How to Handle Negative Media Coverage About Child Care

6a0133f3fc5805970b01a73e173c70970d-320wiWhen child care is in the news, the news is often negative.

Here are some headlines from newspapers around the country just in the last month:

A family child care provider is arrested when an 18-month old girl in her care had her leg partially severed below the knee while the provider is using her lawn mower.

A child care center in Texas withholds water from children to avoid frequent diaper changes.

A center in Colorado is shut down after investigators suspected that a worker caused bruising inside the mouths of babies by force-feeding them with a bottle or spoon.

Staff from a child care center in Willington, Delaware leave behind a three year old in his first week of care in a park for nearly an hour.

This is pretty shocking stuff.

I keep track of news about child care through Google Alerts. If you bring up Google Alerts on your web browser, you can choose any topic, such as family child care, and you will be sent daily, weekly, or monthly links to articles or other notices that appear on the Internet about family child care.

I would recommend that you track your program’s name through Google Alerts. This will let you know if anyone is writing about your program on the Internet.

When negative news about child care hits your local news media, what can you do?

I think it’s important for child care programs to response to negative news, rather than ignoring it.

Here are some suggestions as to how you might respond:

1)   Keep your current clients informed. Mention the negative story and tell your parents why this incident would not occur in your program. For example, you might say that your program strictly follows child care regulations and you never deprive children of water or you never force feed children. Remind parents that you have an open door policy and that they are welcome to visit their child at any time.

2)   Ask parents if they have any questions or concerns about a reported news incident. Reassure them that your first priority is to keep their child safe.

3)   Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. (You may want to send your letter to the newspaper’s online edition.) Point out why the incident is an uncommon event. Describe some of the positive aspects of child care.

I also recommend that child care programs work through their state and local child care associations to respond to negative media coverage. One of the responsibilities of a child care association, in my opinion, should be to contact the news media whenever this happens.

This is an opportunity to turn a negative story into something positive.

Here are some suggestions for what your child care association can do:

1)   Contact the local media and encourage them to give out information that tells parents where they can find additional resources to answer their questions and help them become better consumers. The most likely resources are your local Child Care Resource and Referral agency, regulatory office or your own association.

2)   Refer the news organization to other sources they should contact for follow-up stories. These could include child development experts, Child Care Resource and Referral counselors and state or local child care regulators.

3)   If the negative incident occurred in another state, inform news organizations how your state regulations compare with that other state. If your regulations are stronger, point out that such incidents are less likely to occur in your town. If they are weaker, call for them to be improved. Encourage the media to do a story on the importance of strong regulations and consistent oversight and enforcement.

4)   Establish a long-term, ongoing relationship with local news organizations. Offer suggestions for stories on a regular basis.

Let me close with the following story.

Years ago I spent a lot of time talking with a local newspaper reporter, offering news story ideas and suggestions about child care. As a result, the reporter wrote many articles, including stories that highlighted the bad care of some child care programs. One child care center director complained to me about these negative stories and told me I shouldn’t be encouraging the reporter to write any stories about child care.

I disagreed, saying that what the child care community needed was more accountability. We want good child care programs recognized. But we also want bad child care programs held accountable and closed down if they aren’t doing a good job. Without such accountability, customers won’t be able to distinguish good programs from bad ones.

Negative news stories without a response from the local child care community will tend to re-enforce a message that all child care is suspect. We need to counter these stories with the positive message of child care as well as share our own outrage at bad actors in our field.

The more parents and the public can see the difference between good and bad quality child care, the better. That includes calling bad child care to account. We want to do this to help increase the quality of our child care system. But more importantly, we want to do this for the sake of the children.

Listen to this article as a podcast. Here’s a link to all of my podcasts.

Tom Copeland –

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