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Stealing Kids is Fun!
February 22, 2009 permalink
The stories of hard partying by social workers that we have heard from parents are finally corroborated by a British newspaper story. New hires recruited with the prospect of partying but without even an orientation meeting are going into homes and taking the children.
The reference to "Baby P" is to Peter Connolly (or Connelly) who died at the hands of his mother Tracey Connolly, stepfather Steven Barker and lodger Jason Owen. Following a year of stories in the British press unfavorable to child snatchers, social services gave great publicity to this case, creating a lynch-mob mood toward abusive parents, a classic foster care panic.
You can see the enticements for job seekers at the recruiting site UK-Pro.
Baby P council hired US college kids to be £36,000 a year social workers
By Glen Owen, Last updated at 11:34 PM on 21st February 2009
Inexperienced American college students, lured to British social service jobs with the promise of high salaries and a party lifestyle, are deciding which children should be taken away from their parents.
In many cases, the young recruits are making vital child protection decisions without a single day’s training in the UK. Many of the hundreds of workers making the trip boast they are coming here mainly to have a good time and admit they cannot cope with the pressures of their work.
Town hall chiefs – including those at Haringey in North London where Baby P scandalously died under the noses of social workers – have been so desperate to find staff that they turn to agencies to hire American students fresh out of college at salaries of up to £36,000 a year, nearly twice what they could earn in the US.
Many local authorities even organise expensive recruitment trips to the States, where they accept up to 90 per cent of novice applicants.
Some recruits are so inexperienced, they have never used public transport and have to be advised on how to cope with buses and the London Underground. One student described social work in Britain as ‘trial by fire’.
Astonishingly, one of the US job agency bosses sending social workers to UK councils said the students themselves were shocked by the way councils sent them into people’s homes with little or no warning about what to expect or what to do. Some recruits are moved from council to council within days.
Last night the Tories claimed the move is a damning indictment of the Government’s failure to tackle the recruitment crisis gripping the profession.
Eye-catching deals to attract American students are being offered by a number of US firms, including UK-Pro.
The company, based in Boston and Atlanta, and with a small office in Croydon, Surrey, currently has 75 staff working in British councils on contracts ranging from a few months to several years. Haringey is among its clients.
UK-Pro’s website declares that ‘if you are a new graduate...you have come to the right place for a job. The UK is experiencing a national shortage of social workers and needs your help’.
Framed by pictures of American students drinking, it promises salaries of £36,000, relocation packages of £4,600 and the chance to ‘eat, drink, and be merry’. It adds: ‘Going to pubs, comedy clubs, musicals, city tours, museums, and having travel partners to see Europe with are just a few of our benefits.’
One expert compared it to offering them a ‘gap year’, but with pay of up to £700 a week.
Testimonies of some staff paint a shocking picture of inexperienced foreign workers floundering on the front line of child protection work – before going out to party.
Leigh Montagnet, from Louisiana State University, posted a message at the end of the second week of her placement at Havering social services in East London, in which she admitted that she was ‘still trying to orient’ herself to the job.
‘It seems to be mostly child protection,’ she wrote. ‘In fact, yesterday I helped to remove three children...I’ve been overwhelmed with how much there is to learn. There is no manual for me, or even an orientation packet. Even my manager wasn’t able to sit down with me and do an orientation/supervision during the first week. The beginning has been much harder than I anticipated and I cried many times.’
Another, Melissa Ganser from San Diego State University, wrote that it was ‘scary’ being placed on a children and families assessment team at a separate London council. But she made it clear why she had stayed: ‘There is just way too much to do in this city...and I am also earning a salary that is better than I would be earning at home.’
Baby P died in August 2007, aged 17 months. He had endured eight months of abuse, despite being repeatedly seen by Haringey social workers. The outcry highlighted concerns over the standard of social work across Britain.
Last night, Linde Grant, the director of UK-Pro, criticised the support councils offered the recruits she was flying in for them. ‘The councils do not offer good training for locums, there are not many councils that offer an adequate induction of even two hours,’ she said. ‘They just put them straight into cases.
‘Just today I had a call from one of our temporary placements at a council in the south of England. Three months in, she has been given 24 cases, of which 12 are child protection cases. She said she wasn’t comfortable with the cases, and said she hoped to be given a permanent job because then she might get proper training.’
Council officials from Barking and Dagenham are travelling to Boston next month to interview candidates for jobs working on child protection plans. And last July, Thurrock Council, in Essex, held interviews in Atlanta which, according to UK-Pro, ‘allowed 90 per cent of the candidates interviewed to accept employment in the UK!’
Ms Grant said there was a surplus of social workers in the US, and that the students on her books have masters degrees in social work which includes two years of studying and two years hands-on experience. ‘I was on a plane recently and the woman next to me was appalled that the British Government was having to “buy in” social workers,’ she said. ‘But if you have a shortage, then surely it’s a sensible move?
‘A manager in one council told me the quality of British graduates was so poor that they were unable to recruit decent candidates. There is a surplus of social workers in the States who can’t get jobs.’
Until 2007, UK-Pro placed between ten and 20 staff in Haringey, she said, but its problems were not unique.
‘The profession is under strain across the UK. It is not humanly possible for them to detect and help all the vulnerable children.’
Tory Shadow Minister for Children, Tim Loughton, said last night: ‘It is very alarming that we are flying in newly qualified social workers and throwing them in at the deep end. The Government has set great store by the social worker degree in this country, yet we have American students being let loose with a minimum of UK training or support.’
The students’ accounts also reveal the high turnover between jobs. Laura Rosynek, from Virginia Commonwealth University, was made a ‘permanent’ member of staff at Brent Council in North London for just ten days before being moved to neighbouring Camden.
UK-Pro acknowledges the difficulties faced by its staff on its website, which states: ‘Most social workers have never used public transportation before so we pay special attention to this feature.’
Brittany Heeren, from Louisiana State University, likened her experience at the London borough of Havering to ‘trial by fire’. She added: ‘You just have to jump in.’
Vacancy rates for children’s social workers are rising steeply across the UK. In ten authorities, including Haringey, a third of positions remain unfilled because of high drop-out rates and difficulties recruiting new graduates.
A recent survey by the Unison trade union said that the lack of child protection staff was a ‘ticking time bomb that could explode at any minute. Without decisive action it is only a matter of time before there is another tragedy’.
Havering Council said that its policy was to give its own permanent workers priority when it came to training, not the temporary recruits from the US. ‘All of our staff, including locum or agency staff, receive adequate training according to their level of skills to safeguard and protect children,’ a spokeswoman said.
Haringey Council said: ‘The council only employs fully-qualified social workers for front line duties.’
The Department for Children, Schools and Families said it was working hard to recruit and retain more social workers. ‘Only those who are properly qualified can work as social workers. This includes those trained abroad.’
Social workers in England must have a professional qualification, with a three-year social work degree now the standard course.
However, shorter postgraduate courses and part-time diplomas are available.
Students will also need to pass a Criminal Records Bureau background check. The courses, which must be approved by the General Social Care Council, involve at least 200 days in work placements. Social workers also have to be registered with the body.
Source: Daily Mail (UK)