Magazine article Policy & Practice

Child Welfare Reviews Need Clear, Open Communications Strategy

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Child Welfare Reviews Need Clear, Open Communications Strategy

Article excerpt

The key to a successful communications strategy for the federal Child and Family Services Review is to focus on continuous improvement. Improving the state's system and outcomes for children and families in crisis is, after all, the reason for the review, and there is no better message for child welfare agencies to own than a clear statement of effort to that end.

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The federal Administration for Children and Families deliberately set very high standards for performance for the CFSR on the premise that child welfare agencies work with the most vulnerable children and that only the highest standards should be acceptable to ensure ongoing attention to achieving safety, permanency and well-being for fragile children entrusted to state care.

Many, many hours of pre-planning went into the communications strategy in Delaware, the first state to undergo the second round of the CFSR. What could have been a startlingly ugly headline became a positive and fair story on the state's progress. The headline in the state's largest newspaper, front page, above the fold, read: "Del. child welfare gets B-minus, official says. Much improvement seen since '90s crisis." That first story set a positive tone for subsequent media coverage.

Below are 10 steps that any child welfare public information officer can take to articulate the complete picture of the state's performance on the CFSR. The key is to stay focused on the continuous improvement efforts that put the benefits for children at the center of attention. Understand and articulate the various data points in the review, as well as the focus group results and state profile. All of the components together translate into safety, permanency and well-being for children.

1. Be proactive. Take the time to sit down with reporters to explain the process and results before the report is on the ACF web site. The higher the level of the agency official present for the media briefing, the better. It demonstrates a commitment to continued focus on areas needing improvement.

2. Articulate that the CFSR is a good thing. It helps states assess their own progress and rightfully holds child welfare agencies to the highest standards. Kids' lives are at stake.

3. Remind the media that the CFSR looks at the entire child-serving system, including the courts' involvement, physical/mental/dental health care, access to appropriate educational services, and community engagement in system improvement. …

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