By Alex Stevenson and Ian Dunt
Children's secretary Ed Balls has asserted his support for foreign social workers in comments to politics.co.uk.
The issue of overseas social workers prompted fierce debate earlier in the summer when shadow health minister Tim Loughton suggested to politics.co.uk that foreign social workers were ill-equipped to deal with the unique social problems prevalent in Britain.
"There is a problem with social workers coming in from other countries where there's question-marks over their qualifications and their level of expertise dealing with Baby P-type situations," he said at the time.
"There've been cases where, all of a sudden, they find themselves dealing with some really big problems in an inner city London borough. Have they got the experience and the tools to deal with this?"
Those comments caused anger and indignation in parts of the social worker profession, ending with a comment piece to politics.co.uk by Jena Svosve in which she argued for the hard and underappreciated work of Zimbabwean social workers in the UK.
Today, Mr Balls gave a strong rebuttal to the Conservative clams, and described the use of foreign social workers as a "positive way of responding to the problem of recruiting".
"I don't think it's a problem," he told politics.co.uk. "I think it is absolutely essential.
"In the case of Haringey, for example, they've been actively recruiting social workers from America and other parts of the world."
He continued: "It takes a long time to train a social worker. We've got to get that training improved for the medium term.
"But while now there's shortages we need to get the social workers who are trained from wherever we can find them, and that's what we're doing. So it's not a problem, it's a positive way of responding to a problem of recruitment."
Mr Balls praised social workers as unsung heroes of Britain's public services in his keynote speech to the Labour conference in Brighton this afternoon, following a damaging year for the profession in the wake of the Baby P scandal.