Visa restrictions putting children at risk, says agency

Recent restrictions on the number of migrant workers given permission to work in the UK is putting thousands of children at risk, according to a recruitment agency providing specialist public sector workers.

The Synergy Group said that the reduced number of sponsorship visas allocated to skilled migrant workers has closed the door to qualified people willing to fill vacant social work positions.

The agency argues that in imposing the restrictions between July 2010 and March 2011, the government has put the welfare of thousands of children in the UK at risk due to the severe shortage of child protection officers.

Richard Evans, The Synergy Group’s international recruitment manager, said: “Across five of the councils we are currently working with to recruit overseas permanent child protection social workers there are around 120 open vacancies.

“When you consider that there are 152 local authorities in England, this could mean that in over 3,000 child protection officer roles are currently unfilled, or more shockingly, that an estimated 45,000 children are without an officer allocated to them.”

Evans said that in order to address the shortfall of social workers The Synergy Group has embarked upon campaigns on behalf of some councils to recruit overseas candidates.

He added: “One of our clients had 11 candidates due to travel to the UK from the US in the next few weeks to fill vacant child protection officer roles and now these are all on hold due to the visa situation.

“Both the council and the candidates are in limbo, the roles remain unfilled and existing employees struggle under the weight of increased case loads.”

The recruitment group is now calling on the Home Office to reconsider the restrictions to allow the recruitment of the skilled workers needed to plug the shortage in social work staff.

Nick Johnson, chief executive of the Social Care Association, a professional association for those who work in social care, said: “Children cannot be adequately protected if there is a denial of prompt access to assessment due to a lack of skilled social work staff. The borders and immigration authority should recognise the impact of global decisions on particular services and members of the community.

“This is a complicated business and the simplest solution is to allow the recruitment of enough skilled social workers from whatever source they may come. This worked very effectively for the NHS over periods of nurse and doctor shortages and the same criteria should be applied here.”