Concern over social care vacancies

NEARLY 30% of children's social care posts in Essex are currently vacant, forcing bosses to scour former Eastern Bloc states and North America for staff, it has emerged.

NEARLY 30% of children's social care posts in Essex are currently vacant, forcing bosses to scour former Eastern Bloc states and North America for staff, it has emerged.

There is a national shortage of qualified social workers and yesterday Essex County Council admitted its vacancy rate was “a concern” - especially in children's social care where 28% of posts are currently unfilled.

Despite the staffing problems, social care bosses vowed that children were not at increased risk as a result of the gaps because workload was being prioritised.

But, last night, public service workers' union Unison voiced concerns both about the level of vacancies in Essex and about the quality of criminal record checking in some eastern European states.

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By taking on agency cover staff, the council has managed to whittle the social work gap down to about 13% - though the county council admits the number is “considerably higher” in Colchester, described by social care bosses as a “hotspot”.

Last year, the cost of employing 542 temporary social care staff in Essex amounted to £8.6 million.

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As well as employing the services of RS Locums to source between 35 and 50 qualified social workers from Canada, the council is also set to look to the Baltic States and Germany, where high unemployment rates have left “significant numbers of social workers out of work”.

A spokeswoman for the county council said: “Children in Essex are not at increased risk due to the vacancies because our social workers are highly-skilled and trained professionals and as with any job, the prioritisation of work load and high-level need cases within child protection and looked-after children is essential.

“There is a shortage of qualified social workers across the country and some areas of Essex have a higher vacancy rate than others.”

But the move to import qualified personnel from abroad - especially into the highly sensitive area of children's social care - has sparked concerns about criminal record checks and the risks such a scheme poses to some of Essex's most vulnerable people.

The spokeswoman said social workers drafted in from overseas were subjected to criminal record bureau checks and required registration with the General Social Care Council before working in the UK.

“Overseas social workers are interviewed and assessed against exactly the same standards that a UK worker would experience, including Criminal Records Bureau checks, eligibility to work, occupational health, professional and personal referencing and professional experience.

“On arrival in Essex, overseas workers are expected to complete a detailed and comprehensive six month induction process to learn UK practices and legislation.”

But Ann Vinden, head of Unison's local government division for the east of England, said yesterday: “I think it is appalling that we are having to recruit from other countries when, with proper training systems, return to social care programmes and staff development, we could easily fill vacant posts.

“Although I would not wish to comment on Canada, equivalents to the criminal record bureau checks in the UK are not always found elsewhere - especially in the Eastern Bloc - and this is a cause for concern.”

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