Crafting the Message

Good communications starts with crafting cohesive messages developed in conjunction with the 

agency’s senior leadership that align with the goals articulated in the agency’s communications 

plan. An agency may develop many messages. They can be overarching and long lasting such as an 

agency mission statement or guiding principles. They may be issue-specific and multi- year, such as 

those regarding Child Abuse Prevention Month or they may be issue specific and relatively time 

limited such as those resulting from positive or negative media attention. Irrespective of the 

impetus, it is always helpful to synthesize any message, crafting it into a written statement, 

sometimes called a “backgrounder,” to disseminate. This messaging piece can be distributed to all 

employees, posted on internal and external web sites so all employees and the public have access to 

it and sent to key policymakers and other stakeholders. Written messages are easier to reinforce. 

The also serve to stimulate dialogue and facilitate feedback about the message permitting message  




Preparing the Message for Dissemination

Once the key messages are crafted and approved by senior level staff, other materials, such as news 

releases, articles, signage, flyers and PowerPoint presentations, can be developed based on these 

key messages. The development of these message vehicles and ensuing activities is a communications 

function. It is a good idea, if budgetary allowances permit, for a public child welfare agency to 

have at least one individual reporting directly to the Director and dedicated to the agency’s 

communications function (Communications). If the agency is small and does not have the capacity to 

employ such an individual, the responsibilities should be delegated to either the agency Director 

or a member of senior staff. It is important to have at least one person operating in the role of 

Communications. If a designate has no expertise in communications, per se, formal training should 

be considered as these responsibilities are not insignificant.


As the primary contact for the media and responsible for formulating strategic communications with 

all other audiences, Communications must be keenly aware of the details of all issues, positive and 

negative, affecting the agency. In addition to Communications’ direct research, it is expected that 

the Director and other members of the agency senior staff will keep Communications abreast of all 

situations that could or should draw the attention of the media or other audiences. Front line 

staff as well, should be charged with the responsibility of reporting incidents “up the line.” All 

media inquiries should go directly to Communications to ensure that the same message goes out each 

time and to vet what is sent to the media. Communications coordinates the selection of the most 

appropriate subject matter expert to speak with the media, if details are  required.

Communications also shoulders responsibility for centralizing all messages, data and statements for 




Using Data in Messaging

While pure statistical analysis of public child welfare data is of keen interest to some specific 

stakeholders such as researchers, policy makers and funders, the remaining audiences are generally 

more interested in the individuals who are reflected in those statistics. It is therefore advisable 

to use statistics, presented in the form of graphs, as a supplement to a story about the 

experiences of a child, youth, family or caregiver who was or is involved with the public child 

welfare agency. Statistics can also be used to reinforce the needs of the agency such as the need 

for foster parents, adoptive parents, mentors and  donations.


For these purposes, it is important to maintain a reserve of commonly requested statistics in an 

accessible format. Proactive messaging will be enhanced and Communications will be able to respond 

more quickly to statistical requests from   stakeholders.



Disseminating the Message

Although, strictly speaking, media relations are handled through Communications, getting an agency 

message out is the shared responsibility of every agency staff member. From clerical support staff, 

to direct service workers and managers, everyone in the agency must understand the role he or she plays in reinforcing a message with the public, families, their neighbors,  community groups, co-workers and others.


As prominent professionals in the public child welfare field, it is critical to involve the 

Director of the agency and senior staff in forwarding the key messages of the agency within their 

professional and personal circles. Their actions plan are an integral part in improving morale 

within the agency and set the tone when it comes to leadership. The Director and senior staff can 

also build relationships and facilitate mutually respectful two-way communications with peers, 

staff, policy makers, persons served, media and the community.


Mid-level managers play a key role in disseminating the agency’s key messages to those they 

supervise, keeping them informed and motivated. Their role is guided by the concrete set of key 

messages which should be distributed to and understood by everyone in the agency. Managers also 

have a responsibility to pass accurate information both up and down the agency and to help dispel 



Direct-service staff members are the most obvious ambassadors of the agency. Since they have 

day-to-day interactions with those served by the agency and people in the community, line staff are 

in an excellent position to disseminate the agency’s message broadly. It is therefore imperative 

that they be well informed and frequently briefed on the key messages and goals of the agency. 

Feedback mechanisms should be in place so they can provide input into message  refinement.


As previously stated, selected mid-level and direct service staff members may be called upon by 

Communications to act as subject matter specialists and spokespeople for the agency. Though 

supported by Communications throughout and especially during the live or taped interview, 

additional advanced training for such spokespeople might be appropriate. It will serve to increase 

their comfort level and ensure they can stay on message while navigating the interview process when 

the opportunity  presents.


External partners such as caregivers, community provider agencies and non-profit groups who work 

with the agency can be invaluable when there is a need to advocate for a specific issue or provide 

first-hand experience. Do not underestimate the value of soliciting them as spokespeople. These 

stakeholders can also be helpful in assisting to write op-ed pieces and letters to the editor when 

needed. Often, they can enhance the credibility of the agency itself and add convincing background 

knowledge to a story. Cultivating these resources by actively building relationships with stakeholders will serve the 

agency  well.


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