'Why welfare of vulnerable youngsters remains priority'
OF all the cabinet positions in Swansea Council, the one covering social services has been most prominent in recent years.
Since the new administration took over responsibility has fallen to Mark Child under the new title of cabinet member for wellbeing.
He was most likely an obvious choice for the role since he was the first chairman of the Child and Family Services Scrutiny Board set up in reaction to the service being placed in special measures by the Welsh Government.
Since then the service has been strengthening and an intervention board put in place by Deputy Minister for Social Services Gwenda Thomas to oversee improvement has long been removed.
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Mr Child is one of the longer serving councillors on the cabinet, having been a member for the West Cross ward since 1999, but for many years he was a Labour backbencher.
He was also an active union member for Unison during his days working for Welsh Water, something he had to give up when he elected to Swansea Council.
But he still works four days a week, now in IT as a database administrator for Logika.
Being cabinet member for wellbeing comes with a big workload. He has a strong background in the area though, having done "quite a lot of scrutiny" in the past.
He said: "When we were put into special measures there were a things that needed doing and I think it was our party that suggested ways to set up a special scrutiny committee to scrutinise children and family services. I was selected to chair that.
"It worked very well and that was partly because of me and partly the vice-chairman (then Paxton Hood-Williams) and partly the committee members."
As well as covering social services the wellbeing mantle also takes into account affordable housing, but not council housing, and recreation.
"It's not about running the parks, it's about getting people to participate and to increase interest in recreation," he added.
"We want to encourage people to join in and to take part in sport. It gives people a feeling of worth and value."
Speaking about the progress of child and family services, Mr Child said much work had been done but there will still issues.
There are still large numbers of "looked after children" on the councils books: these numbers have been growing in recent years.
And these children cost the council a significant amount of money, Mr Child said.
"If a social worker says if these children need to be looked after, I will always accept that.
"But these are tight times and we need to get ahead of the curve.
"We need to do things to reduce (the numbers) of looked after children and improve what causes them to become looked after which is what really costs us money."
Foster Swansea is also a big priority for Mr Child.
The council's own fostering service, which the authority is working hard to build up.
A lot of work has gone into encouraging foster carers, making sure they are equipped to care for youngsters, looking after the carers themselves when they take up the role and supporting not only the children in care, but also the biological children of foster parents.
"We do want to encourage Foster Swansea and build up its reserves so we are less reliant on private agencies and sending people outside of Swansea," he added.
"Sending people outside (of the county) is more expensive and not as good for the children.
"We are also reviewing residential care for children to see how we can better care for the children at best value."
In December there were around 560 children classed as looked after in Swansea: around 200 of those are in care outside the city and county, Mr Child estimated.
He added: "Some have to be because they have particular needs or because they are safer there, but that's a small majority.
"Our drive is to bring as many back to Swansea as we can."
But a part of social services will be an unknown entity — the council has a duty of care and there is never going to be a fixed number of children who need that care.
Since the case of Baby P in Haringey, London, which brought up serious issues about the local child and family services, the number of looked after children has risen steadily across the UK.
Social workers, Mr Child said, have since been taking a "better safe than sorry approach".
"I'm not saying any decision which were made were wrong," he added.
"What we should be doing is identifying earlier children that should be looked after and supporting families as a whole rather than just the children.
"We know that in most cases the outcomes for looked after children isn't as good as for other children."
But of course, there are adult services too. This is something Swansea Council is reviewing and officers are currently looking at working with Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend councils, as well as ABMU Health Board to provide services for elderly people.
"We are reviewing all things in adult services," said the cabinet member, "We've got the population getting older so the needs of the population are increasing. And we've also got budget cuts, greater need and less money.
"We are working to transform social services."