To kickstart a strategic communication campaign to raise PeakCare’s public profile and increase its influence on government, Synchronous saw an opportunity to take advantage of strong media interest in child protection in the lead up to the State Government’s first report on its progress against the Blueprint framework for improved child protection in Queensland.
Synchronous proposed an industry-wide Child Protection Summit designed to stimulate public debate on the delivery of child protection services in Queensland, create an opportunity for Peakcare to assume a leadership role in the sector, strengthen relationships across the child protection and related sectors, and facilitate improved data-sharing and research. Importantly, it would also satisfy PeakCare’s members’ demands for higher visibility and provide a springboard for ongoing media activity to raise PeakCare’s public profile and position it as an independent commentator on industry issues.
The event generated extensive media debate about the State Government’s performance in child protection, and within days the State Government announced $88 million additional funding for child protection over four years. The summit raised PeakCare’s credibility with government and kept child protection firmly on the public agenda throughout 2005.
PeakCare is Queensland’s peak industry body for the protection of children and young people, with around 140 member associations. Its primary roles are advocacy and working with government on policy development.
A 2004 internal review found many members did not view PeakCare as a leader in the sector, and they felt the organisation did not use the media effectively to pressure the State Government for additional funding for service delivery.
PeakCare had traditionally taken a conservative approach to media, focusing on working directly with Government to develop workable solutions to key child protection issues. The organisation avoided commenting on individual child protection cases, preferring to focus on providing balanced and reasoned comment on broader policies and issues. As a result, many members were unaware of PeakCare’s achievements.
The sector overall suffered from lack of unity, poor relationships, competing agendas and a lack of data-sharing and broad-based research between key advocacy organisations. Although a handful of key organisations worked closely with the State Government, there was no one organisation that provided clear leadership and a strong uniting force in the sector.
By June 2004 there were more children and young people were at risk of abuse or neglect in Queensland, based on the Department’s own figures, than before the damning 2003 Crime and Misconduct Inquiry into child protection. Leading up to the first anniversary of the State Government’s Blueprint framework for improved child protection in Queensland, developed in response to the Inquiry, Synchronous identified an opportunity for PeakCare to claim the leadership role and kickstart a broader communication campaign.
In developing a broad-based internal and external communication strategy, Synchronous conducted a detailed review of:
PeakCare’s existing discussion papers and policy documents
- PeakCare’s August 2004 Functional Review
- Recent media coverage on the performance of the Department of Child Safety, and
- The websites and past year’s media coverage of other peak child protection bodies.
To understand how key stakeholders perceived the organisation and what it would take to improve PeakCare’s reputation, Synchronous interviewed seven key stakeholders including:
- PeakCare members
- Current and past State Government officers.
The research identified a number of communication issues which impacted on PeakCare’s perceived effectiveness, including:
- Lack of a distinct brand or positioning
- A perception within Government that PeakCare was naïve and weak
- Ineffective member communication resulted in poor understanding among members of PeakCare’s strategy and achievements
- An outdated website and written collateral that did not clearly state the organisation’s purpose, activities or achievements
- Lack of broad-based research across the sector
- Lack of unity between leading child protection bodies allowed Government to “divide and conquer”
- PeakCare was seen as “fawning” to government.
These findings, coupled with the forthcoming anniversary of the Blueprint, shaped Synchronous’ recommendation that PeakCare hold a high-profile industry event to kickstart a broader communication program to raise its profile, build credibility and improve the delivery of child protection services.
The communication strategy was designed to reach a range of target audiences, both directly and indirectly:
More than 20 peak bodies representing providers of:
*The names of the individual organisations attending the summit have not been provided at PeakCare’s request.
The summit was intended to facilitate a unified approach across the child protection and associated sectors, to ensure the development of broad-based policy recommendations to address the causes, and not just the symptoms, of child abuse and neglect.
|Broader Child Protection Sector
PeakCare aimed to foster cooperation and cohesion across the child protection and related sectors.
The summit was intended to capitalise on media interest in the State Government’s first progress report, to stimulate public debate about child protection, and gain support for PeakCare’s broad-based policy recommendations.
The summit publicly held the State Government to account for its performance in child protection, and apply pressure for reform.
The summit was designed to build community support and pressure for improved delivery of child protection services.
In addition to a long term internal and external strategy, PeakCare needed a “quick hit” to shore up member support. The forthcoming anniversary of the State Government’s Blueprint framework, presented an ideal opportunity for PeakCare to fill the leadership vacuum in the sector and put child protection firmly on the public agenda.
