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Honoring Race and Diversity in Reflective Supervision: Guiding Principles to Enhance Relationships

Karol Wilson, West Bloomfield, Michigan, and Carla C. Barron, Merrill Palmer Skillman Institute, Wayne State University


Reflective supervision is best practice within the infant and early childhood field. Reflective supervisors and supervisees work together to develop a shared space within which both can express their emotional response to work with very young children, caregivers, and families. Supporting professionals using reflective supervision requires a trusted, nurturing, and sensitive relationship that includes opportunities to reflect on racial and cultural differences, biases, values, and judgments. Holding in mind diversity, equity, and inclusion practices is critical within reflective supervision. This article explores four guiding principles of diversity-informed reflective supervision that when put into practice can support ongoing dialogue and embrace and honor diverse perspectives among professionals, caregivers, and families.

The introduction of the Tenets Initiative (Irving Harris Foundation, 2018) grounded the infant and early childhood mental health (IECMH) field in aspects of diversity, equity, and inclusion and challenged the field to think about how biases, narratives, and histories can, if not explored, have a negative impact on the services offered to caregivers and families with young children. The Tenets brought to the forefront that who and how we are play a significant role in how we respond as infant and early childhood (IEC) professionals.

Relationship-based work involves partnering with caregivers and families to embrace the joys and challenges of caring for very young children. This partnership promotes the primary service goal of strengthening the caregiver–child relationship and supporting child well-being and development (Weatherston et al., 2020). The IEC professional extends an invitation to caregivers to engage in a relationship where they can consider together what supports or gets in the way of responding to their child’s behaviors and emotions. Optimally in this shared space, caregivers are offered a relational and emotional experience that parallels what they want to offer the child—responsivity, consistency, nurturance. For this to occur the caregiver must feel cared for and be an active participant in the creation of the relationship with the IEC professional. In this way, the relationship between the caregiver and professional is co-created, thus supporting opportunities for bravery, vulnerability, and an honest examination of emotions, thoughts, values, and beliefs (Wilson, 2021). Similarly, relationships within reflective supervision (RS) develop through exchanges between supervisees and supervisors that are impacted by what each brings to the supervisory experience, including their values, biases, and unique early experiences (Wilson et al., 2021).

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