A council, recently rated inadequate by Ofsted for its children’s services, is now looking overseas to recruit social workers.
Buckinghamshire County Council’s cabinet member for children’s services Angela Macpherson told an internal select committee the poor Ofsted rating last month was the result of a “perfect storm” of increasing referrals, recruitment problems and the implementation of a new model of social work.
Macpherson, said problems keeping and recruiting senior social workers and frontline managers meant the council was now considering recruiting from countries such as North America, Australia and the EU.
“The initiative to recruit from abroad has worked for a number of authorities and we have recruited from abroad in the past. If we recruit from non-English speaking countries we would ensure that the workers have a high standard of spoken and written English and we will offer support to them to integrate and develop as long term workers for Buckinghamshire.”
She said they were also investing in Frontline as well as initiatives with local universities. However, the committee was told many of these “home-grown” social workers are being poached by London councils.
A spokesman for the council confirmed the pay differential meant it was worthwhile for professionals living in Buckinghamshire to commute in London.
“This is a problem across the home counties,” he pointed out.
Macpherson told the committee Buckinghamshire was currently battling increases in referrals from police and health, a 38% increase in child protection plans as well as a spike in the number of teenagers considered at risk of sexual exploitation, following on from the media coverage of the Rotherham case. This meant caseloads had spiralled.
In the same meeting Sue Imbriano, director of children’s services, denied frontline social workers in the council were unhappy with the new model of social work being implemented, which is based on the Hackney Reclaim Social Work model.
“The problem was that at the point of implementation there was a sudden increase in demand and problems around recruitment which meant we weren’t able to implement as planned. For example the increase in demand meant we could not release staff for training which was crucial.
“Ofsted did say that in those teams where they had lesser caseloads the new model was working very well. We have gone back to staff to ask them if we should be thinking again about this model but most staff have said that, with some tweaks, this is the model that they want to be working to.”
The increase in demand has blown a £4.8million hole in the children’s services budget and the council has released an extra £1m initially to rectify problems identified by Ofsted. Ms Macpherson said more money would be required once the improvement plan they were developing had been costed.