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3.3 Written Assignment #3: Framing Your Topic
Make sure you have thoroughly read the assigned articles in your lesson. Then address the following:

How much consideration have you given to how issues are “framed”? Identify an issue — inside or outside of early childhood education — where your position changed, or at least you questioned your position – based on how the issue was framed. This isn’t for me to evaluate your position on the issue, but for you to reflect about how framing has impacted you.
Identify 3 things in the readings that were new information/ideas for you (unless you have been involved in framing before, I think there will be some thoughts in here that are new).
Why is framing an important part of the early childhood advocacy process? 

I would expect a minimum of a paragraph (and more than a 3-sentence paragraph) for each question. Be thoughtful, be thorough. Clearly address each question. Recognize that this section should be helping you think about framing your own advocacy project topic.

Leadership Advocacy Assignment

We have worked through the module on advocacy. This module has identified what advocacy is, its importance to the profession,

provided guidelines for developing advocacy skills, and given some examples of actions in advocacy.

The overall purpose of this project is for you to develop skills you would use in the field as a professional, a leaders, and an

advocate. Because of the context of this being an online course, we will focus primarily on written communication, with the

understanding that advocacy skills depend as much upon your ability to interact with others face-to-face as through print and other

media.

You will have several different audiences for this project; consider the audience and purpose of the particular aspect of the project as

you develop your advocacy actions.

You are to craft an “advocacy statement”; this statement should summarize the changes you wish to advocate for within the field.

Essentially this statement should describe the desired advocacy outcome – what you wish to make happen. I will refer to the “DAO”

which is the Desired Advocacy Outcome. Your advocacy statement should be a description of your DAO. Your DAO should address

either a state or federal level issue in early childhood education.

Your DAO needs to be something specific and manageable. For example, I am all for “raising quality of early childhood programs”

but that is far too vague a policy action. You must have approval from me that your DAO will fit within the context of this assignment.

The rest of the assignment essentially revolves around the DAO.

You will write a Fact Sheet or one page bulleted summary of the research. Think of this as a “cheat sheet” you might share with

other advocates or policy makers (who do not want to read and 8 to 10 to 20 page research paper). This should be the bones of

your literature review.

You will write a literature review which provides the foundation for your DAO, synthesizing the argument for your DAO from the

professional literature. This should be a minimum of 8 pages of text *** for the literature view, not inclusive of references, title pages,

and other non-text accoutrements. This literature review should be based on professional literature. Excellent work will call upon

original research publications to integrate them into your discussion (as opposed to consistently referring only to how others interpret

that research).

***PLEASE NOTE – I do not like giving page number amounts. Honestly, a thorough literature review of a topic along the lines any

of you are likely to choose should be well past 8 pages, as BOOKS are written on these issues.

Good advocates understand the arguments opponents will make – why would policy makers, the public, other professionals and

professions NOT support your DAO? Almost all policies required some type of funding for implementation – so one aspect of

opponents’ arguments will typically addressing using funding for ECE rather than other more immediate or more direct needs. Who

might be opposed to your DAO? For example, you want to raise salaries for staff – that is a public funding issue for public programs

(like ABC and Head Start) and an issue that cuts into the business model of private providers. How do you address those concerns?

Consider carefully your proposed DAO and then discuss how to counter arguments against your DAO.***

***NOTE: This is an aspect of the project many students overlook.

You will then create advocacy actions that would be targeted to different audiences to persuade individuals to support your DAO. All

of your submissions for the assignment should clearly reflect back to your DAO and advocacy statement. There are a minimum of 3

advocacy actions for an acceptable paper; outstanding efforts will include at least 4. Your three actions must come from the

following:

• Letter to the editor of a newspaper taking your advocacy for your DAO to the public

• Letter to a relevant policy maker make the case for your DAO (Use appropriate salutations and formatting – this is another

area where students do not follow through effectively)

• Mutli-media (video, powtoon, etc.) or a series of connected posts to social media (such as Facebook, Twitter, or Google); if

you have other options you would prefer to use, contact me before submitting

• Infographic educating the public about your DAO

Your advocacy actions especially should also use a variety of technology tools/applications beyond simple word-processing/Word

type programs.

