PUBLIC RELATIONS AND COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT

Cheryl Costello
Cooperative Extension Educator, 4H/Youth Development
University of Connecticut

Donna Jolly
Communications Officer
Department of Human Resources

Copyright/Access Information

The ultimate success of any school-age child care program depends in part on the perception the public has of the program. This perception may be enhanced by a planned on-going public relations effort focused on five audiences:

1. the educational system including the board of education, superintendent, principal, teachers and support staff;

2. parents and children;

3. the school-age child care program board of directors or advisory committee;

4. the community at large;

5. state legislators and agencies.

This paper will provide practical suggestions for building a strong program with wide community support.

An interesting note: Board of education chairpersons, responding to a 1990 study conducted by Spectrum Associates for the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management, indicated an interest in the establishment of a broad range of before- and after-school activities. Nearly half of the chairpersons wanted to see new school-age child care programs established or the following activities:

– enrichment activities (65%)
– homework and tutorial help (44%)
– support groups (35%)
– athletics (53%)
– service clubs (23%)

Copies of the full report may be obtained from the Office of Policy and Management, Justice Planning Division, 80 Washington Street, Hartford,
CT 06106.

Program staff may wish to integrate some of these activities into ongoing programs, if they are not currently available to the children in care. If you do provide these activities, you may want to share that information with the chair of the local board of education.


THE BOARD OF EDUCATION, SCHOOL ADMINISTRATION AND STAFF

Whether or not the school-age child care program operates in a school building, it is important for the program staff and the sponsoring organization to maintain open communications with the educational system at all levels. If the program operates in the school building, communication may be easier to accomplish as a part of the daily routine. Certainly, the school building staff will have more contact with the program staff and more opportunities to interact. Since the school staff will observe the program more carefully, the quality of the program must meet their expectations for quality care with low impact on the regular school day.

It is important to know the degree of support that each group in the educational system has for the program. The BOARD OF EDUCATION probably played a key role in supporting or attempting to block the establishment of the program at the school or in the community. They needed to approve the use of facilities or allow transportation to be provided to the site. Some board members may have had reservations about the program, especially if the school building is being used. They may see the role of the school as only to educate children until 3:00 p.m. Some may feel that mothers belong at home caring for their children. Others may worry about antagonizing private day care owners or family day care providers.

To help members of the local board of education understand and appreciate the value of the school-age child care program, keep them informed of program activities. This can be done by inviting them to special activities, sending them copies of the newsletter or asking a parent to make a presentation at a board of education meeting. Parents are taxpayers and may have more influence over policy decisions than paid program staff.

The SUPERINTENDENT OF SCHOOLS is a key figure in the school-age child care arena. The superintendent might harbor some of the same fears as the board of education, but may recognize that a program could enhance the role of the school as an educational provider and may realize the value of having a group of supportive parents.

The superintendent usually grants permission to distribute flyers, allows bus transportation, signs the contract for use of school space, and can influence board of education policy.

There are many ways to keep the superintendent informed and create good will. Send him/her the program newsletter and an invitation to speak to the children about his/her job. Have the children make him/her a card, offer to have the children make refreshments for a board of education meeting, and have parents share with members of the board of education how helpful and important the superintendent has been.

The PRINCIPAL is the on-site contact person for programs operated in the schools. The more positive the relationship the child care staff has with the principal, the smoother the program should operate on a day-to-day basis. Some principals will resist becoming involved or even supporting the program because they fear antagonizing others in the school or community. Some principals see their roles as totally separate from child care and resent the idea that their schools are being used as a social welfare agency or “babysitting” site, rather than for purely formal educational purposes.

Principals also know that they are held accountable for what happens within the school building. They worry about needing to respond to criticism about the program from parents and children enrolled, teachers, custodians and the superintendent should anything go wrong. They are concerned about liability issues, quality and qualifications of staff operating the program and encroachment on their space and authority.

It is important to maintain regular open communication with the principal, especially if the program is located at the school. Help the principal understand that the program provides not only a safe environment but, also, an enriching one that helps children grow in all areas of development. Explain that the program has a planned, developmentally appropriate curriculum and that you want to work with the school staff to ensure that the school-age child care program enhances and supplements what is taught in the regular school day but does not duplicate formal school. It is important for the principal to understand that program staff are professionals trained in appropriate fields and meet licensing standards. Ask permission to participate in appropriate teacher in-service opportunities and let the principal know that the program has a plan for continued staff development.

