KidsPeace Launches Online Resource for Foster Care Teens

New portal goes live for National Foster Care Awareness Month with anonymous counseling to aid teens with unique issues

To kick off National Foster Care Awareness Month next month, KidsPeace today launched a new web portal to provide foster care teens with a dedicated online resource to discuss and cope with issues relevant to their unique experiences. The portal, www.teencentral.net/fostercare, provides information, advice, gaming interaction, peer support and access to counseling services for children ages 11-18 displaced from their familiar environments and social support.

“Foster care children often feel alienated at home and at school, and need a place where people will understand them and their issues,” said Julius Licata, Ph.D., director of TeenCentral.Net. “What makes our new foster care portal so unique is children can share their questions and concerns and they will get an answer in 24 hours from a master’s or doctorate level counselor. There are no other teen sites offering timely responses from professional counselors who also are familiar with the myriad of foster care issues.”

According to Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), there are more than 400,000 foster care children in the U.S. Of those, more than 100,000 children wait to be adopted. The Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute reports nearly 30,000 youth “age out” of foster care without the emotional or financial support to succeed. Of those, nearly 40 percent had been homeless or “couch surfed,” nearly 60 percent of young men were convicted of a crime and only 48 percent were employed.

The portal offers a fun and intuitive environment that looks like that of a typical teen’s room, complete with a virtual computer desk. From here, using colorful and fun buttons, virtual plants, clickable light switches, a computer and bookshelves teens can flip through pages of information, message boards and helpful resources. They can share stories or ask questions, and receive helpful feedback and answers from KidsPeace counselors.

Users log in to the portal and are identified publicly only by fictitious user names. Other features include a game called Robot Reduction, stories from other teens, searchable topics related to foster care teens and tips for creating a “Life Book” about themselves.

A teen herself, Rachel Wyatt, who is also Miss America’s Outstanding Teen for 2013, signed on as a spokesperson for TeenCentral.net after reviewing the new foster care portal. One of the issues Wyatt is championing during her tenure as Miss America’s Outstanding Teen is community involvement.

“For foster teens, I imagine developing a sense of community or place offers unique challenges,” said Wyatt. “Given the many issues most teens face, having a safe place you can identify with and where you can ask questions is important. For foster children displaced from their home and school environments, I think this online community is a wonderful step in the right direction and I’m proud to support the efforts of KidsPeace.”

In 1998, KidsPeace helped pioneer online support services for teens by launching TeenCentral.Net to provide a safe and accessible place for kids. The site is free, anonymous and allows teens to log on, submit their stories and receive professional counseling within 24 hours, along with advice from their peers. The foster care portal is the first of several new channels designed to serve the needs of specific teen groups.

About KidsPeace

For 130 years, KidsPeace has been building on its expertise to give hope, help and healing to children, families and communities throughout the United States. Through its comprehensive range of residential treatment programs; accredited educational services; unique psychiatric hospital and foster care and community-­‐based programs, KidsPeace is dedicated to helping people connect, transform and overcome their challenges to ensure a stable future, transition to adulthood and gain independence. Since its doors opened in 1882, more than 200,000 children have participated in one of the multitude of programs KidsPeace offers. For additional resources or more information on how to get involved, become a foster parent or make a donation, please visit http://www.kidspeace.org. Follow us at http://www.facebook.com/kidspeace.org or on Twitter @KidsPeace.

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Summer Flex Hours in the PR industry

Spring is here, and employees have one thing on their minds: summer schedules. Some companies offer summer flex hours that may include half days on Fridays, longer work days during a 4-day period with a full day off during the week, etc. There are many benefits to a flexible schedule, but there are also a few downfalls to consider.

hjhipster / Beach Photos / CC BY-NC

Benefits of a flex schedule

  • More time to accomplish personal tasks. Flex schedules benefit employees by allowing them to have more time to get things done.
  • Rewards for employees. Flexible schedules can act as a rewards program for employees.
  • Employees may take less time off. Flex hours allow employees to get an early start on the weekend without taking a full day off.
  • More refreshed. Having a few extra hours may help employees feel renewed and ready to dive into the next project or task.
  • An increase in productivity. Read about how one city added a flexible work schedule increasing productivity.

Negative aspects of a flex schedule

  • Clients may not approve. Clients may not have a flexible schedule and may not be open to your company having one.
  • Looming deadlines. Deadlines still need to be met.
  • The PR world never closes. The digital world does not shut down. Emails, phone calls and comments on social media platforms still need to be answered in a timely manner.

Tips for incorporating flex hours

  • Let clients know well in advance.
  • Get clients input on a flexible work schedule.
  • Make yourself available when needed.
  • Set up a schedule for employees so they know exactly when you’ll be in the office.

Does your company offer summer flex hours?

