Steven Downes, the editor of Inside Croydon, was honoured by a national charity last night when named Journalist of the Year at the Anna Kennedy Online Autism Hero Awards.
According to the official citation, Downes was nominated for the award by Croydon families for coverage of their plight and struggles with Croydon Council, “showing that the local authority has been breaking the law”.
The citation said: “Families are struggling to get the local authority to comply with the law regarding Special Educational Needs.
“Steven is a great supporter of disabled residents and carers. One of Inside Croydon’s recent articles went viral and appeared on the BBC.”
Downes said, “I am flattered and humbled even to be considered for this award.
“After all, I have simply done what any journalist would try to do: finding and telling important human stories, of local families who have been ill-served by the very people that are supposed to be there to help them. I’d like to thank the many mums, dads and Croydon families who have had the courage to share their stories with me, so that I might better highlight the shortcomings that they have to deal with.”
The news of the award was greeted by one senior local politics figure who called it, “fantastic news and fantastic recognition for the amazing reporting that Inside Croydon has produced”.
On a glittering awards night at a Portman Square hotel, charity founder Anna Kennedy and her team raised thousands of pounds for the charity she established and which has founded two schools, a college, a respite home for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Award-winners were gathered from across Britain, from Canada and Germany, and included south London police officer Steve Whitmore, joint winner of the Outstanding Community Award.
Whitmore established a scheme to provide books for all detainees in Metropolitan Police custody. Of the 200,000 individuals process by the police system in London annually, up to 30 per cent of them have learning difficulties or disability. Young people with learning difficulties often find that reading a book helps to calm them in a stressful situation.
And highly commended in the Personal Achievement Awards was Selsdon teenager Prince Reid. Reid, 17, a student at Coulsdon College, has represented Surrey at football and athletics in the past two years, overcoming significant barriers after having been excluded from school and being sent to the Pupil Referral Unit.
Prince Reid was forced to stay at home for nine months, as his local council failed to find him a school place, and eventually his mother, Joyce – herself a former social worker – found a place for her son at a school in Jamaica. The stability and guidance provided there has allowed Prince Reid to return to Croydon and establish himself in full-time education.
Joyce Reid addressed the Labour Party conference in Liverpool last month, speaking in the education debate of the need to ensure that “no one is left behind”, as a decade of social services and education cuts has seen provision for children and young adults with autism and Special Educational Needs reduced to unacceptable levels.
The case of Prince and Joyce Reid is similar to another instance in which the Local Government Ombudsman recently ruled against Croydon Council for its failure to provide the services it has a statutory duty to deliver, one of a series of such judgements against the council.
The Ombudsman’s ruling including the finding that Croydon Council’s delays in dealing with complaints had caused “extreme distress”.
Speaking to Inside Croydon at the awards evening, Joyce Reid said, “Croydon Council has never provided us with any help. I have made several contacts to get the respite care which we are supposed to be provided, and have never had one day respite.”
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