supervision-supported staff and colleagues will be; and some allow for supervision time within those targets.

Recent research also supports the real financial returns made with proactive and sustained wellbeing measures, in terms of increased employee productivity, and reduced absenteeism, presenteeism and staff turnover. The Deloitte Mental Health Report 2022 concluded that the most effective wellbeing measures are those that are proactive and sustained and that, on average, a return of £5 is gained for every £1 spent by employers on such measures. Supervision is proactive and sustained, in contrast to measures that are one-off and reactive – and have a much lower return on investment.

Supervision also fits under the umbrella of “reflective practice” for SRA-recognised CPD; and professional practice insurers are now asking what arrangements for supervision firms have in place.

So, if your firm has not yet embraced supervision, don’t be afraid to ask. The very fact that wellbeing was a key part of the YRes conference and the content of this article could be a good way to raise this.

Also, you can always try it for yourself, independent of your firm. Either way – be brave!

Our general message here is that supervision is for everyone. If you would like to find out more about family law supervision from either one of us, please do contact us. Your contact will be in complete confidence. No-one else will know – not even the other one of us! We firmly believe that the only way to really know about supervision is to experience it yourself. There are a number of free one-off sessions on offer so you can try it. Our contact details are below.

Our very clear impression from speaking with many colleagues is that change is needed and is starting to happen. But, much more needs to be done.

It is surely not acceptable that anyone should feel fearful about asking for supervision.

YRes are certainly helping to drive this change because it is what professionals want and need.



Sophie and Nigel are both members of the Association of Family Law Supervisors – www.familylawsupervisors.co.uk