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Harry Summers, MSW was an experienced social worker with a busy family practice. He always made time to take on one or two social workers who needed clinical supervision prior to licensure. One supervisee, Clay Smith, seemed particularly gifted with teens and young adults. Mr. Summers provided supervision of all of Mr. Smith’s individual clients seen in the practice.

Later that year, Mr. Summers was shocked to learn that Mr. Smith was being sued for malpractice. Unbeknownst to Mr. Summers, Mr. Smith had been operating a small private practice outside of his supervised setting. One of Mr. Smith’s "private" clients was alleging that she had had a sexual relationship with him. Mr. Summers only discovered this fact when he was served a malpractice complaint as a co-defendant. The plaintiff’s attorney alleged that as Mr. Smith’s supervisor, Mr. Summers was responsible for failing to supervise properly.

The above scenario is quite typical for malpractice claims involving supervision. Whenever you are involved in supervising someone’s clinical work with clients, you could be held liable for not identifying inappropriate therapy, ignoring inappropriate behavior, or supervising in a negligent or insufficient manner.

Supervision is serious business. As a general guideline, a supervisee should receive at least 1 hour of supervision for every 15-20 contact hours. Barbara Calfee, JD, LSW recommends that every supervisory session be documented. She suggests maintaining a log describing the meeting and the cases discussed. Specific advice regarding a case or a situation should be documented. (Originally published 1994.)

Equally important is reviewing the NASW Code of Ethics with the supervisee and documenting that the review has occurred. Particular importance should be paid to the standards on dual relationships and sexual impropriety.

If you do not cover your supervisee under your malpractice insurance policy, be sure that he or she has malpractice insurance in place before starting supervision Ask for a copy of the policy for your files. Currently malpractice insurance policies are readily available at attractive premium rates, so your supervisee should be able to obtain coverage easily. The absence of mal-practice insurance coverage for the supervisee almost guarantees that the supervisor will be the likely "deep pocket" or target for a malpractice suit in the event the supervisee is accused of negligent behavior. Supervision can be a rewarding activity that benefits the profession. Given its inherent liability potential, supervision requires active involvement and thorough documentation of all supervisory activities.


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