In addition, the principal plays a key role in helping staff establish a rapport with TEACHERS and the OFFICE, KITCHEN AND CUSTODIAL STAFFS. Ask the principal to allow staff to attend periodic teacher meetings. At these meetings, staff should learn the teachers’ names, what they teach, their personal interests and what the program might do to assist them in meeting the needs of children. Offer to share program supplies. Once the teachers know and accept the program, they may offer to share space or equipment.

Obtaining a schedule of school projects for the year can be helpful. Is the school participating in an Arbor Day celebration? If so, offer to plant a small tree or flowers, or to pick up litter. If the school is having a food drive for the needy, the center’s children could decorate boxes for the food and develop promotional fliers. They might develop bulletin boards or other exhibits for the school, make decorations or prepare simple snacks for a teacher’s retirement party. Projects unable to be completed in a structured classroom atmosphere can easily be accomplished in the more flexible before- and after-school program.

Other school staff are also vitally important to the operation of any program. The school receptionist plays a key role. He/she knows when the school will close for bad weather, the principal’s schedule, where there is extra storage space and who has access to equipment. He/she may also occasionally receive a phone call from a parent who has misplaced the center’s phone number. The receptionist should not be regarded as a private secretary, but only as a resource for information on the school’s daily activities.Custodians are key people, too. It is important to establish rapport with them. They are usually the first people at the school each day and the last to leave in the afternoon. It is important to know when they clean the floors, pick up the trash and clean bathrooms, so that staff can keep the children from interfering. They know who has extra audio visual equipment and the kitchen rules. They can provide a mop when juice gets spilled, know where to plant flowers and what to feed the gerbils.

Recognizing the contributions of the board of education members, superintendent, principal, teachers, receptionist, custodian and other school personnel is critical. Thank-you letters written by children, staff and child care board members, or small gifts or parties may go a long way toward cementing positive relationships.


PARENTS

Child care staff need to cultivate relationships with parents. Programs can accomplish this through periodic newsletters written by staff and/or children, parent/staff conferences and occasional phone calls.

Newsletters provide valuable information on current and future activities, programming focus and supplies needed from home. They may be brief and distributed to the parents and other community persons three or four times a year.

Parents want to discuss their child’s progress with the staff. They want to hear how their child is adapting to the program and how well he/she gets along with other children. Parents should be encouraged to share with staff any changes in the family that would affect the child’s behavior. Periodic 10- to 15-minute conferences with the parent keeps staff and parents informed of the child’s activities. Of course, if the child is having problems, more frequent conferences will be required. When conferences are not possible because of the parents’ schedules, a staff member (ideally, the director) may need to call the parents and provide brief progress reports.

The staff, with assistance from the program advisory committee or board of directors, may wish to organize workshops for parents. Workshops could be held at the center after program hours with child care and refreshments provided to encourage attendance. Ask parents for suggestions ofworkshop topics such a parenting skills, stress management, drug education, etc. Staff may conduct the workshops or invite other professionals. Your state Cooperative Extension System is one source of workshop leaders.

Parents are a key resource for any school-age child care program. As recipients of the service, they are often the program’s best volunteers. Each parent should be encouraged to perform some volunteer role in support of the program. They may serve as board members, represent the interests of the program on the board of education, perform public relations tasks or do something as simple as donating plastic containers. Ask parents for things that are easy for them to do and will give them satisfaction. Parents could be asked to complete a skill survey when they register their child to help identify their talents and how they might contribute.


BOARD OF DIRECTORS/ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Many school-age child care programs are nonprofit incorporated bodies, with a volunteer board of directors which is responsible for the program. The board develops the policies and procedures and has financial responsibility for the program. The staff reports directly to the board and is responsible for implementing the policies and spending funds within the guidelines established by the board. A nonprofit corporation is usually considered an entity separate and distinct from its members. It is considered a person and is given the same rights and is subject to the same obligations as natural persons. The corporation can, therefore, sue or be sued in its own name. Although the corporate form protects individuals from personal liabilities, there are penalties for negligence.

The best protection from negligence is prevention. Prevention succeeds when each board volunteer conscientiously performs his/her responsibilities by keeping informed of operations and following the advice of legal counsel.

Board members and staff need to consider the following legal check list for operating a board.

– Mail notices of meetings as required by the bylaws.

– Have the secretary certify and approve the board minutes.

– Clearly state motions and votes and record them in the minutes.

– Prepare all local, state and federal reports accurately and on time.

