child dev

Despite years of research and public discourse about child development and related issues, there is considerable evidence to suggest that the public, policy makers and the media still do not understand the crucial issues underlying this debate, nor do advocates and policy makers know the best way to incorporate the science of early childhood development in order to promote positive change for children.

Since 2001, FrameWorks has been working on this topic — most recently in collaboration with the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child, the National Forum on Early Childhood Program Evaluation, and the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University. This multi-year, multi-discipline study is exploring how communications about early childhood development (ECD) influences public attitudes and policy preferences. Experimental research is currently underway which examines the impact of exposure to central elements of the core scientific story about early childhood development - as developed by the collaborators - on people’s support for programs and policies associated with the developmental perspective.

Beginning in 2009, with funding from the Norlien Foundation, FrameWorks began a cross-cultural study comparing patterns of thinking in Alberta, Canada about early childhood development, and child and family mental health with those documented in the U.S.

Our Funders

FrameWorks' research and message development on early childhood development has been generously supported by the Benton Foundation, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Working Group on Public Dissemination and Social Policy of the MacArthur Foundation, the McDonnell Foundation Research Network on Early Experience and Brain Development, the A.L. Mailman Foundation, the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University, and the Norlien Foundation.

Our Recommendations

Message Memo

Talking Early Child Development and Exploring the Consequences of Frame Choices.  This comprehensive strategic message memo synthesizes the research findings and makes recommendations for how to apply these findings in the context of FrameWorks' total research on early childhood development.

Message Briefs

Drawing from a decade of new research on how Americans think about child and youth development, FrameWorks offers new insights and recommendations in this MessageBrief (2015).

Framing Early Childhood Development Message Brief
.  This Message Brief distills the research findings and framing strategies explained in the Message Memo, and offers some do’s and don’ts for communicators on the issue.

Talking to Business Leaders About Early Childhood Development
.  This Message Brief explains FrameWorks’ analyses of frame effects specific to business leaders. The Brief explains the factors that shape business leaders’ understanding of early childhood development and the framing strategies that improve business leaders’ support for policies that encourage healthy development.

Framing Child Poverty By Telling A Development Story.  This Message Brief recounts and interprets data on the ways that exposure to the core story of child development influences support for policies designed to remediate child and family poverty.

Our Research

Quantitative Research

Refining the Core Story of Early Childhood Development: The Effects of Science and Health Frames (2009). 
 This report summarizes results from the latest iteration of FrameWorks' experimental research focused on extending existing communications strategies on the science of early childhood development and the efficacy of adding health as a dimension of those communications.

Telling the Science Story: An Exploration of Frame Effects on Public Understanding and Support For Early Childhood Development (2008). 
 This experimental study examines the impact of five key features of the core story of early childhood development on public attitudes and policy preferences.

Qualitative Research

Plasticity's Promise: Moving the Public Beyond the Container and Other Problematic Models (2013). The public brings a rich and complex set of cultural models to thinking about how people change. While some of these understandings are consonant with the science of developmental plasticity, others are distinctly at odds with scientific understandings of change. This report maps the gaps between how Americans think and experts talk about concepts of change over the life course, and brain change more specifically. These gaps represent specific challenges in communicating about developmental plasticity.

The Resilience Scale: Using Metaphor to Communicate a Developmental Perspective on Resilience (2012).  This report presents "The Resilience Scale" as an explanatory metaphor that helps people reason about the concept of resilience: why some children end up OK in the face of negative experiences and environments early on in life. Helping the public to understand the processes of resilience is a key part of telling the core story of Early Childhood Development. The report details the results of an iterative methodology undertaken to design and test this explanatory metaphor.

"Anyone Can Do It... Wake up, Rise up and Get Some Gumption": Mapping the Gaps Between Expert and Public Understandings of Resilience and Developmental Outcomes (2011).  This report summarizes the findings of a multi-year study that sought to translate the science of early childhood development, and to examine the ways that both experts and members of the general public talk and think about the issue of resilience, as well as more general concepts related to developmental outcomes and child well-being.

More to Genes Than That: Designing Metaphors to Explain Epigenetics (2010).  This report presents "Signature Effect" as an explanatory metaphor that helps people reason about the scientific concept of epigenetics and the implications of this science. Epigenetics is a key concept in the science of early childhood development and being able to translate this science adds an important piece to the core story of early childhood development.  The report details the results of an iterative methodology undertaken to design and test this explanatory metaphor.

Air Traffic Control for Your Brain: Translating the Science of Executive Function Using an Explanatory Metaphor (2010).  This report presents "Air Traffic Control" as a explanatory metaphor that helps people reason about the scientific concept of executive function and the implications of this science. Executive function is a key concept in the science of early childhood development and being able to translate this science adds an important piece to the core story of early childhood development.  The report details the results of an iterative methodology undertaken to design and test this explanatory metaphor. 