Photo credit: hjhipster / Foter / CC BY-NC

Three Crisis Communications Mistakes Companies Make

morner / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

In the shadow of the Boston Marathon tragedy, it’s painfully apparent – if it wasn’t before – that crisis scenarios are part of our collective new normal. From threats of terrorism and senseless acts of violence, to economic chaos and world events, crisis events can easy overtake the best-laid plans of any business.

At these times, there is a balance to be struck between business operations and consideration of outside events. Customers don’t want to be marketed to and reporters don’t want your new product press release in times of crisis. In addition, your own employees – even many miles removed from events – might struggle to cope with news from towns like Boston, Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook, Conn., West, Texas, and others.

What do you say or do as a business owner or manager? Your response in such times must be genuine, sensitive to events and true to the culture of your organization. There is no one-size-fits-all communication solution.

However there are three things you should not do in a crisis. Don’t:

  1. Continue Your Social Media Strategy as Planned. The moment you start receiving breaking news alerts via smartphone apps, email or after watching the news, you need to assess the impact of your planned social messaging. Think about how your messages might be received against the backdrop of what is happening in the news. In most situations, you should pull your planned content immediately and take a wait-and-see approach for at least the first 30 minutes of the news event. This means deleting or rescheduling posts in HootSuite, TweetDeck and other social dashboards.
  2. Assume It’s Not a Big Deal for Your Brand. Gather your public relations and marketing teams to evaluate next steps. Create a plan for what your external messaging (including social media) needs to look like in the first hours and, in some cases, the next several days after a national or global event. Poor planning can lead to significant customer backlashes and damage your brand. You need only look at American Apparel, GAP and others whose early social media efforts during Hurricane Sandy not only failed, but angered customers by appearing insensitive to those in Sandy’s path.
  3. Ignore Your Crisis Communications Plan. If you have a Crisis Communications Plan, use it. This valuable tool will detail a methodical strategy and tactics for handling relevant crisis situations. Don’t try to wing it in the middle of a crisis. You’re more likely to miss something, and the risks can be enormous. If your plan is out of date or, worse, if it doesn’t exist, set a goal for updating or creating one and use the current scenario as a case study (for better or worse) to help guide your Crisis Communications Plan development later.

While you cannot plan for every eventuality, a good Crisis Communications Plan will best ensure your brand is protected while also being sensitive to events outside of your control.

Photo credit: morner / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA

Four spring cleaning tasks for writers

You’ve been writing all day, right? Writing press releases. Writing carefully worded emails. Writing white papers and proposals and to-do lists and text messages and secret prayers to the gods of media coverage (and then apology letters to PETA about the Sacrificial Goat Incident).

Amir Kuckovic / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

When you spend most of your waking moments stringing together words and phrases, not every strand will be unique and stunning. Perhaps Thesaurus.com is the only browser tab that never you never close. Maybe you are leaning on weak link-bait phrases, like my headline (hey, you clicked on it).

In other words, your writing has gotten stale, lackluster and rote.

Recently, I noticed this in my writing. I was editing a white paper I had written, and found one phrase repeated over and over at the beginning of sentences: “that means.” It was an unnecessary, lazy and boring transition, but there it was, again and again.

I had the good sense (for once) to understand this as a wake-up call. I took a closer look at the next few pieces I wrote and took steps to refresh my writing. This is what worked for me. Maybe it’ll work for you, too:

  • Pick out the stale bits. When editing, look for areas of your writing that aren’t terribly effective. Like me, have your transitions gotten lazy? Does it seem like your vocabulary has shrunk? Name the problem(s).
  • Refresh your reading. In many ways, you write what you read. What are you reading for work? If you go back every day to the same two blogs, you are limiting potential growth in your vocabulary and writing style. What are you reading at home? The books and magazines we read for fun inform our writing just as much as the “serious” stuff.
  • Go back to basics. Listen, you don’t actually outgrow outlining and organized note-taking. We all just think we do. You might even want to try drafting with pen and paper, just this once. As I see it, writing by hand slows down your writing process and can help you be more thoughtful about word choice and sentence length.
  • Reacquaint yourself with clients. Going back to basics can also mean going back to the beginning with your clients. If your writing about or for them has become imprecise or not particularly compelling, you may want to look back at strategy documents created when you started working with them. Make sure you understand their mission and goals — these are easy to lose sight of.

I’m curious about what other people do to solve this vague and slippery problem. Do you have any good resources, tips or advice? Share them in the comments or on Twitter (tweet @kimballpr or @sammkimball).

Photo credit: Amir Kuckovic / Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Think Digital First: Podcast

Video

Gary follows up his recent column in Best’s Review with a Best’s Day podcast. Listen below.

Gary on Insurance PR in Best’s Review

There’s a familiar face next to the “Top 5” insurance marketing column in April’s Best Review.

Gary shared his top-line insurance communications rules for the social media age, including best newsroom practices and the importance of a social media strategy.  Download the PDF of the column to read more — and let us know what you think.