Common language, different practice?

The roar of a jet engine fills the air as a plane flies over,
heading for nearby Heathrow. Hounslow’s proximity to one of the
world’s busiest airports has proved handy over the past year,
providing easy access to the borough for social workers who have
been recruited from the US.

To date, the London Borough of Hounslow has hired 43 US social
workers for its children and families and mental health teams,
following recruitment events in Los Angeles, Boston and New York in
the past year.

In Los Angeles the council recruited five children and families
social workers and one mental health social worker out of a
shortlist of 21; in Boston 13 of the 18 shortlisted children and
families social workers were hired; and in New York, where 43
social workers were shortlisted, eight are joining mental health
teams and 16 children and families teams.

UK local authorities are increasingly having to come up with
innovative ways to attract staff. So does going overseas in search
of practitioners solve the vacancy problem and once they are over
here, how easy is it for social workers from the US to adapt to
life in the UK?

The Americans: 

Eileen Davis-Taylor

Eileen Davis-Taylor cuts a striking figure as she drives through
Hounslow. Aged 59 she is African-American, bedecked in silver
jewellery and with bleached blonde hair. Before becoming a social
worker she provided administrative support for the commander of
Nato, a job which took her to Germany and Holland, and before that
she owned a hair and beauty salon.

Originally from Boston, she has worked for the past 12 years as
a social worker in Manhattan, New York, working in nearly every
discipline. In February, she began working for one of Hounslow’s
children and families teams, as she was keen to work in London and
explore the differences between US and British social work
practice. So interested is she, Davis-Taylor is currently applying
to universities to do a PhD in social work, with this issue in mind
for her thesis. (She already has a bachelor degree and a masters in
social work, is a US state-certified social worker and a certified
substance abuse counsellor.)

In her first six months in London, Davis-Taylor saw a key
difference between British and US social work: “There are a lot of
meetings here. I am used to thinking on my feet and finding
solutions. I guess it is part of the uniformity of British

She is also having to adapt to the time it can take for
referrals to other services to happen. In the US, because there are
very few statutory services available, there tends to be more
voluntary agencies available to step in, she says.

In her view, people in the UK rate social work highly and rely
on practitioners’ expertise, factors that make her proud to do her

Drew Donato-Parayno

Drew Donato-Parayno’s decision to move to the UK and become a
children and families worker was sudden. In June he saw an advert
on a recruitment website for the hiring event in New York. Despite
the short notice he decided to fly to New York on the off-chance
that Hounslow would want to interview him in person. His
persistence clearly paid off – he was promptly hired and began
working in the UK at the end of August.

After living in Los Angeles for 15 years, Donato-Parayno fancied
a change. The opportunity arose when he was on holiday in London in
May and a friend – a US social worker based in Scotland – told him
about the staff shortages in the UK. The 39-year-old jumped at the
idea and began to look for work in the capital.

After a career working with people with HIV and with those from
Los Angeles’ notorious South Central neighbourhood, adapting to the
UK has been relatively smooth. He says: “I like to challenge myself
and reach my full potential. My main reason for coming here is to
do good social work, anything else is just extra.”

So did the London bombings, which occurred shortly before his
arrival, put him off? “No. I am very passionate about what I do. I
love working with children and their families and this passion
outweighs any fear that I have.”

The thing he enjoys most about being in London is sitting in a
park and reading a book; in LA this was impossible to do – “there
were no parks!”

The boss:

 Susanna White

Hounslow’s director of social services, Susanna White, says that
the borough chose to recruit social workers from the US because it
wanted to recruit overseas practitioners ethically and from
countries that would not be damaged by their leaving. It was also
important, she adds, for the council to recruit staff who reflected
the diversity of its clients.

All of the US social workers are on permanent contracts and have
five-year work visas that can be renewed. It has cost Hounslow
£4,700 to recruit each US social worker – considerably less
than the £19,000 a year it was spending on each agency social

White says that the council has learned one particular lesson:
to make sure that staff from the UK do not feel left out or
superseded by those from the US. This has been achieved by ensuring
that the two-week induction programme has as much detail and
information for all staff and does not just favour the US

The Brit:

Julie Shipton

Julie Shipton has worked for Hounslow’s social services
department since 1976. In this time she has seen many social
workers come and go, including professionals from countries such as
Australia and South Africa. Shipton is a supervising social worker
for the local authority’s family placement team, which has just
been joined by two US social workers.

So far the experience has been positive, she says, because their
core social work values are the same as British practitioners. “It
has been good sharing views and experiences and hearing how they

Does she believe the team has been enhanced because the social
workers come from another country? “It doesn’t make any difference
that they are American. Any input of different ideas is useful – it
makes you more aware of your own practice.”

The recruiters:

Christine Beran and Sallie Mercer

Helping to recruit American social workers for Hounslow were
Christine Beran Hounslow Council’s human resources manager, and
Sallie Mercer, care management and looked-after children service

Hounslow worked with a recruitment agency, TMM, which set up the
recruitment events in the US and helped to shortlist candidates to
be interviewed in person.

Beran, who worked as a social worker for 11 years, looked out
for people’s motivation to move to the UK and their ability to
adapt to a challenging working environment.

Mercer, who went to the Boston recruitment session, says that
although American social workers abide by different laws, she could
spot if they knew their child protection practice, and was
impressed by some candidates who had read up on the Children Act
1989 in preparation.


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