Talking about Child Mental Health in Tennessee

A communications toolkit for the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY)

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Welcome to Talking about Child Mental Health in Tennessee — a compendium of communications research and resources for helping the public better understand issues such as child development, child mental health, and programs informed by a “System of Care” operational philosophy.

This toolkit was developed for the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY) with the generous support of the Annie E. Casey Foundation and KIDS COUNT. It builds on research sponsored by the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the Jacksonville System of Care Initiative, and the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative.

A decade of FrameWorks’ research demonstrates that effective communications can help activate the public’s thinking and engagement with complex issues like early child development and child mental health. Here, we demonstrate how an empirically based communications strategy can bolster public understanding and support for programs and policies likely to produce long-term improvements for Tennessee’s children. As our research findings have shown, inviting the public into a deeper understanding of how development works can help them see how this in turn bolsters mental health and leads to outcomes like resilience to adversity. This knowledge can then lead to increased public understanding and support for solutions like a coordinated system of supports and resources for students, teachers, schools, and the broader community. Ultimately, these resources are designed to help engage the public in better understanding potential policy directions, and supporting solutions to pressing problems.

Below, we provide application materials for front-line communicators in the form of a toolkit deploying recommended framing strategies to shift the public conversation about children, child development, child mental health and youth well-being in Tennessee. The kit’s materials include:

  • sample “ready to go” communications that can be used as-is or adapted and repurposed for your organization’s needs;
  • communications examples that demonstrate the “do’s and don’ts” of the framing recommendations;
  • graphics and video animations that model the key concepts of the recommendations;
  • instructional materials including a webinar that can be used for training communications staff in Strategic Frame Analysis;
  • annotations that explain the framing strategies being illustrated

When communicating with the public or policymakers, users are encouraged to borrow toolkit language verbatim if desired, or adapt it to their needs—no citation or special permissions are needed in this instance. For other uses of toolkit materials – such as incorporating these materials into other trainings or communications resources - please refer to FrameWorks Institute’s terms of use for guidance on seeking permissions.

Writing credits: Anna Marie Trester
Design credits: Rob Shore, Holly Valero, Chris Vo, and Kyle Pienaar.

The Big Picture

Why do we need to be strategic framers when it comes to talking about Child Mental Health? What does this communications research have to offer the field? These pieces offer an overview.

A Brief Intro to Reframing Child Mental Health

Just want the gist? Try this article. It’s also ideal for sharing with colleagues you want to introduce to this work.

How to Talk About Children's Mental Health: A FrameWorks MessageMemo (2010)

This MessageMemo summarizes the findings from our research, and provides advocates and experts with a communications map for improving the public's understanding of children's mental health and the value of solutions that scientists and policy leaders seek to advance.

Key Framing Guides

Useful guides to keep communicators on frame.

Reframe Cards

Download printable cards summarizing tested frame elements.

Talking Points

Review the key messages that are major themes when talking about Child Mental Health and Early Childhood Development.

The Swamp

Visual summary of relevant findings from cultural models research.

Communication Samples

These materials model how to apply the tested frame elements to current news or calendar events. They can be used as templates or taken as ready-to-go communications pieces, adapted to local contexts (by adding, for example, local references or site-specific information) or restructured for a variety of media (for instance, by repurposing an editorial as a blog post or public remarks).

sample editorials
Sample Communications: Op-Ed, blog post and Letter to the Editor

Op-eds reach a wide audience and offer an important but under-utilized forum for reframing the conversation about social issues. Blog posts and Letters to the Editor provide an opportunity to influence public discourse by using current news items as a jumping-off point for introducing a reframed perspective.

sample Op/Ed
Sample Tweets
sample Op/Ed

Stay on message in the face of tough questions.

Learning Tools

sample Op/Ed
Editable PowerPoint Presentation slides

Do you have an upcoming presentation that you are going to be making about Child Mental Health or about the System of Care? Use this set of PowerPoint slides as the basis for crafting your presentation.

sample Op/Ed
Five Minute Refresher on Strategic Frame Analysis

If you are already familiar with the FrameWorks Institute's approach to developing and testing prescriptive recommendations for reframing communications, but would just like a refresher please read this quick guide.

Mulitimedia Resources


You Say They Think

This chart offers helpful strategies for choosing the right tested frame elements to ensure that the message you say is the message people hear.

Additional Research

The Power of Levelness: Making Child Mental Health Visible and Concrete Through an Explanatory Metaphor (2010)

This report presents "Levelness" as an explanatory metaphor that was effective in helping people understand the science of child mental health.  It also reports, in summary and detail, the research process of developing and testing the model.

Conflicting Models of Mind in Mind: Mapping the Gaps Between the Expert and the Public Understanding of Child Mental Health as Part of Strategic Frame Analysis (2009)

This report examines the differences between the ways that members of the scientific community and the general public think about concepts of mental health, and mental illness in relation to young children. Dominant cultural models for children's mental health are identified and suggestions for further research are provided.

The potency of potential: Values to Bring Jacksonville Together to Support Children (2014)

This report presents the results of an experimental survey that explores how three values — Civic Potential, Human Potential, and Civic Responsibility — can be used to shift attitudes about children’s issues in Jacksonville. The report concludes with strategic recommendations for using these values to increase support for the policy and programmatic solutions needed to improve the lives of children in the city.

Stuck in a Tale of Two Cities: Mapping the Gaps on Child Development and Well-Being in Jacksonville (2014)

This report maps the gaps between how experts talk and Jacksonville residents think about child development, well-being, and child rights. It describes a set of specific communications challenges, and provides initial strategic recommendations to address these challenges. The report concludes by charting a course for the next stage of prescriptive research.