Wokingham Council has resorted to hiring social workers in Australia due to high agency fees and problems attracting experienced staff in England.
In February the authority launched a month-long recruitment campaign in Western Australia that has led to the appointment of five children’s social workers.
Working with recruitment agency Hays, the council targeted the Australian state because its legal and educational framework for social work is similar to that of England.
In council papers, Wokingham’s human resources business partner Gillian Ward revealed that while it was more expensive to recruit in Australia, the extra cost would soon be outweighed by the savings made on agency fees.
Wokingham offered Australian social workers a two- to five-year contract and relocation expenses equal to those on offer to staff recruited within the UK. The social workers will need to repay their relocation expenses if they do not complete their contract.
Hays did the initial interviews in Australia and successful candidates then had Skype interviews with council representatives.
Ward told councillors that the Australian recruitment campaign was part of a wider response to high turnover in children’s social work and the difficulty of recruiting experienced social workers, which was harming the quality of children’s social work in the borough.
At 2 March 2016, approximately 26% of children’s social worker posts in Wokingham were unfilled.
Wokingham’s most recent Ofsted inspection, published January 2016, found its children’s services “requires improvements”.
Ofsted said the council had cut social worker turnover from 33% in 2013/14 to 14% in March 2015 but its recruitment challenges have hurt the progression of care plans and the ability of looked-after children to form trusting relationships with social workers.