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Making the Public Case for Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention: A FrameWorks Message Memo

April 1, 2004

The goal of this work is to evaluate the existing body of research available to Prevent Child Abuse America against the findings that emerge from new research, and to identify promising ways to reframe these issues in ways that engage people in prevention, motivate them to prioritize proven policies and programs, and overcome existing mental roadblocks. To that end, this Memo attempts to describe the translation process necessary to engage the public in solutions by identifying specific practices that research suggests would advance public understanding as well as those that are likely to impede it.This research analysis is part of New FrameWorks Research on Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention. Please visit our website for more information.

How the News Frames Child Maltreatment: Unintended Consequences

August 1, 2003

While advocates are usually gratified to see attention paid to their issue in the news, the coverage can often be a mixed blessing, as research by the FrameWorks Institute and others has shown. It is the way that stories are told in the news that affects public thinking, and many of these stories do not guide thinking in constructive directions. A story that seems to convey important information may also have unintended, damaging consequences for public understanding and engagement. This document summarizes 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. The material for the analysis includes a collection of roughly 120 news articles collected by Prevent Child Abuse America and Cultural Logic. Additionally, the review included a collection of several dozen TV news stories assembled by the Center for Communications and Community at UCLA. The premise behind this study is that once advocates have a better idea about the way their issue is portrayed in the media, they can be strategic about choosing which narratives to reinforce, which to challenge, and which to downplay. A close examination of news coverage also gives advocates a window into what they are up against as they try to increase public engagement. This research analysis is part of New FrameWorks Research on Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, and was conducted in collaboration with the FrameWorks Institute, and commissioned by Prevent Child Abuse America, with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Please visit our website for more information.

Developing Community Connections: Qualitative Research Regarding Framing Policies

August 1, 2003

The objective of this phase of research was to determine how Prevent Child Abuse America can effectively frame the organization's communications to advance a broad agenda of policies for children and families, including both policies that directly address maltreatment as well as policies less directly associated with maltreatment, such as early education, health, economic security, and family work issues. To that end, focus group participants were asked to review and respond to four articles, each designed to represent one of four frames: Child Abuse, Parenting, Child Development, and Community. In real news coverage these frames can, and do, overlap, but the research deliberately kept each frame distinct to attempt to isolate the effects of each frame on a proxy list of representative policies and programs. Nevertheless, some order effects were observed and these are noted where relevant in the analysis.This research analysis is part of our New FrameWorks Research on Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, and was conducted in collaboration with the FrameWorks Institute, and commissioned by Prevent Child Abuse America, with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Please visit our website for more information.

Discipline and Development: A Meta-Analysis of Public Perceptions of Parents, Parenting, Child Development and Child Abuse

May 1, 2003

This meta-analysis of opinion research is based on a review of 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. The objective of this phase of research is to develop an understanding of the public beliefs that may influence policy support, with the ultimate goal of developing effective communications to advance policy.Since survey results can be skewed by the context of the survey (for example, a survey about balancing work and family will likely result in different assumptions about child care policy than a survey about welfare and poverty), the analysis relies primarily on research for which the entire survey was available. More than 100 surveys and focus group reports were reviewed (totaling thousands of public opinion questions). All surveys were conducted within the past six years, except for specific long-term trends.This report is not intended to represent a catalogue of all available data, nor is it a review of policy evaluation efforts. Rather, this analysis is designed to offer strategic insights that will prove useful to later stages of the research process; accordingly, only the most relevant and useful findings have been incorporated.This research analysis is part of New FrameWorks Research on Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, and was conducted in collaboration with the FrameWorks Institute, and commissioned by Prevent Child Abuse America, with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Please visit our website for more information.

Two Cognitive Obstacles to Preventing Child Abuse: The 'Other Mind' Mistake and the 'Family Bubble'

April 1, 2003

Following decades of effective publicity about the issue, Americans are now aware of the horrors of child abuse and have an idea (even an exaggerated idea) of the pervasiveness of all types of maltreatment. Making further headway in engaging the public on the issue will have to involve more than raising the volume on awareness campaigns. Such campaigns can even backfire by intensifying the public's media-fed association between abuse and sensational crimes -- which only "sick monsters" could commit and no programs can ever totally eliminate.To take the public to the next step in engagement, communications will need to address counterproductive patterns of reasoning that hinder better understanding of the issue. One of the most pervasive of these is the "Other-Minds" mistake: Lay people misperceive a child as a little mind which develops through abstract processes like learning, memory and choice; or which does not "develop" at all, and exists from the beginning as something like an adult mind which just needs to be "filled" or "guided." This fallacy effectively obscures any scientific understanding of development of biological systems which guide these and all other aspects of behavior. This fallacy is natural, we suggest, because of a highly evolved (and very useful) human mechanism for interpreting the content of Other-Minds (known to psychologists as the "Other-Minds module"). While the "Other-Minds" module is extremely useful for trying to read the minds of other adults, it also leads to a number of distortions that make child maltreatment more likely to happen, and less likely to be prevented. These distortions include a tendency to believe that an infant has an "agenda" that conflicts with ours; an exaggerated sense of children's ability to "get past" abuse through force of will; a sense that even one year-old children can benefit from punishment for breaking moral rules; and a difficulty understanding the concept of "neglect" except as something like "underinvolvement;" among others. An additional cognitive obstacle which communications need to address is the "Family Bubble" -- the default mode of thinking in which events within the family (including child rearing and child maltreatment) take place in a sphere that is separate and different from the public sphere. This default understanding is stronger than a mere belief that families should be autonomous. It means that even thinking about the interaction between child rearing and public policy is difficult for people, and that communications based on reinforcing the "Village," while appealing, can lead to conflictedness rather than change. This research analysis is part of New FrameWorks Research on Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention, and was conducted in collaboration with the FrameWorks Institute, and commissioned by Prevent Child Abuse America, with funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation.

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