– Distribute budget reports and balance sheets regularly.

– Keep all contracts current.

– Hire qualified staff to deliver services.

– Have reasonable fund raising costs.

– Ensure that board actions are in compliance with the law.

– Have bylaws reviewed annually.

According to Conrad and Glenn in *The Effective Voluntary Board of Directors*, effective boards are ones that “plan, have a clear understanding of the function of the board of directors and staff, and follow a board membership process.”

Boards that oversee school-age child care programs must see planning as a creative process, free from constraints of the past and present. The board needs to have a vision of what it wants to be, proactive rather than reactive. Boards decide what goals and objectives need to be accomplished and take final responsibility for achieving them.

The board of directors performs certain functions including determining policy; obtaining resources, funds and equipment; giving sanction and providing linkages to the community; hiring, supporting, supervising and advising staff; and serving as an advocate for the program both internally and to the community.

A voluntary organization such as a school-age child care organization is delicately balanced and works well when board volunteers and staff each
understand their roles. According to Conrad and Glenn, there is a tension between the two. For the director, it is based on the realization that the more he/she involves board volunteers, the greater his/her accountability. For the board volunteer, it is the realization that in committing to board membership, his/her reputation becomes dependent on staff to a certain degree. The tension should not be negative, but dynamic and creative with clear and accurate communications between staff and board volunteers.

The key to the development and maintenance of this delicate balance is the relationship between the chairperson of the board and the director of the child care program. These individuals must build a firm, trusting relationship. They must spend enough time together so that they agree on how the board and director are to work together. They must be able to discuss the issues facing the program.

Board meetings need only occur four to six times a year. The meeting agenda flows from the work of committees and from current operating issues. It should be developed by the chairperson and the board through consultation with the program director and be mailed in advance of the meeting. Good board meetings require good committee meetings. The board should ensure that committee recommendations which are accepted are implemented. Also, all boards should have a calendar.

The board membership process includes attracting board volunteers, orientating them and supporting their involvement. Conrad and Glenn list the following key factors in developing a competent volunteer board of directors.

1. IMAGE – A good community image of the organization will assist in recruiting key leadership.

2. SELECTION – Candidates need to be scrutinized against agreed upon criteria.

3. RECRUITMENT – Put together a plan and select personnel to persuade the candidate to serve on the board. Develop a general job description
listing time requirements, basic skills or education needed, responsibilities and training provided. When looking for someone with more specialized skills, develop a specific job description for that position (e.g. secretary, public relations coordinator, accountant or counselor). The job description serves to clarify the duties of each member.

4. ORIENTATION – The orientation phase provides the new member with an understanding of how the organization functions.

5. CONTINUING EDUCATION – Education continues for as long as the board volunteer remains. The education of a board volunteer includes both preparation for, and assistance in, performing his/her role.

6. RECOGNITION – Say “thanks” for a job well done.

7. ROTATION – Rotate the board volunteer to different positions and committees to increase interest and maintain excitement.

8. SEPARATION – Develop a policy for separating volunteers from the board.

For programs that do not have boards, the staff may find it helpful to organize an advisory committee. This committee functions to help programs be responsive to child and parent needs but does not control the program.

Like boards, advisory committees include parents and others from the community to help oversee the operation of the program.

Advisory committees have officers and meet regularly, at least four to six times a year.


RECOGNITION OF VOLUNTEERS

The chairperson, director or some grateful parents may perform this very important function. Recognition requires a sensitivity to volunteers. A smile may be enough for one person, while another may require more. Some ways to give recognition include sending a birthday card, inviting them for a cup of coffee, keeping them challenged, enabling them to grow out of a job, taking time to talk, nominating them for volunteer awards, writing thank-you notes, saying “we missed you” and presenting certificates.

Organizing and maintaining a board/committee takes time and preparation. However, one that works will enhance the operation of any program.


YOUR COMMUNITY/GENERAL PUBLIC

Successful public relations activities targeted to your community can help achieve two major objectives: full enrollment and adequate funding for program operation and possibly expansion. Setting goals and planning specific public relations activities can be a shared responsibility of staff and board/advisory committee. It would be helpful to have an experienced media/public relations professional to serve either as a member of your board/advisory committee or as a consultant. Implementation can be shared as long as all efforts are coordinated.


RECRUITMENT

Publicity of your program should be ongoing, even if your program enjoys full enrollment. Keeping positive news about your program in the public eye and ear will help to increase your enrollment or keep your program filled. It will also allow you to maintain a waiting list of parents who need your services, to help in any advocacy or expansion effort. Here are some ways to publicize your program:

  • Your best recruitment tool is parents of children currently enrolled in the program. Maintaining good relations with parents, as described in
    the previous section, is the key to attracting new enrollees. Equally important is to let them know of an opening(s), either in person, through a bulletin board notice or through your newsletter, and to mention that referrals would be welcome.
  • Have T-shirts, sweatshirts, bumper stickers or other items printed with the program name and logo. Offer them to parents (and volunteers) at cost if publicity is your only aim or slightly higher if raising funds is desirable.
  • Print business cards and letterhead with the program name and logo. Consider developing a simple brochure which highlights unique services. Leave cards or brochures in the school office, as well as with pediatricians, librarians, real estate offices, supermarkets, etc. Give copies to program volunteers.
  • An attractive poster can be created by using children’s art and a brief description of you program’s features. A local artist or public relations professional might be solicited to design the poster. A local printer might be convinced to print materials for you at low or no cost if you agree to mention their donation on the piece. Even if you have to pay for typesetting and printing, you can save some money by printing it in one color and asking your volunteers to color the artwork to make it more attractive.
  • Learn about child care issues in the state and your community. Offer to speak to local social service groups (e.g. Lion’s, Junior Women’s, Rotary Club) or to the public, through the library, youth service bureau, etc. Attend job fairs in the schools to speak about a career in child care.
  • Respond to newspaper articles on child care or on the lack of activities for school-age children. Explain the many benefits of a quality child care program, especially those related to enhanced school performance and reduced delinquency.
  • Invite local reporters to cover special events run by the program, especially those with good photo potential. Tie your event to a holiday and consider including other local groups (e.g. senior citizens).
  • Submit a brief, typed news release and follow up with a phone call. If
    no reporter attends, submit a clear, black-and-white photo with a typed
    caption, identifying all the people in the photo. Make sure you have the
    parents’ permission first.


TIPS ON ENSURING GOOD PRESS COVERAGE

The most important strategy for getting your message across is to know your local reporters and maintain regular, meaningful contact with them.
Successful press coverage usually does not just happen. You need to know what you want the coverage to be and to work with reporters so that they
understand your position. Here are some tips:

– Know your audience. Determine if you’re trying to change public opinion or trying to mobilize the majority of people who support your issue. (For example, if you’re trying to expand your program and need additional space in the school, you need to know ahead of time if the community supports the plan and, if not, how to influence their opinion.)

– Consider developing a basic media kit that you present to a reporter at a first meeting or use as background information at meetings/events. Items to include are a fact sheet outlining your program’s history, the number of children served, the cost to the community, special accomplishments/events, samples of positive comments from parents, etc., your program brochure and a list of your board/advisory committee members.

– Get to know your local newspaper editors and/or reporters and inform them of your position. (In the example above, if the board of education will be voting on whether to allow you additional space in the school, call reporters a few days before the meeting. Tell them how expanding will benefit the children, the community, the school, etc.)

– Keep over-the-phone conversations with reporters brief and to the point. They are usually on a deadline and want only a quick quote.

– Face-to-face meetings with reporters can be very successful to clear up any misconceptions or to give them a better understanding of your program (e.g. invite a reporter to spend an hour visiting your program).

– Support reporters who support your program (e.g. write a thank-you note or letter to the editor commending a reporter who writes a positive article about your program or accurately presents your point of view).

– Tell a story. Personalize your message … children are the perfect medium … and keep it simple.

– Have one spokesperson for your organization (i.e. director or board president).

There are a variety of ways to communicate with the media. The most commonly used are discussed below.


NEWS RELEASES

Send news releases whenever you have something to report (i.e. new board/advisory committee president, fifth year anniversary of program, etc.). Here are some guidelines for preparing a news release:

– Type your material double-spaced on one side only of an 8 1/2-by-11-inch white paper; use wide margins. Type or copy onto your news release stationery; send only quality copies.

– Keep it brief, one page if possible. If it goes to another page, type “more” at the end of page one and type “-30-” or “#” at the end of the release.

– Include a headline which succinctly describes the subject (e.g. Officers Elected for Anytown School-age Child Care Program).

– Include the most important facts in the first sentence or paragraph (i.e. the five W’s: who, what, where, when and why).

– Use short sentences and paragraphs.

– Avoid jargon and initials (unless you define them).

