Leading for Kids
Making Kids a Priority on the National Policy Agenda

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It's Time! How Can We Change the National Narrative Around Kids?

We are capable of making big changes, but nothing happens by accident. Things happen when people intentionally get together and decide to make things happen.

This was my June 5 welcome to leaders from more than 30 child advocacy groups who came together in preparation for a groundbreaking study that will create a deeper understanding of and change the way Americans are thinking about kids in our country. A primary goal of Leading for Kids is to bring awareness to the current state of children in America, and we believe a shift in the way we talk about children is crucial to ultimately building better solutions for all our kids. After all, communications messaging impacts public opinion, which drives actions, which ultimately, reflect our society’s values. It was thrilling to gather in the offices of America’s Promise Alliance in Washington, DC to launch the first of many conversations about this exciting work.

Nat Kendall-Taylor, CEO of The FrameWorks Institute and an expert in communications science, has been thinking about issues affecting children as part of his work for many years. He shared with us the concepts of framing as a way to present information, communicate beliefs, and influence actions. He emphasized that we have choices in how we present information; there are differences in intention and perception; and sustained change over time requires a change in culture—in discourse, in thinking, and in policy.

Understanding these ideas was integral for our group; as a key step to building a better culture for kids, we first wanted to ask a group of experts to articulate what might be our core cultural beliefs if our society truly prioritized kids’ health and well-being. Through an inclusive and thoughtful discussion facilitated by health media journalist Jackie Judd, participants were invited to help develop a draft set of statements, shared below, entitled What We Want the Public to Think About Kids. As we seek to create a new narrative framework, our team will be embarking on an in-depth research exploration to examine how we—as a culture—talk about kids in our country, and how we might communicate about the needs of kids in ways that increase public support for these beliefs:

What We Want the Public to Think About Kids

  • All children and youth matter, and have the right to reach their full potential.

  • Our society as a whole, not just a child’s family, has a collective responsibility to ensure that all children and youth succeed and prosper.

  • Many children living in America today are not currently thriving and are at risk of not reaching their full potential. This doesn’t have to be the case; with appropriate attention and investment, their health and well-being can be maximized and this next generation of children can thrive and proper.

  • Child advocates need an inclusive strategy in which each and every child and their families have the right to the programs and services they need to thrive. Achieving the goal where all children reach their full potential means making sure these services are available to all, while at the same time, creating systems and policies that provide support recognizing disparities that arise from race, geography, financial status, disability, and other factors so that every child can thrive.

  • The voices of children and youth should be heard and need to be represented at all levels of decision-making around issues that impact them.

  • To successfully implement these changes, local, state, and national governments need structures dedicated to advancing the interests and upholding the rights of all children and youth.

I was encouraged by the breadth of participation from across the field, which included representatives from First Focus, Zero to Three, MomsRising, and Kids Impact Initiative; direct service providers including the Urban Alliance; professional healthcare organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association; and private philanthropies, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the Children’s Health Fund. Having these, and perspectives from other child advocates contributed to a robust and provocative dialogue, and we plan to include even more voices at the table in future conversations.

At the day’s conclusion, there was great enthusiasm for being part of the discussion, as well as an urgency to create a new trajectory for kids in our country—where they will be given opportunities to thrive, their voices will be heard, and policy decisions and their effects on children and youth will be taken into account.

Leading for Kids is creating a movement to change how we collectively talk about kids, with the goal of creating a society that more deeply values children. If you would like to learn more about our work, we’d love to hear from you! Stay tuned for more updates as this landmark project advances.