Reflective Interaction Observation Scale (RIOS™)

Reflective supervision* is a type of relationship-based professional development. It involves regular, ongoing support given by supervisors or consultants to increase the supervisee’s reflective capacity. Reflective supervision uses emotions as data to explore the network of relationships surrounding the supervisee and their clients. It integrates knowledge about a young child’s development with an understanding of the parent’s or caregiver’s needs. In addition, reflective supervision provides emotional support and increases the job skills and self-efficacy of supervisees.

Our free e-book, Reflective Supervision/Consultation: Preventing Burnout, Boosting Effectiveness, and Renewing Purpose for Frontline Workers, introduces reflective supervision. The e-book includes testimonials from professionals who have benefited from reflective supervision in their workplace. It also includes information on the Reflective Interaction Observation Scale (RIOS™) tool. For an in-depth look at the RIOS™ tool, RIOS™Guide for Reflective Supervision and Consultation in the Infant and Early Childhood Field, out now from Zero to Three, is an essential companion.

*Throughout this website, we refer to the provision of reflective support by either a reflective supervisor (within an organization) or a reflective consultant (from outside the organization) as reflective supervision.

RIOS™ research tool

The RIOS was developed at CEED to identify the extent to which a supervisory or consultation session demonstrates a reflective process grounded in infant mental health theory and principles. The RIOS is aligned with the competencies of the Endorsement for Culturally Sensitive, Relationship-Focused Practice Promoting Infant Mental Health® supported by the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health.

As a research tool, the RIOS is used to gain an understanding of a particular form of supervision and consultation that is based in developmental and attachment theory, trauma-informed practice, and the rapidly growing body of research exploring interpersonal neuroscience (Sroufe, 1996; Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson & Collins, 2005; Bowlby, 1969/1982; Siegel & Shamoon-Shahnook, 2010; Siegel, 2012).

The RIOS explores interactions between a supervisor and supervisee(s) engaged in direct service work. The tool allows us to describe the content and characteristics of the interactions between the supervisor and supervisee(s) at a given moment in time. The focus is not specifically on either the supervisor or supervisee(s), but rather on “the space between” the two: what the pair attends to and how they interact (Watson, Harrison, Hennes, & Harris, 2016). The process is not about judging either participant; it is about understanding what is at play in their work together.

The RIOS identifies the “active ingredients” in a reflective supervision session that set it apart from administrative supervision and other forms of relationship-based professional development, such as coaching, mentoring, and traditional clinical supervision. These active ingredients are organized as five Essential Elements:

  • Understanding the Family Story
  • Holding the Baby or Child in Mind
  • Professional Use of Self
  • Parallel Process
  • Reflective Alliance

The first four Elements focus on the content of the supervisory session. In addition, the first four Elements are evidenced by five distinctive reflective processes employed by the supervisor and supervisee during supervision. We refer to these processes as Collaborative Tasks:

  • Describing
  • Responding
  • Exploring
  • Linking
  • Integrating

Collaborative Tasks are identified by using Indicators for each of the Tasks. Indicators are specific, concrete examples of ways in which the supervisor and supervisee pay attention to the content of the conversation. The fifth Element, Reflective Alliance, is rated on a 5-point global scale that describes the ways in which the pair’s interactions are unique to reflective supervision in infant mental health practice.

We provide RIOS coding services for research or evaluation projects at universities and other organizations. We also train coders to reliability for research and evaluation projects. RIOS coders are trained to reliability using sample recordings of reflective sessions and feedback from our staff.

Get in touch with Meredith Reese at to discuss how RPC can help with your research and evaluation projects.

RIOS practice framework

Shortly after the RIOS was developed as a research tool, supervisors and consultants began using the tool to train others in reflective supervision and as a practice tool to guide reflective work in all early childhood disciplines. The RIOS brings the rich understanding of reflection derived from clinical practice into a coherent framework for reflective practice. It is featured in the Best Practice Guidelines for Reflective Supervision/Consultation published by the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health.

CEED offers two online courses on the RIOS:

We also offer customized training for program staff in early education, home visiting, child welfare, and other disciplines.

Get in touch with Deborah Ottman at to discuss professional development opportunities for your organization.

The RIOS was developed in collaboration with representatives from member states of the Alliance for the Advancement of Infant Mental Health with professional organizations that have adopted the Infant Mental Health Endorsement system created by the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health.

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