Ben Tanzer, Prevent Child Abuse America
It’s a cognitive failure - they don’t understand
what their responsibility could be…
Which is a communications failure - we haven’t
successfully shown them what their
responsibility could be.
When communications is inadequate, people
default to the “pictures in their heads.”
When communications is effective, people can
see an issue from a different perspective.
Developing Community Connections: Qualitative Research Regarding Framing Policies (2003)
A report of findings from focus groups designed to test the impact of four frames about child abuse and
neglect: Child Abuse, Parenting, Child Development, and Community.
Two Cognitive Obstacles to Preventing Child Abuse: The 'Other Mind' Mistake and the 'Family
A report on a series of cognitive interviews that identifies two common mistakes in thinking that the public
makes about child abuse prevention, and recommendations on how to overcome them.
How the News Frames Child Maltreatment: Unintended Consequences (2003)
A report summarizing some of the major patterns in news coverage of child maltreatment – the key
narratives, frames and causal stories that are conveyed to the public on the issue.
Discipline and Development: A Meta-Analysis of Public Perceptions of Parents, Parenting, Child
Development and Child Abuse (2003)
A report reviewing PCA America’s research on child abuse, as well as existing, publicly available opinion
research regarding parenting, child development, child abuse and discipline, and the political landscape
for child abuse prevention policies.
Breaking the Resistance: Creating a Movement for Prevention (2008)
A report by Dig Communications looking at research results and analysis on Pinwheels for Prevention,
Prevent Child Abuse America’s signature campaign.
Framing Child Abuse and Neglect: Effects of Early Childhood Development Experimental
A report summarizing results from the latest iteration of FrameWorks experimental research focusing
specifically on outcomes related to policies and programs associated with prevention and treatment of
child abuse and neglect as well as additional policies associated with improving children’s healthy
development, family assets, education and mental health.
Message Framing for Child
Abuse and Neglect Prevention
( c ) FrameWorks Institute
This presentation was developed for individual use and cannot be
represented, adapted or distributed without the express written permission of
the FrameWorks Institute.
All images in this presentation are licensed for the purpose of this presentation
only and may not be reproduced elsewhere.
• Order matters in framing:
– Level one ‐ big ideas (prosperity, ingenuity)
– Level two ‐ issue types (child abuse, health)
– Level three ‐ specific policies/solutions (mental
health services, respite care, expansion of
• Use causal chains to explain the link between
cause and solution‐ don’t assume the public can
connect the dots.
Elements of the Frame
• Core story elements:
– Metaphors and models
Framing and CAN
• We know there are three CAN related frames
the public diverts to when they hear about CAN
– Horrible criminal atrocity
– Failure of CPS
– Prevalence of sexual predators in our midst
• We know we need to avoid the use of CAN
statistics and negative graphic imagery
Framing and CAN:
• We tend to start at level three
• The public struggles with the “family
• There are four potential reframes
– Family strengthening
– Early child development
What people think
– Parents are solely responsible/family
autonomy/the family bubble
– Safety is the main concern – protecting kids
from harm and disease
– If kids don’t do well, lack of parental
discipline is the reason
– Solution? Parent education, not policy
Reframing and the
Core Story of Child Development
1. Child development is a foundation for community development and
economic development, as capable children become he foundation
of a prosperous and sustainable society (Prosperity).
2. The basic architecture of the brain is constructed through an ongoing
process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood (Brain
3. Brains are built from the bottom up (Skill Begets Skill).
4. Interaction of genes and experience shapes the developing brain and
relationships are the active ingredient in this Serve and Return
process (Serve and Return).
Reframing and the
Core Story of Child Development
5. Cognitive, emotional, and social capacities are inextricably
intertwined, and learning, behavior and physical and mental health
are inter‐related over the life course (Can’t Do One Without The
6. Toxic stress damages the developing brain and leads to problems in
learning, behavior, and increased susceptibility to physical and mental
illness over time (Toxic Stress).
7. Brain plasticity and the ability to change behavior decrease over time
and getting it right early is less costly, to society and individuals, than
trying to fix it later (Pay Now or Pay Later).
• Prosperity: As we look for ways to keep our country prosperous, we need
to think of the connection between child development and economic
• Ingenuity: When we invent and replicate high quality programs for young
children, we can solve problems in early childhood development and
shown significant long‐term improvements for children.
