When it comes to child or vulnerable adult protection issues, what support is out there for communication professionals?

I’ve had Simon Israel and his Channel Four News camera crew in the lobby, waiting to interview the Director of Children’s Services after the verdict and sentencing of those directly responsible for horrific crimes against vulnerable children, and the subsequent publication of the Serious Case Review, which had been held up by the trial.  He’d been up a few weeks earlier for the conclusion of an unrelated murder trial, and another Serious Case Review report, and he was not going to leave without really putting us on the spot – and I can’t blame him.

He’s a lovely guy if you ever get a chance to chat with him in a relaxed setting, but he will demand answers to the hard questions that the public are interested in, and it is one of the most uncomfortable professional challenges you will face as a public sector communication professional.

Like most things, it is a little bit easier when you’re facing a situation like this for the 6th time, as you’ll have grown in confidence, and learned from what didn’t work quite so well the last 5 times.  But wouldn’t it be nice if there was more support out there for you before your first time?

Public bodies with responsibilities for social care, health and wellbeing, and public protection all have an ongoing responsibility for safeguarding, both for children and for vulnerable adults.

In this they benefit from the support of committed and expert communication teams, whether that is in raising public awareness through campaigns on safeguarding issues, or from time to time having to manage specific individual cases where people have come to serious harm.

The responsibilities aren’t new, and nor is the legitimate public interest that accompanies the subject – so what support is there out there specifically to help communication professionals?  We’ve seen lots of excellent practice around the country, whether in proactive campaigns to raise awareness of safeguarding issues, or in the handling of huge levels of public interest after a tragedy.  But we haven’t been able to find any comprehensive guidance designed to raise both confidence and competence levels amongst communication practitioners.

Just to be clear – we’re not talking about how to make these stories go away through use of spin – this is about properly answering the legitimate public interest.  Equally, we’re also focusing on that upstream activity, where we can run positive, proactive campaigns to make key target audiences aware of and better engaged in safeguarding issues, and thus actually help avoid crisis situations from arising.

We in the CIPR Local Public Services Group have resolved to address this deficit, as confidently handling safeguarding issues is arguably a core competency for a modern communication professional, at least in the public sector.  Buddying up with our good friends in the Local Government Association, we are together reaching out across the UK (including to partner agencies) to find examples of best practice in communicating around these issues.  We’ll then pull together and share the best of what we find more widely, with the aim of making communication professionals better and more confident at handling this vitally important challenge.

We’ll be calling for evidence more formally in the New Year, but in the meantime, if you’d like to find out more, or are interested in joining in with the project, please email CIPRsafeguardingproject@gmail.com for a chat with the project lead, Peter Holt.

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