Foreign social workers to fill staff shortage

Foreign social workers who are trained to deal with children are to be fast-tracked into Britain under plans to halt an escalating recruitment crisis, the Observer has learnt.

The migration advisory committee, which guides the government over skilled workers from outside the European Union, will make the recommendation to the home secretary, Jacqui Smith, this month.

Social services departments across Britain have reported a critical shortfall in the number of child specialists after the Baby P scandal in Haringey, north London, in which a 17-month-old boy on a register of children at risk died.

There are concerns that the shortfall has placed acute pressure on a system that will come under severe scrutiny this week when Lord Laming publishes his report on the safeguarding of children.

Professor David Metcalf, who chairs the committee, said it is expected to advise using foreign workers. But Ruth Cartwright, of the British Association of Social Workers, said: "Social workers come here to get experience then go back. Local authorities must have a long-term strategy that will retain social workers in this country."

Prior to the Baby P case, eight children in the London area were yet to be appointed a legal guardian. Last week the number was 115.

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