Synchronous developed a comprehensive communication strategy, based on the following approach:
- Create a high-profile platform/event to position PeakCare as industry leader and provide the impetus for collaboration within the sector
- Leverage the knowledge-sharing resulting from improved collaboration to make more informed public statements to enhance PeakCare’s ability to influence child protection policy in Queensland and support the case for policy and/or funding changes
- Use the platform/event to demonstrate to members PeakCare’s commitment to improving its public profile
- Use the platform/event to show PeakCare was serious about achieving real change and was prepared to apply pressure on Government decision-makers through the media
- Use the platform/event as a springboard for a targeted ongoing government relations program to influence policy and/ funding decisions.
PeakCare invited major non-government child protection organisations to participate in a Child Protection Summit to review the State Government’s performance against the objectives set out in the Blueprint document, and agree on an industry-wide policy position and recommendations to improve the delivery of child protection services in Queensland.
The Child Protection Summit was specifically intended to:
- Stimulate and lead public debate on the delivery of child protection services
- Position PeakCare as an industry leader and key commentator
- Strengthen relationships between the organisations and encourage data-sharing across the sector
- Present to government a powerful, cohesive argument for change
- Stand up to the State Government by publicly holding it to account for its performance in child protection
- Improve communication with PeakCare members and satisfy their demands for higher visibility
- Create a platform to drive reforms
- Provide a springboard for ongoing media activity to raise PeakCare’s public profile and position PeakCare as an independent commentator on industry issues.
The creation of a united, cohesive sector would significantly boost its collective ability to influence State Government funding and policy decisions, resulting in better outcomes for children and young people at risk.
The summit was held on Monday May 30, 2005, in Brisbane, and was attended by the heads of more than 20 peak bodies representing child protection, social services and indigenous groups. To ensure that the half-day summit facilitated the development of future policy recommendations to government, PeakCare tabled a six point plan which incorporated broad-based measures to address the underlying causes of child abuse and neglect including poverty, low education, family breakdown, substance abuse and mental illness.
Synchronous worked closely with PeakCare to develop a comprehensive kit for distribution to summit participants and media, which included*:
- Media Alert, May 27, 2005: Child Protection Agencies say Government Reforms not enough.
- Fact Sheet: Current state of the child protection system (May 2005).
- Fact Sheet: PeakCare Queensland Incorporated.
- Fact Sheet: History of the child protection sector.
In addition, Synchronous worked closely with PeakCare President Russell Bricknell and Executive Officer Carole Marsden to prepare the following materials for their own use during the summit, and in the resultant media interviews:
- Presentation notes for Russell Bricknell, who addressed and facilitated the summit
- A detailed question and answer document setting out PeakCare’s position in response to possible media questions.
On Friday May 27 Synchronous Communication sent out a media alert warning of the lack of progress in child protection in Queensland since the 2003 CMC Inquiry, and inviting media to attend a media conference immediately following the summit. In order to get child protection, on to the news agenda for the day, PeakCare President Russell Bricknell gave an interview expressing his concerns to Brisbane’s Courier-Mail that appeared on the morning of the summit.
Synchronous personnel attended the summit, managed the media conference, conducted follow-up and scheduled radio and television interviews. During the summit Synchronous drafted a media release Child protection worse than ever says industry summit*, for distribution at the media conference.
In the months following, the heads of the participating organisations consulted extensively with their membership on the six-point plan agreed at the summit, which later formed the basis of a major policy submission to the State Government.
The media conference immediately following the summit was attended by four Brisbane TV stations, radio news and the Courier-Mail, and resulted in extensive state-wide media dissection of the State Government’s performance against the Blueprint document. Many of the attending media interviewed Child Safety Minister Mike Reynolds later that afternoon, forcing the State Government to respond to PeakCare’s assessment of its performance.
Several months later, ABC television’s Stateline program ran a major investigative piece on the State Government’s progress on child protection, featuring Russell Bricknell and a number of the organisations that participated in the summit.
Press clippings and a summary of the electronic coverage are provided in Appendix A.
The State Government responded with several major announcements in the week following the Child Protection Summit:
- The employment of 50 extra detectives to investigate alleged child abuse
- A greater commitment to the safety of indigenous children in care
- The allocation of an additional $88 million over four years to improve child protection services in Queensland.
The communication strategy achieved the following outcomes:
Establish PeakCare as a recognised leader in the child protection sector.
Enhance PeakCare’s credibility with and influence on Government.
||Immediate and substantial Government response|
Promote increased collaboration and information sharing across the child protection sector, to strengthen their case for policy decisions and/or funding.
||Joint submission to government by participating agencies|
Increase member satisfaction with PeakCare’s performance.
||§ Media coverage
§ Member survey
Overall effectiveness of campaign:
The summit elevated PeakCare from an organisation that was seen as “amateurish” and easily intimidated by Government, to one that was prepared to take a very public stand to which the State Government was forced to respond. It precipitated a quantum leap forward in the ability of key child protection agencies to work together to effect change, and kept child protection firmly on the public agenda throughout 2005.