SUNDERLAND Council bosses are calling on international help to fill the shortfall in social workers.
The authority has turned to the U.S. as part of an innovative bid to tackle the growing national shortage of experienced, front-line social workers.
So far, the scheme has seen the Wearside authority successfully recruit 11 experienced social workers from Texas.
The first three recruits are due to start work in Sunderland next month, with the rest set to follow once their documentation to work in this country is complete.
Keith Moore, executive director of Children’s Services at Sunderland City Council, said: “We want the very best for our children and young people so it’s really important that we find the best staff with the right balance of qualifications and experience.”
The director said Sunderland is not alone in its quest to find the right people for the vital roles.
He said: “Local authorities across England are facing extreme difficulties in recruiting experienced child protection workers.
“This wasn’t our first option and despite strenuous efforts, we just haven’t been able to recruit front-line social workers in this country with the level of experience we require.”
Mr Moore said in England there are enough recently qualified social workers, but what the city really needed was ones who have had plenty of time doing the job.
He said: “We have no difficulty recruiting newly-qualified social workers but there’s a real shortage of people with experience in front line social work.
“The people we’ve taken on from America are all really good social workers with a wealth of experience and we’re really pleased with the quality of the people we’ve managed to recruit.”
And the Children’s Services boss claims recruiting the new members of staff from America will be financially beneficial to the city, saying the employing of permanent staff to fill the 11 posts will save council tax payers in Sunderland £320,000 over a two-year period.
Mr Moore said: “The new American social workers will be employed by Sunderland City Council on contracts for a minimum of two years. We believe this planned one-off recruitment strategy will help to deliver effective safeguarding services to the city’s most vulnerable children.
“In the current economic climate we have had to consider very carefully whether we should go ahead with this scheme.
“However, I believe it is the right thing to do both in terms of meeting the needs of children and on cost grounds.”
Coun Pat Smith, Cabinet Member for Children and Learning City, welcomed the move, which she says is putting the needs of children first.
She said: “We’re committed to doing the very best for our most vulnerable children and young people and it is in their interest that we have social workers with the right mix of qualifications and experience.”