Making A Home From Home

Caroline Thompson has a background in local authority
child protection work and interagency training.  She now works
independently as a trainer and consultant.

While the number of overseas social workers recruited to work in
this country has mushroomed, little is known about how successfully
they have integrated. Some social services departments take the
approach that foreign workers will have to cope in the same way as
any other new member of staff, and greet them, for example, with a
pile of 15 child protection cases on their first day. Others offer
a mixed bag of induction and training packages that they hope will
be sufficient.

Among those that take the view that proper planning, structuring
and funding are required for overseas recruitment to work is a
Welsh local authority. It commissioned a consultancy to develop an
induction, training and appraisal programme that lasted nine months
and set up a comprehensive package of support and financial
benefits for four new staff from non-English speaking

Did it work? More than 18 months later all four recruits are
settled into their teams and bedding down their practice. But it
has taken a sustained effort from everyone to make it a success.
The social workers faced an enormous emotional and cultural
upheaval in working and thinking in a different language, getting
to grips with our systems, understanding the concept of the welfare
state, sorting out housing, finances, cars and visas for family
members, and a glut of consumer choices. And that was before they
took on any casework.

Overall, the project was costly in time and resources. It took more
time than envisaged, and when stretched resources are concentrated
in one area, others may feel left out.

But the social workers gained a clear sense that they were valued
and that the organisation was committed to making their recruitment
work. And the organisation now has four more social workers able to
make a real contribution, as well as a clear route to integrating
any future social workers from abroad.

The project had four distinct stages, and the rest of this article
looks at the important factors in each.

Planning and preparation

What worked:

  • A steering group and supervisors.
  • Relocation benefits.
  • Time off to sort out practicalities.
  • Time to adjust emotionally.

Setting up a steering group kept the whole project flowing. The
group included personnel and training staff, supervisors and senior
managers. It took responsibility for ensuring all relevant staff
were aware of the incoming social workers. The steering group found
it needed to meet on average once a month.

Regular and supportive supervision is one of the most important
factors for success. But supervising overseas staff is not the same
as supervising a newly qualified UK social worker. In practice, it
may take significantly more time, and some basic skills, such as
handling phone calls and filling in forms, may take longer to

Formal supervision was needed at least fortnightly, but on a
day-to-day basis the overseas social workers were initially very
needy of their supervisors’ and colleagues’ time. For the first few
months, new social workers may only get through about half of what
other team members are doing, so managers should not be too
ambitious about decreasing waiting lists immediately.

Mentors or befrienders who can offer a more informal relationship
in the early months should be considered. Coaching on aspects of
professional practice may be helpful and could be undertaken by a
colleague or other member of staff with the necessary skills.

The Welsh council put up its new social workers in a B&B for
six months while they found their own accommodation. The council
also offered a lump sum towards furnishings and fittings, a driving
assessment followed by a number of driving lessons, and help in
sorting out arrangements with banks and estate agents.

Induction and training

What worked:

  • Structured shadowing and observation.
  • Regular supervision.
  • Inclusion in team activities.

This stage is hard to specify and will depend heavily on
individual circumstances. The original intention was to give the
new social workers a 12-week induction, including time in each
child care team, shadowing social workers, observing office
routines, and training days on the core aspects of child

The breathing space was useful, but after a few weeks the social
workers were feeling bored and detached, their colleagues were
wondering when they were going to do some work, and their
supervision became fragmented the shifting around the teams.

So halfway through the induction, they were moved into their
allocated roles to start building up some casework

Nine days of child care training took place in this period,
supplemented by in-house sessions such as using IT systems. Some of
the social workers found it a really helpful grounding but others
felt it only began to make sense when they could relate it to their
practice. One valuable spin-off was the chance to meet other child
care staff in the organisation.

It took a while for the new social workers to feel part of their
teams and confident enough to contribute in meetings and
discussions. Opportunities to socialise helped build new
relationships, and talking about different customs and cultures
promoted a better understanding of each other’s backgrounds.

Assessment and appraisal

What worked:

  • A set of core competences to measure progress.
  • Involving personnel to clarify contracts.
  • Close support of supervisors, including observation of
  • Regular group and individual sessions with the

Application forms, tests and interviews do not give a full
picture of how an individual will perform. Candidates are sometimes
coached beforehand. And those with the best written and language
skills may not have corresponding personal skills, while those who
come across as less fluent may have good communication

The Welsh council found it helpful to develop a set of core
competences that provided a baseline for assessing progress and
identifying any gaps. Informal feedback forms were also completed
by the social workers every three months.

The six-month probationary period and formal assessment process
placed social workers and supervisors under a lot of pressure and
created anxiety and uncertainty. Involving the personnel department
throughout this phase was essential. The social workers had
committed to a huge move. The thought that it might not prove
successful did, at times, hang over the project.

Evaluation and review

What helped:

  • Final appraisal and professional development plan tailored to
    each social worker.
  • Feedback from supervisor, social worker, colleagues and
  • Gradual build-up of cases.

After six months the social workers had found their feet and
were building up their caseloads. The next three months gave them
and their teams a chance to review progress and make future plans.
All were optimistic about the future.


This article follows the progress of four newly arrived social
workers from abroad.  It suggests that all areas of an organisation
need to be well prepared in advance and that finance, training,
supervision and appraisal need to be well planed if overseas
recruitment is to work well for everyone.

Further information

Contact the author

Phone 01832 732130 or email:


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