As directors, managers, supervisors and staff, we are passionate about doing our best for children and families. We’re eager to know what we can do to reach our program’s goals and outcomes. Luckily, one of the most powerful tools for reaching those goals is right at hand – it’s our relationships with each other and with those we serve. Relationships powerfully affect on other relationships. Leaders in relationship-based programs harness this power to attract and keep skilled staff members, recruit and retain program participants, promote program quality, and reach program outcomes (Parlakian, 2001).

Reflection, or taking time to think carefully about ourselves and our work, is part of relationship-based practice. Relationship-based organizations offer supervision and allow staff members to raise questions, share expertise and learn from experience. Relationship-based practice involves building interpersonal connections that create the trust, safety and stability that support growth and learning.

As one example of this, parent-child program supervisor Debbie Lancucki comments on the importance reflective supervision for staff implementing the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) in her home visiting program. Reflective supervision, notes Costa (2004) is a helping relationship for the helper, in which both the providers’ and the participants’ experiences are considered.

Lancuckie commented:

As a supervisor, I have discovered that reflective supervision with my staff following a KIPS [parenting assessment] benefits the employee’s insight on their work with a family as much as it benefits the parent’s future interactions with their child. The staff continue to look forward to completing a KIPS with a family, but the excitement of sharing that video with me is what I marvel at each and everytime. Most workers call me immediately to share something and can’t wait until supervision to watch the video together. They are eager to discover insights to themselves as well as the parents!!

*parentheses added

Her staff members’ positive experience with reflective supervision becomes part of what they carry into their work with parents. Surely, their enthusiasm for their positive relationship with their supervisor creates a safe environment for reflection and commitment to growth and learning. This positive relationship influences their ability to create trusting relationships with the parents and children they work with.

Relationship-based practice and reflective supervision support quality services by assuring staff members that they are never alone in the work. They do not have to become overwhelmed by the difficult emotions that can be stirred by their close, caring contact with young children and their families. When risk of burnout is reduced and staff well-being is supported,their job performance and effectiveness is enhanced (Buckingham & Coffman, 1999).

The supports that are an inherent part of relationship-based practice, including reflective supervision, help prevent both burnout and vicarious trauma, conditions to which human service professionals are particularly vulnerable (Costa, 2004).


Buckingham, M. and Coffman, C. (1999). First break all the rules. Gallup Press.

Costa, G.(2004). The experience from within: helping the child protective services case worker. Best Practice/Next Practice, Winter 2004., p 4-7.

Parlakian, R. (2001). Look, listen and learn: Reflective supervision and relationship-based work. Washington, DC: ZERO TO THREE.



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