|"Kenneth is waiting for his online supervision session to begin with Angela. She recently started working in a prison and Kenneth is very conscious that he has never worked in a prison setting himself. Nor has he previously supervised anyone else who was working in a prison. He is wondering what issues Angela will bring to supervision and whether his lack of experience matters. When they discussed this in their last supervision session, Angela was OK about his lack of experience but Kenneth is still worried" |
|"Serena’s description of her client Alex, a new counsellor in training, as unwilling to engage with therapy, prompts supervisor Graham to question Serena’s expectations. ??Graham waits for his supervisee, Serena, to continue their dialogue"|
Donna has been working as a counsellor for five years and has recently started working at a school. This is a new field of work for her and one that she is passionate about, having wanted to work with young people for a long time. The school takes children from age 12 upwards.
Michael has been providing her with online supervision for the past year. The session has just begun and he has just asked her where she would like to begin
Online supervision: child protection
Donna: I want to discuss Sam. I mentioned her last time as I had just begun seeing her. Well, things have developed since then.
Michael recalls their previous discussion about Sam. She is 13 years old, living with her mother and her mother’s partner. She had been encouraged to attend counselling by her teacher who felt she was becoming more withdrawn in the classroom and seemed to be distant, not really concentrating in the lessons.
Michael: Yes, I remember her. We acknowledged last time that something was troubling her, but at the time she hadn’t indicated exactly what.
Donna: Things have moved on. It’s her mother’s new partner. Donna has been talking about how uncomfortable he makes her.
Michael frowns. Uncomfortable can mean a lot of things.
Michael: Uncomfortable? Has she said more?
Donna: Yes. She says he’s always in her space. Feels like he’s watching her. She says nothing has happened, but she doesn’t like it. She’s asked her mum if she can have a lock on her door, but her mum asked why and she didn’t feel able to tell her.
Michael: When you say ‘nothing’s happened’, you mean nothing physical?
Michael can feel his senses becoming more alert. He feels it is important to ensure he is clear about exactly what has and has not happened in order to consider what might need to happen to ensure Sam’s safety, if she is at risk.
Donna: That’s what she has said. But he’ll come and sit next to her on the sofa and she says she just feels like he’s wanting to be close to her. He’s made a few comments about how she looks. He’s not been with her mother long, a few months, but her mother really likes him. I’m feeling really stuck. I don’t know what to do.
Michael takes on board what Donna is saying, and her sense of not knowing what to do. This could go in two directions: an exploration of the stuckness and what to do. Or further exploration of what Sam is telling Donna. As Donna’s supervisor he needs to help her be available for her young client, but if there are issues of risk and child protection at stake, he needs to address them and explore what actions may or may not need to be taken. It feels right and responsible to be direct.
Michael: Do you think that Sam is at risk?
Michael notes Donna’s pause before she responds. He begins to think about the options if she says ‘yes’.
Donna: She’s certainly very distressed about it. So, physically or sexually I just don’t know, but the fact that she is feeling what she is feeling, something inappropriate is happening here from an adult who should know better.
Michael: I think that what you have said is really important and really helpful. Things have happened leading to a vulnerable 13-year old girl becoming distressed. And going back to what you said earlier, her teacher has picked something up from the way she is in class and has suggested she speak to you. That wouldn’t be happening without good reason. So, have you permission from Sam to talk to anyone about what is happening?
Donna: She said at the last session that she wants it to stop, but she hasn’t asked me to speak to anyone. I didn’t ask for her permission. I really wasn’t sure. It’s the first time this has happened for me.
Michael: OK, so there are options. You could contact Sam and check out with her, saying that you feel that you should alert someone as you take what she has said very seriously and you feel she needs protection. You may need to go further than that. You probably should be telling Sam that you are going to raise the matter with whichever member of staff at the school takes a lead on child protection matters. Do you know who that is?
Donna: Yes. But do I breach confidentiality? It feels like I may need to if I cannot speak to Sam. I can’t delay on this, can I? And what if Sam says she doesn’t want me to talk to anyone?
Points for reflection
RB-J: What was your first reaction to the situation that has arisen?
CB: Dismay, distress and a stomach churning anxiety... most of all for Sam, a child feeling unsafe in her own home but also for Donna who hasn’t come across issues of this sort before.
RB-J: Have Michael’s responses been helpful? Although no decision on action has been reached, are the relevant considerations ‘in the frame’?
CB: I believe if I was Michael’s supervisee I would feel held and heard. Also that the situation is being reflected back to me in such a way that the issues are not only coherently ‘in the frame’ but directions are also being offered. I would feel less panicky and helpless. On the basis of what he is offering me I have a strong sense he knows what these situations involve and he is guiding without instructing me.
RB-J: If you were Michael, what would your advice be to Donna?
Keep calm. In situations where there is the possibility of abuse, it is easy to panic, which is of no use to your client. Of prime importance is to support Sam, to act on her behalf and if necessary without her permission, though it would be preferable to have it. Remember she wants the situation to stop and the fact that she has come to see you more than once suggests she wants action.
RB-J: Should Donna have conveyed more concern to Sam and indicated the seriousness of the situation and sought permission to share the information as soon as it became clear what was happening?
CB: I believe this is not a productive line of thinking given the urgency of the situation, as the reality is that she did neither of these things, for whatever reason. However, had Donna been more mindful of the BACP Ethical Framework she might have been clearer about her course of action given one of the values states a commitment to, ‘Protecting the safety of clients.’ As her supervisor this would be something I would raise at a later date when the current situation has been taken forward. I would hope that when Donna first saw Sam and discussed confidentiality in her contract she clarified this might mean there could be situations where it was necessary to confer with colleagues in order to do her best by her. This too might be something I would need to raise at a later date.
RB-J: Would your model of practice offer any specific direction as to what would be best practice in this situation, or does child protection override all theoretical considerations?
CB: The latter. This is not the time to be tribal. The client is a child, who is distressed, vulnerable and her behaviour has evidently already changed. Intervention from outside the family needs to take place to protect and look after the child whose interests are paramount.
What do you think? How would you have responded to this scenario? To contribute your own points for reflection or join the discussions, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Caro Bailey has been counselling, supervising and training for over 30 years and is a co-tutor on the CASCADE diploma in individual and group supervision
Richard Bryant-Jefferies has written a number of books on counselling and alcohol use, in particular using fictitious dialogue to allow the reader to engage with characters and processes within the counselling room. He has been a counsellor and supervisor in the NHS and in private practice. www.richardbj.co.uk