Best Crisis Management

Children’s Home Society of Florida turns negative coverage around

When news broke that teenage girls living in foster care were engaged in sex trafficking, media coverage implied that Children’s Home Society of Florida was to blame. The nonprofit changed its messaging and steered media coverage in the right direction.

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In June 2012, Miami media outlets broke the news that teenage girls in foster care living in Children’s Home Society of Florida (CHS) group homes were engaged in sex trafficking. 
The media failed to report that it was through the diligence of CHS that the sex-trafficking ring was exposed.

Articles implied CHS lacked proper supervision in group homes, leading a rash of negative articles. In the first month, 18 outlets ran 12 stories related to this incident.

How CHS managed to turn around this negative coverage earned it PR Daily’s 2013 Nonprofit PR Award for Best Crisis Management. 

CHS wanted to influence coverage and messaging “to reflect tragedies inflicted upon girls by traffickers; continue the conversation to educate the public about the prevalence and horrors of sex trafficking; position CHS as an expert in protecting kids; influence legislation to better protect children from victimization and to properly invest in treatments.”

The CEO of CHS sent an email and hosted an all-staff phone call to discuss the issue and what CHS planned to do. Its intranet message focused on protecting children from sex trafficking, and an intranet page was created for staff to access research, training, and resources. 

The nonprofit conducted interviews with experts in domestic minor sex trafficking, and monitored and analyzed media stories on the topic.

It held in-person training for all staff, and partnered with another social service organization to host a live training event by the founders of Wings of Shelter, one of two “safe houses” in Florida.

CHS’ CEO sent an email to the governing board and local boards to inform stakeholders of the issue and CHS’ action steps.

Results 

All those efforts helped CHS focus media coverage on the problem of sex trafficking and the vulnerability of victims.

It had opinion pieces published in two outlets, was quoted in several follow-up articles, and referred reporters to non-CHS subject matter experts for broader frames of reference. Several articles appeared throughout the state, all of which focused on the atrocity of the crime and the need to protect kids.

CHS also launched Policy Matters, a bimonthly e-newsletter that’s housed on its website. 

It successfully influenced legislation to better protect and heal victims by, in part, including sex-trafficking messaging in an inaugural newsletter to legislators, and meeting with legislators during session.

It also took the following actions to better educate the public about the issue:

  • Created a sex-trafficking-specific Web page.
  • Included a message from the CEO in the CHS newsletter focused on this issue.
  • Through Facebook and Twitter, shared recent news and stats relating to sex trafficking.
  • Tied messaging to National Human Trafficking Awareness Day and International Women’s Day.
  • Posted relevant articles on its website.
  • Placed ads in Orlando Family magazine and Tampa Bay Parenting magazine.

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