Determinism Leavened by Will Power: The Challenge of Closing the Gaps Between the Public and Expert Explanations of Gene-Environment Interaction (2009).  Looking at qualitative data gathered from interviews with scientists and members of the American general public, this report maps the gaps between how Americans think and experts talk about the determinants of individual outcomes and differences, and the importance of genes and environments in how children develop. These gaps represent specific challenges in communicating about the relationship between genes and environments.

Caught between Osmosis and Environments: Mapping the Gap between the Expert and the Public Understandings of the Role of Executive Function (2009).  While developmental scientists understand the importance of proper development of executive function abilities, a notion of this concept and its constituent skills is largely absent from both the public consciousness and policy debates. This report analyzes qualitative data gathered from interviews with scientists and the general public to map the gaps between how Americans think and experts talk about the skills and abilities that comprise the concept of executive function. These gaps represent specific challenges in communicating about executive function.

Conveying a New Understanding of Interaction: Findings from Interviews and Talkback Testing (2006). This report shares the results from a series of cognitive interviews with 18 informants and Persistence Trials with 54 informants. Researchers found that without a simple and robust explanation of child development, much of this core story is 'lost in translation.' Suggestions for reframes and communications techniques are provided.

The Whole Child - Parents and Policy: A Meta-Analysis of Opinion Data Concerning School Readiness, Early Childhood and Related Issues (2002)
. This report reviews and analyzes existing public opinion data on parenting and child development in order to provide a context for understanding public support and opposition to proposed child policy interventions and remedies. In addition, this report analyzes public opinion in response to four common issue frames in public discourse on early childhood: Day Care, School Readiness, Crime Prevention, and Welfare/Poverty.

Promoting School Readiness and Early Childhood Development: Findings from Cognitive Elicitations (2002). 
 This report explains findings from research that investigated whether the concept of "school readiness," a frame widely promoted by advocates and experts, can be effective at engaging public interest and action on a variety of children’s issues. In sum, the research found there to be a number of problematic associations triggered by the  "school readiness" frame, and suggests alternative strategies for more effective framing.

What Kids Need and What Kids Give Back: A Review of Communications Materials Used by Early Childhood Development Advocates To Promote School Readiness and Related Issues (2002).  This paper reports on a strategic framing analysis of advocates' communications strategies. The goal of the study was to identify the patterns advocates’ framing strategies, and to compare these with what research – both from the larger FrameWorks Institute project and from major traditions in the cognitive and social sciences – suggests might work.

Hearts Souls and Minds: An Analysis of Qualitative Research Regarding Communicating School Readiness and other Child Development Policies (2002).  This paper explains findings from 12 focus groups  that investigated whether several key early childhood frames in public discourse - “school readiness,” “ready to learn,” - convey the same constellation of issues and understandings to the lay public that these frames convey to experts. Further, the research investigated whether new models of framing child development may be more effective than the frames currently in play.

Simplifying Early Childhood Development: Findings from Cognitive Analysis and Phone Interviews (2003). This paper reports on a preliminary effort to establish “explanatory metaphors” that would bring lay members of the public closer in line with the perspectives of experts about what children need for their healthy development. In FrameWorks’ research, explanatory metaphors are metaphorical explanations that  distill expert knowledge in terms that allow lay publics to understand and engage in issues in more productive ways.

Moving the Public Beyond Familiar Understandings of Early Childhood Development (2003).
  This paper explains the research that tested which of a host of candidate metaphorical models were most effective at distilling expert knowledge for lay publics. Several “explanatory metaphors” of developmental processes are suggested here as core elements for framing early childhood issues.

“Her Daughter Was One of Them”: How Personal Narratives Attach to Public Issues in Mississippi News Coverage (2010). This report examines 12 months of newspaper reporting in Mississippi, from January 2009 through January 2010, on five general subject areas: race and racism, education, health and health care, child development, and children’s health and well-being. The majority of coverage across issue areas tended towards individual explanations and solutions to what are fundamentally social and structural problems. The state of coverage of these issues is an important opportunity for advocates and experts in these issue areas to move coverage in more thematic or contextualized directions.

Related Reports

Invisible Structures of Opportunity: How Media Depictions of Race Trivialize Issues of Diversity and Disparity (2009).  This analysis was supported by the W. K. Kellogg Foundation to examine the various ways in which race is presented to readers, directly and indirectly, in the nation’s news media. More specifically, it analyzes media coverage of race over the course of one year in four issue areas: health, education, early childhood development and employment.  The report lays out the dominant frames that are applied to race in these areas and demonstrates how these frames constrain public solutions.

Our Products and Tools

Talking About Early Childhood Development - is a comprehensive toolkit containing responses to frequently asked questions, sample op-eds and letters to the editor, case studies and other communications resources.

A New Dominant Frame: "The Imperiled Child" This eZine examines the way the news media misrepresents the lives of American children — as a portrait of children in grave danger and in need of protection.