• Stewardship/Reciprocity: It is our responsibility as adults to steward the
next generation. The future of our society tomorrow depends the
opportunities we provide kids today.
• Responsible manager: Addressing problems before they get worse is the
responsible way to manage our society’s future. Taking advantage of
opportunities that arise as we understand science better allows us to
• Brain architecture ‐ WHAT develops
The early years of life matter because early experiences affect the
architecture of the maturing brain.
• Serve and Return ‐ HOW that architecture gets built
Scientists now know that the interactive influences of genes and
experience shape the developing brain.
• Types of Stress ‐ the CONDITIONS that can disrupt development
Scientists now know that “toxic stress” in early childhood is associated
with such things as extreme poverty, abuse, or severe maternal depression
and damages the developing brain.
• The early years of life matter because early experiences affect
the architecture of the maturing brain. As it emerges, the
quality of that architecture establishes either a sturdy or a
fragile foundation for all of the development and behavior
that follows ‐‐‐ and getting things right the first time is easier
than trying to fix them later. When interpersonal experiences
are disruptive, neglectful, abusive, unstable, or otherwise
stressful, they increase the probability of poor outcomes.
When a young child experiences excessive stress, chemicals
are released in the brain that damage its developing
• Scientists now know that the interactive influences of genes
and experience shape the developing brain. The active
ingredient is the “serve and return” relationships with their
parents and other caregivers in their family or community.
Like the process of serve and return in games such as tennis
and volleyball, young children naturally reach out for
interaction through babbling and facial expressions. If adults
do not respond by getting in sync and doing the same kind of
vocalizing and gesturing back at them, the child’s learning
process is incomplete. This has negative implications for later
• Scientists now know that “toxic stress” in early childhood is
associated with such things as extreme poverty, abuse, or
severe maternal depression and damages the developing
brain. It is important to distinguish among three kinds of
stress. We do not need to worry about positive stress (which
is short‐lived stress, like getting immunized). Tolerable stress
is made tolerable by the presence of supportive relationships,
like a strong family when a loved one dies. But toxic stress
lasts longer, lacks consistent supportive relationships and
leads to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and both
physical and mental health.
– Prime the discussion with values like stewardship, future, responsible
– Use the language of ordinary people, speak like you typically speak to
– Talk about children’s social and emotional development as well
– Talk about how getting prevention right early is less costly to society,
and to individuals, than trying to fix things later
– Talk about the shared pleasures of raising children, for everyone
– Position pre‐school, or early care, as an opportunity for stimulation
that all should have access to
– Make community actors, neighbors, police officers, teachers, etc.,
visible in children’s development
– Wherever possible connect children to the larger environment outside
the home, i.e., school, church, temple, mosque, museums, libraries
– Begin the conversation with school readiness, brain, daycare or
– Use the language of experts, e.g., “multi‐track, age appropriate
– Focus only on observable learning, i.e., test scores
– Use an extortion model: e.g., If you don’t do X, youth crime will go up
down the road
– Talk about parents as incompetent or super‐competent
– Make child rearing something you must have resources or education
to do well
– Reinforce the family, safety or individualism frames verbally or visually
Elements of the core story
Sample Letters to the Editor
Level of prior grassroots organizing
Kindling in small groups
A co-optable communications network
Define not just what the prevention of child abuse and
neglect is, but prevention itself and do so in simple
Clearly delineate a policy agenda driven by policies focused
Articulate the impact of not preventing child abuse and
neglect before it occurs, while simultaneously explaining
the return on investment in doing so;
Nurture champions; and
Show them the evidence, more and more research is
supporting that prevention works.
Provide them with evidence about what we know works in terms of
messaging and strategy and then provide the tools to implement
Develop leaders, all collaborative efforts require leadership;
Offer guidance and support in the areas our partners are still
building their thinking and presence;
Determine the overarching values and story of prevention that we
can all implement in a consistent fashion;
Start small, and then stop assuming we know who our partners
Learn from the experiences of our partners in implementing similar
Tell a new story, and define the problem, define
prevention and define the prevention of child
abuse and neglect;
Meet them where they’re at;
Start narrowly, activate messengers and expand;
Articulate the return on investment;
Build on their existing networks and help them
grow them; and
Let them know what they can do.
Senior Director of Strategic Communications
Prevent Child Abuse America