Canada: Child Mental Health


For over ten years, the FrameWorks Institute has conducted extensive research in the United States on how to reframe the national conversation about early childhood development. This work resulted in a Core Story of Early Childhood Development, which is used extensively in the U.S. by groups who want to broaden the public discourse around children’s development and who want to communicate the value-added of public support for such issues. In 2009, with support from the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative, FrameWorks expanded its focus to Canada with an ambitious research agenda to validate and modify the Core Story for its applicability to the province of Alberta, Canada.  More specifically, FrameWorks conducted new research (using studies conducted in the U.S. as an initial base) to understand the unique patterns of thinking among Albertans that structure their thinking about early brain development and, relatedly, child mental health and addiction. In doing so, FrameWorks validated the initial findings cross-culturally, and also added substantial depth and nuance to those findings through analyzing the substantive similarities and subtle differences among U.S. and Canadian thinking.

Early Childhood Development

Experiences Get Carried Forward: How Albertans Think About Early Childhood Development
Through qualitative research with Albertans and two types of comparative analysis, this report examines the challenges of communicating the science of early childhood development in the Albertan cultural context. Through a cross-cultural comparison we identify key differences between American and Albertan cultural models and use these differences to suggest strategic communications recommendations. In a second comparative analysis, we look at the differences between the ways that Albertans and scientists understand issues of development. Through this comparison, we highlight gaps in understanding that communications research must fill to improve the accessibility and applicability of the science around this issue.

Child Abuse and Neglect

**NEW** “It’s Hard to Wrap Your Head Around”: Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Child Maltreatment and Child Sexual Abuse in Alberta
This multi-media report lays the groundwork for efforts to reframe child maltreatment, and child sexual abuse in particular, in the province of Alberta. By “mapping the gaps” between expert and public perspectives, the report identifies a set of key communications challenges to elevating support for effective ways of addressing child maltreatment. Key among these is the finding that members of the Albertan public view the causes of child sexual abuse as both unknowable and irremediable. The report concludes with a set of preliminary communications hypotheses to explore in future research. Download the PDF here.

Narratives of Child Maltreatment and Child Sexual Abuse in the Canadian Media
This report analyzes Canadian media coverage of child maltreatment, and child sexual abuse in particular, and examines the likely impacts of these media narratives on the Albertan public’s understanding of this issue. It finds that the media disseminates four distinct narratives related to child maltreatment. Each of these narratives is missing critical components, however — thus allowing the public to “fill in” these gaps with dominant understandings of child maltreatment. The report concludes with recommendations for reframing strategies that expand and improve media narratives on child maltreatment.

Child Mental Health

"Kids Must Have Mental Health... But They Can't, Can They?": How Albertans Think About Child Mental Health
This report compares the cultural patterns of understanding that Americans and Albertans apply in making sense of the issue of child mental health. These cross-cultural differences are employed to guide the application and refinement of a set of framing tools developed in the U.S. and to highlight specific areas that require future research and the development of additional frame elements for use in the Albertan context. The report also examines the differences between the ways that members of the scientific community and ordinary Albertans think about concepts of mental health and mental illness in relation to young children.

Metaphor Visualization: The Resilience Scale


Dials and Rivers: Using Explanatory Metaphors to Expand Understanding of Addiction and Its Treatment (2013)
This report summarizes the findings of quantitative and qualitative research, which sought to develop and test Explanatory Metaphors for their ability to expand thinking on the science of the risk/reward system and the treatments that experts agree are most effective in addressing issues surrounding addiction. 

Metaphor Visualization: Redirecting the River

Metaphor Visualization: Calibrating the Reward Dial

Testing Usability: The Use of Addiction Explanatory Metaphors in Framing Public and Professional Conversations (2014)
This report summarizes the findings of qualitative research to explore how experts use three Explanatory Metaphors — Redirecting the River, Reward Dial, and Outcomes Scale — to communicate knowledge about addiction to members of the general public. The report concludes with a set of recommendations on how communicators can use these metaphors to expand public thinking about the science of addiction and effective addiction treatment. PDF version available.

Cracks in the Brain: Enhancing Albertans' Understanding of the Developmental Causes of Addiction (2011)
This report summarizes the findings of our initial round of quantitative and qualitative research on Explanatory Metaphors for their ability to expand thinking on the developmental causes of addiction.

Rounding Up the Associations: How Perceptions of Addiction Are Recruited
Looking at qualitative data gathered from interviews with scientists and ordinary Albertans, this report maps the gaps between how Albertans think and experts talk about the science of addiction. Specifically, we look at gaps in understanding surrounding issues of definition, causation, intervention and responsibility. These gaps in understanding represent specific challenges in communicating about this science and in translating a developmental perspective on addiction.

Changing Addiction from a "Sin Problem": Peer Discourse Sessions on Addiction in Alberta
This report shares the results of eight peer discourse sessions conducted in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, with diverse groups of civically engaged people about addiction. This research maps the public discourse that shapes how Albertans reason about issues of addiction and the range of treatments that are readily seen as appropriate and effective. It also demonstrates the importance of values in communicating why addiction matters to all Albertans.

Can Redirecting Values Increase Support for Addiction Policies and Related Issues (2011)
This report summarizes the findings of a quantitative experiment that tested thousands of Canadians attitudes and support for policies when exposed to one of four orienting values, measured against a control group that was not exposed to a value. Three values were effective in collectivizing the issue and bringing people away from individualistic understandings of the causes of and solutions for addiction.

Addiction: Applications

Infusing comedy with frames to communicate science. FrameWorks’ partner, the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative, has recently launched a series of short videos that use comedy to communicate serious messages about the neuroscience of addiction. These videos are informed by the results of more than five years of FrameWorks communications research in Alberta that has been conducted in close partnership with the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. These videos represent a new frontier for framing—using non-traditional science translation venues to communicate core science principles. The videos, as well as other information about the science of addiction, can be found at 


Between Cowboys and Barn Raisers: The Challenges of Explaining Child Mental Health and Development in Alberta
This report shares the results of four peer discourse sessions conducted in Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta, with diverse groups of civically engaged people about early childhood development and child mental health. This research demonstrates the power of dominant and unproductive understandings of early childhood development and child mental health among Albertans. However, the research also shows that more policy-oriented conversations about these issues can emerge through the use of simplifying models such as Toxic Stress and values such as Interdependence.

Moving North: Translating Child Mental Health Values and Models to Canada
This paper presents the results of an experimental survey conducted in Alberta, Canada that demonstrates the impact of values on support for polices related to children's mental health, early childhood development and addiction. It also reports on simplifying models covering children's mental health and the related areas of executive function and epigenetics.


Early Childhood Development Toolkit
The end-product of FrameWorks' inquiry into how to talk with Albertans about early childhood development and child mental health is a Toolkit of applied materials. Here you will find the summary interpretive MessageMemo, providing an overview of all the research and making final recommendations for reframing. A complete compendium of relevant research is here as well.

FrameWorks Institute

  Updated: 06/24/16