A team of council officials arrived back in Birmingham last night after a week in New York recruiting social workers for the city.

A high level of staff turnover coupled with a national shortage of social workers resulted in the city council launching a trans-Atlantic search.

US-based recruitment firm UK Pro advertised vacancies for experienced social workers, who will earn between £19,614 and £28,221 plus a £1,000 "golden hello" after a year's service.

The 14 successful applicants are expected to take up their permanent posts by the end of the year, once visa and criminal record checks are completed.

The agency footed the bill for the three city council officers' flights, transport and accommodation, as well as the advertising campaign.

Councillor Keith Barton (Con Longbridge), chairman of the vulnerable children overview and scrutiny committee, said the trip was necessary against "the current backdrop of a national shortage in social workers".

He added: "We've employed individuals from America before but this is the first time we've actively recruited out there for vacancies in Birmingham.

"Part of the idea came out of our relationship with Chicago, and also Councillor John Hemming had been talking about some of the new social work practices being adopted in the US.

"Although this is the first time we've done anything like this in terms of recruitment, there's no reason why this couldn't happen again if necessary.

"These 14 recruits will all be experienced social workers, and I hope they will bring some fresh and innovative ideas over to Birmingham with them."

He spoke out after yesterday's committee meeting, where members heard how a raft of new initiatives proposed in the Government's White Paper, Care Matters: Time For Change, could require "£5 million additional expenditure in Birmingham".

It calls for children to remain in care longer and also adds disabled youngsters into the long term care population, which, by 2020 would see more teenagers and fewer children coming under local authority care.

Coun Barton also added that referrals from West Midlands Police were up 40 per cent, following a change in the way the force reports cases to the local authority.

The council has 430 social workers posts, of which 100 are currently vacant.

Children's services is responsible for the care of 2,153 youngsters, up six per cent since July 2006 when social workers looked after 2,031 children.

In the six months between March and August, the city council took on 16 experienced or newly-qualified social workers, and currently has 23 waiting to start, subject to usual background checks.

But during the same period it lost 26 members of staff from its care management and duty and assessment teams across the city.

UK Pro, which has offices in Atlanta, Georgia, in New York and Croydon, Surrey, describes itself as "an international leader in social services placement".

The agency conducted a similar search for Walsall County Council in August 2006, when ten social workers were interviewed in Atlanta.

Coun Barton added: "Although Birmingham has done some good work in this area, there is still some way to go.

"But there is a blip on the horizon, as some London universities are cancelling their social work courses, which means there will be even fewer graduates to choose from.

"We need to look at new and innovative ways of improving our recruitment practices so we can improve our retention rates."

Coun John Hemming (Lib Dem South Yardley) claimed local authorities, including Birmingham City Council, "could learn a lot from how they do things in America".

He added: "In Britain we take the wrong children into care and too many children into care, but in the US they're better.

"Staff here suffer burn out too quickly because they're expected to 'recycle' children who are taken into care for adoption, and as a result the profession is haemorrhaging qualified, skilled social workers.

"But the main reason we've had to cast our nets across the Atlantic is because there is a national shortage.

"We're competing with local authorities across the country to get qualified and experienced staff," he added