Controlling the uncontrollable is nothing short of an art form when it comes to managing external
factors that can enhance or detract from the image of a public child welfare agency. In a perfect
world, an agency’s proactive measures of providing the media information that highlights positive
public child welfare outcomes would result in a stream of positive news stories that spotlight the
important work performed by public child welfare workers, foster and adoptive parents, or
biological and extended families. Since most public child welfare agencies do not operate in a
perfect world and no agency has that much power, this section is dedicated to managing skillfully
external factors that can potentially enhance or hinder communications.
Internalizing the External
An integral part of any communications plan is devising a process to manage communications that are
not initiated by the agency. While this statement automatically conjures up images of negative news
stories, this principle, in fact, holds true for positive communications as well. Not being
prepared to take advantage of positive communications opportunities can be just as detrimental as
being ill-prepared to respond in potentially negative situations. Internalizing the external,
simply put, is having a plan of action for communications opportunities or challenges as they
Taking Control of Communications Opportunities
Opportunities to enhance the agency message may present themselves in ways that are completely
unexpected. Nonetheless, it is important to be ready to capitalize on these opportunities. It is
equally important to be able to anticipate and recognize communications impediments. While not an
exhaustive list, the following are some examples of both:
National Child Welfare Trends and Statistics
When national child welfare trends and data receive attention in local media markets, they provide
local public child welfare agencies with an excellent opportunity to highlight local trends that
support the positive work of the agency or conversely with data that refutes negative trending
statistics. Whether local data supports positive trends or refutes negative ones, this is an
excellent opportunity to provide a regional perspective to national issues.
Designated Days or Months for Special Recognition
National Adoption Month, National Foster Care Month, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, are all
excellent opportunities to highlight success stories and to profile positive trends within the
system. These are external communications gems that keep on giving, year after year and for which
there is ample time to plan.
Often, local television stations may contact the local public child welfare agency for information
on a story they are developing – for example, foreign adoptions - and they need public child
welfare statistics to balance the story. Use this opportunity to take the same story concept and
pitch it to print media with a focus on public adoptions. These opportunities are ideal to enhance
the agency’s adoption efforts.
Nothing impacts the state of public child welfare more than the stability of government funding.
When the threat of budget cuts looms, showcase successes. Partner with community agencies to help
communicate the agency message and solicit the help of foster parents who can put a human face and
story to the programs supported by the budget.
A child fatality or particularly horrific child abuse situation in a contiguous region or one that
receives widespread state or national media coverage, inevitably causes local media and other key
stakeholders to wonder about the strength of safety net provided by the local public child welfare
system. Such a situation affords an agency the opportunity to educate the media and specific
interested members of the community about local efforts to prevent such a tragedy and how the
community plays a role in keeping children safe. Never pass judgment on other jurisdictions’ actions or decision-making.
Circumstances can change in an instant.
Commendations and Awards
Any time a staff member or the agency itself is the recipient of a national, state or local award
for work on behalf of children and families, Communications is presented with an opportunity to
issue a news release or a personal pitch to a media contact. It is always wise to include staff and/or client contact information (if relevant and with the appropriate court permission) in order to facilitate media contact.