How one reporter’s persistence paid off to help save children’s services
Sam Ferguson, of the South Wales Argus in Newport, on how local journalism made a difference for users of children’s services…
My chance to make a difference started with a knock at the door, a woman had sat down in reception and demanded attention.
In October 2018, Newport City Council announced they were pulling out of a regional service supporting children who are blind, deaf or with communication needs — known as SenCom.
These are some of the most vulnerable children in the city, and the decision to dramatically alter their lives came without warning to parents, health professionals and SenCom itself.
It was a decision taken behind closed doors, without scrutiny, and we might have missed it had it not been for the grandmother of a blind, autistic nine-year-old who plonked herself on the South Wales Argus’ sofas and told me about her grandson’s life.
After a bit of digging, I realised the council’s plan to save £250,000 by setting up an equivalent service could dramatically change the support received by almost 700 vulnerable children in the city.
And it quickly became clear there was no realistic chance the council could come up with an “equivalent service” while saving money.
This was a complicated story, full of unusual acronyms and technical jargon. To make people understand how important it was, I focussed on keeping it simple. I told the stories of the parents and children who rely on SenCom.
We published Brogan’s story on November 2, 2018. Within days my inbox was full of emails, leaked letters and rumours to chase.
I carried on churning out interviews with parents and their children, making contacts and slowly unravelling the decision and its implications.
Soon politicians from the Welsh Assembly and national charities picked up on the issue and starting petitioning Newport council to reconsider.
But the breakthrough came when a partner from a leading Cardiff law firm got in touch.
He had read my stories and thought there was a case for a judicial review.
High court proceedings were soon issued, and by early February, I had written 12 stories on SenCom — an issue largely unreported by other media.
The twelfth story I wrote highlighted the chaos around the decision, as Newport council scrambled to tick boxes with shoddily arranged consultation sessions with parents.
The next day, one of our LDRs got another tip-off: Newport council had “deferred” the decision to leave SenCom.
Cue a frantic scramble to confirm and publish before the council sent out their own press release.
I’ll never forget being able to tell parents, who I’ve spent almost four months getting to know, that their stories had made the difference.
If not for the South Wales Argus, the plan to leave SenCom would not even have been on the public agenda.
There are a lot of loose threads still to be chased in this story.
Persistence pays off.