Implementation

 

Public child welfare agencies face many challenges, but perhaps the most challenging obstacle 

affecting the way agencies disseminate information is the strict child confidentiality laws 

governing them. These laws vary broadly from state to state. Indeed, many agencies are bound by 

laws that prevent them from saying anything about the cases they handle or the clients they serve. 

Although these laws are strict, they are never an excuse for “no  comment.”

 

One of the best ways to handle the issue of confidentiality is to educate the media and other key 

stakeholders such as elected officials on the actual law in advance of any media attention. It is 

wise to include information on the agency web site regarding key practices, policies and operating 

legal parameters, including the state confidentiality law. Once they understand the legal 

restrictions that bind the agency, reporters tend to be a little more understanding. Instead of 

writing “the agency refused to comment,” they will often write “the agency could not comment 

because of strict confidentiality laws.” The latter sends a distinctly different message to the 

public.

 

In many states, the media and public are allowed to file petitions in court to open case files. If 

the agency or workers are being falsely accused of mishandling a case, urging the media to gain 

access to the details can work to the agency’s advantage. In suggesting reporters open a case file, 

they are much less likely to think the agency has something to hide. Another strategy is for the 

agency itself to petition the court to have the case file opened so officials can speak about the 

case. If a reporter makes it known in advance of their intent to open a case file, make sure that a 

review is made of the contents and that key messages are developed to address any issues they might 

find.

 

As mentioned before, “no comment” is never acceptable. Despite restrictions on commenting on 

specific cases and clients, every opportunity should be taken to convey the agency’s view through 

messages. For instance, a response such as “I can’t tell you specifics about this case, but what I 

can tell you is that we make every effort to keep families safely together,” followed by detailed 

information regarding the agency programs designed to support unification, is better than saying 

nothing at all. Seize the  opportunity to talk about innovations or agency needs that are related 

to the situation. For instance, an abandoned baby provides segue into a discussion of agency-funded 

community supports for parents. Often, reporters will call digging for information about a certain 

case and become interested in doing an additional story related to the agency that highlights 

programs  to

families and the community. Every media inquiry is an opportunity to relay a positive message about 

the  agency.

 






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