Rules of engagement

The Community Care publication Hard Pressed
states that “newspaper reporting of social work and social services
is overwhelmingly negative.”1 But should poor press
coverage go with the territory?

Not for staff in – as the road signs remind us – Shakespeare’s
county. In an attempt to “give a gracious message” 2 of
its work, the Warwickshire area child protection committee, in “one
fell swoop” 3 took on that “first bringer of unwelcome
news” 4 – the local press. “We worked on the basis that
this is an area of work that is probably not well understood,” says
Vic Tuck, development officer for Warwickshire ACPC. The decision
was taken “to engage with the media and explain what we do”.

Despite concerns, the benefits of good publicity won the day. “We
can provide a much better service if we have the confidence of the
public,” says Simon Lord, head of children’s services. “They will
report stuff to us, and be more supportive. There’s also staff
morale to consider: even here in leafy Warwickshire at one point we
had a 20 per cent vacancy in children’s teams. So, it was all about
boosting morale and image. And it’s paid off,” he says.

The existing solid relationship was crucial. “By and large our
local media is pretty balanced,” says press officer Sara Wilcox.
“But local journalists probably know as much about social care as
the rest of the population – which isn’t an awful lot.

“There’s a perception that social workers either rush in and snatch
a child away or they don’t go in quickly enough,” she adds. “We
wanted to explain how much thought, consultation and work goes into

To tempt journalists, says Wilcox, “we made the event totally
reportable, so they could go away and write a story if they want.”
All staff taking part were also available for interview. Suitably
hooked, six of the eight print and broadcast media groups in the
county took part. Wilcox put together a press pack including
background information and a fact-file: “They like facts.”

Plumping for an interactive approach, the morning event included
real case studies and an exercise that looked at some of the
problems and issues that arise in identifying possible harm to
children. “We were able to put them in the position to say if you
were the social worker, teacher, police officer, what would you do?
And that was quite powerful for them,” says Tuck.

This certainly came across in a positive two-page feature article
in the Coventry Evening Telegraph, headlined: “How would
you cope as a social worker?” Indeed, the morale-boosting article
found its way up onto staff walls. A two-page advertisement would
have cost almost £8,500. The event also sparked a smaller but
similarly positive news story in the Leamington Courier, a
paper which had been “harsh” in the past.

“Our launch of the 2003 ACPC Business Plan has produced a great
deal of interest,” says Tuck, “particularly the increase in the
number of children on the register. It’s been challenging as you
can imagine how newspapers might have reacted to this news. But
because we’ve been able to explain why we think there has been this
rise and what we are doing about these trends, the response has not
been unsympathetic.”

Now take a look at a successful project or piece of work and ask
yourself: “Is this a positive news story I see before me?”

1 Bob Franklin, Hard
, Community Care, 1998

2 Antony & Cleopatra, 3 MacBeth,
4 Henry IV, Part II

For more information contact Vic Tuck:
 or see the website at


Scheme: Engaging local media.

Location: Warwickshire.

Staffing: Within current staffing. inspiration: The desire to
raise the profile of the work of the ACPC.

Cost: Around £450 – for press packs, refreshments and so on
for the event.   

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