Council chiefs have told Home Office officials that a cap on overseas social workers will weaken child protection teams, putting vulnerable children at risk.
The Association of Directors of Children’s Services urged ministers to rethink temporary restrictions on the number of skilled workers from non-EU countries allowed to enter the country.
The ADCS says the cap will deprive councils of a vital source of experienced practitioners from countries such as Australia and the US, leaving them struggling to reduce vacancy rates as high as 15% in some areas.
Chris Hogan, ADCS member and assistant director of children’s services at Hounslow Council, raised the concerns at a meeting with the Migration Advisory Committee and other representatives of the social work sector last month.
“In London and other metropolitan areas it will become more difficult to fill social work posts with experienced practitioners,” she said.
“This will lead to higher caseloads for existing staff, putting vulnerable children at risk.”
Hogan said the general consensus from the social work sector at the meeting was that the temporary limit on “Tier Two” skilled migrant workers entering the country from outside the EU, imposed this summer, was poorly thought-out.
Home Office ministers had failed to understand the importance of skilled workers from countries which share similar legal and training systems and a common language, Hogan said.
“They provide a stability and high level of competence and expertise that we haven’t been able to get from the UK workforce.
“[The Home Office officials] said ‘why don’t you recruit people from places where there are no recruitment problems like Scotland?’ We said we are doing those things but it takes time.”
Merlin Joseph, deputy director of children’s services at Hillingdon Council in London, told Community Care: “An annual limit on the level of economic migration to the UK will seriously affect the ability of local authorities to be able to provide services to the most vulnerable in our communities and I would urge the government to listen to the concerns of local authorities on this issue.”
The temporary immigration cap, in which sponsorship certificates that employers can issue are being cut by 1,300, will remain in place until a permanent limit is imposed next year, following the outcome of a consultation.
A spokesperson for the Home Office said employers needing to fill jobs in “key shortage occupations” such as children’s social work can seek additional permits.
“Ahead of introducing the permanent limit, we are consulting widely with employers and partners, including those in the social care sector, to ensure that their views and needs are taken into account.
“The government will also introduce measures to support British people. Alongside limits will be action to get Britain back to work and provide employers with the skills they need from the resident workforce – reducing the need for migrants at the same time as we reduce their number.”
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