Care staff managers look further afield

PRESSURES on social workers in Suffolk are so great that council chiefs may have to start recruiting from abroad, it emerged today.Increasing workloads mean more social workers are needed and Suffolk County Council is investigating the option of employing staff from other countries.

PRESSURES on social workers in Suffolk are so great that council chiefs may have to start recruiting from abroad, it emerged today.

Increasing workloads mean more social workers are needed and Suffolk County Council is investigating the option of employing staff from other countries.

The revelation comes after The Evening Star highlighted the case of a Knodishall family, whose 16-month old son died after apparently falling in to a container of water and cleaning fluid.

It emerged that swamped social services staff had failed to act after the father of the child sent a letter to them expressing his concern's over the child's welfare, seven days before his death.

The incident has sparked an internal review of administrative procedures within the social services department. Police investigations into the incident are ongoing.

A spokesman for the council said: "At the moment we are looking at the potential of employing social workers from overseas.

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"No definite decisions have been made but it is something we are looking in to."

He said: "What is an issue for us at the moment is the sheer volume of traffic that comes our way, rather than a lack of social workers.

"There is a high number of referrals coming to us and it is up to us to have systems which are robust enough to deal with them."

Recruiting social workers from abroad has already proved successful in several parts of the UK, including Suffolk, in the past.

In 2002 a pilot scheme to bring about 30 social workers to Suffolk from Romania and Zimbabwe, to help combat a severe staffing shortage, proved successful.

Most worked in child care, the field that suffered the biggest staffing problems and the area in which the newcomers had the greatest experience.

In many inner London boroughs social workers have been brought in from Zimbabwe, while in Manchester they have recruited staff from Canada and Australia.

South Africa, India and the Philippines are also being targeted as they have high numbers of social work graduates.

A spokeswoman for UNISON, the union which represents social workers, said: "There is no denying there is a shortage of social workers in this country.

"Some places have already had to go abroad to recruit them, in the same way that some health trusts are having to recruit nursing staff.

"In survey after survey that we do we find that social workers feel they have got very high case loads and are having to juggle priorities all the time."

But she expressed concerns about recruiting workers from other countries.

"People may well have the paper qualifications, but it must be very difficult for social workers coming from any part of the world. They may be the perfect candidate on paper but they will still have to adapt to a different culture and different systems of working."

The county council spokesman stressed, however, that there are many people in this country hoping to work in social work.

He highlighted the success of the county council's own in-house training in providing home-grown talent in Suffolk: "We have 18 people waiting to start social work degrees next month at our Kerrison Training Centre, near Eye.

"The centre is one of the best of its kind in the country and the fact there are so many people waiting demonstrates the interest there is in social work as a career."

An inquiry into the Knodishall incident began after paramedics were called to the boy's home in Hillcrest on Friday, August 13.

The toddler involved, who has not been named, was airlifted to hospital after the incident, but he could not be saved.

Afterwards Anthony Douglas, director of Social Care Services, Suffolk County Council stressed his staff remained committed to the protection of youngsters and urged anyone worried for their safety to continue to come forward.

Mr Douglas said: "There was a breakdown in administrative procedures, which is being investigated.

"As a result of what happened our procedures for handling letters have been updated. We deeply regret that this tragic death happened."

Do you think bringing more social workers in from overseas is a good idea? Write in to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk or visit the forum at www.eveningstar.co.uk

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