Message Tips Learned from Generations United Focus Group Study:
In framing an effective message, first do no harm. More specifically, avoid all references to:
- Parents as “unwilling” to raise their children because it generates blame for the parents.
- Relative care as a “growing” problem because it invites a counter-argument that distracts the public from the central emotion of the issue.
- Relative care as “a problem” because it invites a counter-argument that distracts from the central emotion that the families generate.
- In framing an effective message, the mantra that should be used in describing the issue of relative care to the public should be: “It’s about the child.” All messaging should focus on needs and plight of the children and their potential to overcome their fate with proper and loving care.
- Remember that a child-focused message is especially powerful because it evokes the archetype of the innocent – a universal, symbolic model that speaks directly to the public’s most deeply-held values and experiences. People readily acknowledge that a child is blameless, and the innocence of the child grabs them emotionally. Grandparents and other relatives act as stewards of this fundamental value by preserving and protecting this innocence.
- The advocacy community, where appropriate, should consistently use language that evokes the values and strength of caregivers who are willing to step up to the plate on behalf of children.
- In discussing these issues with the general public, there does not seem to be as much leverage in less emotion-laden language such as lauding the benefits of “tax savings” and “raising productive citizens.” Keep in mind, however, that such language may still be appropriate for certain targeted audiences, such as policy makers.
- In discussing these issues with the general public, be sure to emphasize the most compelling theme: No matter why parents can no longer take care of their children – death, divorce, neglect, abuse or poverty – it never, ever is the ‘fault’ of the child.
Kinship Care: What’s in a name?
The language we use to describe a person or an issue plays an important role in how the public reacts to them. Although “kinship care” has become popular shorthand for the more cumbersome phrase “grandparents and other relatives raising children,” preliminary research suggests that it does not resonate with the public and, in some cases, with relative caregivers. In fact, focus group participants in this study generally shied away from any language using “kin” or “kinship.” Try not to use the term “kinship care” when talking to members of the public or reporters who know little about the issue. It elicits a neutral reaction at best and does not win any friends to the cause. So what terms work? Generally speaking, focus group participants were drawn to more value-laden terminology – language that seems to embody and embrace the positive, emotional role that grandparents and other relative caregivers play in the lives of children. These terms included Families Raising Families, Grandfamilies, and Stay Together Families.
Other Helpful Resources
Disclaimer: Advocates for Families First is not specifically endorsing any group. This is not a comprehensive list.
Generations United’s Grandparents and Other Relatives Raising Children: The Second Intergenerational Action Agenda includes a historical perspective on how the media has covered the issues of grandparents and other relatives raising grandchildren over the past two decades, including the results of a review of more than 500 relevant articles. www.gu.org
Frameworks Institute advances the nonprofit sector’s communications capacity by identifying, translating, and developing research for framing the public discourse on social problems. Especially helpful are FrameWorks E-Zines, on-line newsletters that analyze new and effective messaging strategies. 202-833-1600 or www.frameworksinstitute.org.
The Communications Consortium Media Center is a public interest organization dedicated to helping nonprofit organizations use new media and telecommunications technologies for public education and policy change. 202-326-8700 or www.ccmc.org.
agoodman is a communications consulting firm that helps public interest groups, foundations, and progressive businesses reach more people more effectively with helpful publications. 213-386-9501 or www.agoodmanonline.com.
Hershey Cause Communications is a nonprofit communications firm that advances the work of foundations and nonprofits through communications that reach, inspire, and motivate. A free copy of their Communications Toolkit: A Guide to Navigating Communications for the Nonprofit World can be ordered from their website. 310-458-2823 or www.causecommunications.org.