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April 2010Vol. 11, No. 3Framing Effective Child Abuse Prevention Messages

A new report from the FrameWorks Institute presents the Institute's latest research on effectively communicating with the public about child abuse prevention. With the support of Prevent Child Abuse America and the Doris Duke Foundation, The Frameworks Institute compared different "frames" for talking about child abuse and early childhood development and how those frames impact public support for policies that improve children's development and prevent child abuse and neglect.

In the study, 4,200 registered voters read 1 of 17 different narratives (or frames) that presented different ways of thinking about early childhood development. The participants then answered questions that measured their support for certain child-related policies. The research found participants were particularly sensitive to issues involving the physical and emotional welfare of children, and the following frames were most effective for increasing support for child-related policies:

  • Prosperity—The skills and capacities that begin developing in early childhood become the basis of a prosperous and sustainable society.
  • Ingenuity—Society can invent and replicate more effective policies and programs for young children.
  • Toxic Stress—Serious early stress can lead to lifelong problems in learning, behavior, and both physical and mental health.
  • Pay Now or Pay Later—Devoting societal resources to children early in life is less costly than treating adults affected by poor outcomes.
  • Return on Investment—We can support the most effective early childhood programs by comparing the benefit of the investment to the cost.

Although participants' concern for child well-being was already high, the study found that exposure to these frames increased support for child-related policies by an additional 5-10 percent. Combining the Prosperity or Ingenuity frames alongside other messages proved to be particularly effective. The FrameWorks Institute suggests that programs and advocates should use these different frames to meet their communication needs for increasing public support for policies that promote early childhood development and child abuse prevention.

Framing Child Abuse and Neglect: Effects of Early Childhood Development Experimental Research, by Tiffany Manuel, is available on the Prevent Child Abuse America website: (4,320 KB)

Related Item

Visit the FrameWorks Institute Toolkit on "Talking About Child Abuse Prevention" for more research and communication tools to increase public support for child abuse prevention policies: