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 

present  themselves.


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.


Media Works

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.


Economic Indicators

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.


Child Fatalities

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.


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Governing Magazine
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