– End with a sentence about the program (e.g. Anytown School-age Child Care Program was established in 1989 to provide quality child care to
children, aged five to 12, in Anytown elementary schools. For more information about the program, contact Jane Doe, Director, at 222-0000).

– Include the name of a contact person (your spokesperson) and both work and home phone numbers.

– If you send photo(s), make sure they are good quality, in focus, and black and white. Protect them with paper or cardboard and include a typed caption identifying the people in the photo.

– Mail releases to all newspapers and radio stations in your area and to all reporters who support/cover your program. Include your volunteers, school administrators, PTO chairpersons and civic groups on the mailing list.


PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENTS

Radio and TV stations provide free air time for announcements that are “in the public interest.” (An example would be an invitation to the public to attend an open house or annual meeting of your volunteers.) Here are some guidelines on PSAs:

– Develop the announcement (“spot”) in various time lengths, such as 10, 20, 30 and 60 seconds. Read them out loud slowly and time them. A little shorter is better than even a few seconds over.

– Type each spot on a separate sheet, labeling each page “Public Service Announcement” and noting the length of the PSA. Type all in capital letters and triple space the copy.

– Use very short sentences, keep the language simple and make sure it is easy to read.


FUND RAISING

Programs may find it necessary to raise or obtain funds beyond those collected as parent fees. This is especially true if one of the program goals is to be available to children from diverse socio-economic backgrounds or to serve primarily low-income children.

There are many ways to raise funds. Grant funds may sometimes be obtained from state government or from private foundations, and small amounts of money are often available from businesses and companies where parents work. This is especially true when the parents serve as volunteers for the program. Encourage parents to find out if their employer offers support to community projects and to assist with seeking funding.

The program may want to raise limited amounts of money for a specific project within the program. There are many ways to do this. The program might sell any number of items, either directly to parents or to the community, through existing community activities. The children might make a food item and sell it to the parents when they pick the children up in the evening. An advance-order pizza sale is one option. Encourage the board or advisory committee to brainstorm for ideas and select the one that you and they have the time, knowledge and skills to make successful. Try not to duplicate existing fund raisers in your community.


LEGISLATURE AND STATE AGENCIES

The state legislature makes the laws governing child care. It is important that the senators and representatives understand the importance of school-age child care and the uniqueness of programs that serve older children. Representatives from your area can help the program obtain resources, and you can help them to understand school-age child care. You can invite them to the program to talk about state government and to visit with the children. See if they can help you arrange a field trip to Hartford, so the children can observe them at work. Most legislators enjoy this contact, especially if it’s publicized.

State agencies are responsible for implementing the laws passed by the legislature. It is to your benefit to get to know individuals from these agencies, both those with responsibility for your program and those who work in policy-making positions. The better they understand the services you provide and the better you understand state programs and policies, the better children will be served. Keep them informed by sending newsletters and inviting them to come and observe. Also, make sure that the program is in compliance with the regulations that exist.


CONCLUSION

It is exceedingly important to have a comprehensive public relations and community involvement program aimed at all of the groups who can enhance the program’s quality and resources. Following the suggestions in this paper will allow the program to grow and be responsive to the needs of the community.


REFERENCES

*Strategic Media – Designing a Public Interest Campaign* by Communications Consortium Media Center, 1333 H Street, 11th Floor, Washington, DC 20005; (202)682-1270.

Conrad, William R., Jr. and William E. Glenn, *The Effective Voluntary Board of Directors*, 1986, Athens, Ohio.

Lauffer, Armand, *Strategic Marketing for Not-for-Profit Organizations – Program and Resource Development*, 1984, The Free Press.



DOCUMENT USE/COPYRIGHT
National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Part of CYFERNET, the National Extension Service Children Youth and Family Educational Research Network. Permission is granted to reproduce these materials in whole or in part for educational purposes only (not for profit beyond the cost of
reproduction) provided that the author and Network receive acknowledgment and this notice is included:

Reprinted with permission from the National Network for Child Care – NNCC. Costello, C., & Jolly, D. (1993). Public relations and
community involvement. *Beyond Opening Day* series). Storrs, CT: University of Connecticut Cooperative Extension.

Any additions or changes to these materials must be preapproved by the author .

 


FORMAT AVAILABLE:: Print – 8 pages
DOCUMENT REVIEW:: Level 2 – University of Connecticut Cooperative
Extension System
DOCUMENT SIZE:: 13 pages
ENTRY DATE:: March 1996

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