Review the resources provided on Blackboard to support your development of more specific aspects of the assignment (for example,

writing letters to the editor, writing to policy makers, creating infographics). My expectation is that your efforts, as professionals and

advocates, will demonstrate appropriate conventions of writing for each of these actions and audiences.

All aspects of the project will be graded with the NAEYC Standards Rubric, including Standard 6f: Demonstrating a high level of oral,

written and technological communications skills with specialization for specific professional roles emphasized in the program. As is

true for the whole class, graduate level standards for writing are in place. Use APA format for your references and citations. The text

formats (Sections A, B, D, E) should be double spaced; use APA formatting for Section D. Remember again to write to the

audience and purpose provided.

NOTE: This assignment provides potential documentation for meeting Standard 6 in your capstone portfolio. (The reflection you

provide in the portfolio is important for you to discuss how this meets Standard 6.)

Section of

project

Purpose of section Audience for

section

General expectations Submission format/

DUE DATE

(A)

Advocacy

Statement/

Accurately summarizes within 3

– 5 sentences the change for

which you are advocating; a

clear DAO is described

General –

included

course

instructor,

course and

professional

peers, policy

makers,

public

Easily accessible by all

audiences including

Clear

Concise

Accurate reflection

Specific DAO

3 – 5 sentences; double spaced

Discussion board

with feedback from

peers related to the

clarity of the

statement; feedback

from instructor about

specificity and

feasibility for project

Module 3.1 DB: –

potential topic

Initial post due

Thursday

Module 4.3

Assignment – Draft

Advocacy Statement

(also see section C

below) due Sunday

EOD

Module 6.1/6.2 Final

Project due Sunday

EOD

(B)

Connection to

NAEYC Code

Ground the advocacy

statement in ethical

considerations; demonstrate

understanding of how advocacy

Course

instructor

Provide a rationale based on the

ideals and principles of the

NAEYC Code of Ethical Conduct

for your advocacy statement –

Submitted to

instructor via BB as

part of the Advocacy

assignment

of Ethical

Conduct

is part of the ethical

expectations within the

clearly connect your statement to

the Code of Conduct; several

paragraphs double spaced

Module 6.1/6.2 Final

Project due Sunday

EOD

(C)

Bulleted

Research

Summary

Provides a one page bulleted

summary of the research that

supports your DAO

Policy

makers

Professional

peers

Concise clear relevant summary

of the research in support of the

advocacy statement/DAO; one

page; APA citation format

Submitted to

instructor via BB as

part of the advocacy

assignment; posted

on BB advocacy blog

for peer feedback

Module 4.3

Assignment Draft

Advocacy Statement

and Bulleted

research Summary

due Sunday EOD

Module 6.1/6.2 Final

Project due Sunday

EOD

(D)

Literature

Review

Provide the research and

theory that gives evidence for

the appropriateness of your

DAO – what is the research

that tells us this is best

practice? How

strong/consistent are the

findings of the research.

Course

instructor

At the very least, all bulleted

points on your one page

summary should be addressed

here – with a strong analysis and

syntheses of the research and

theory in support of the DAO

Includes relevant research and

remains on topic

Uses professional

literature/sources for research

Submitted to

instructor via BB as

part of the advocacy

assignment

Module 6.1/6.2 Final

Project due Sunday

EOD

While your opinion is going to

play a role in this – this should

represent PROFESSIONAL

values and not personal values.

Fewer than 8 pages of text (not

counting reference section) is

likely to be insufficient to support

your argument

APA format for text and citations,

double spaced

(E)

Opposing

views

(consider this

part of the

literature

review)

Include a consideration of

opposing viewpoints. What are

the arguments AGAINST your

advocacy outcome?

Course

instructor

Thoughtful consideration to

potential opposing views;

considerations about anything

that would require public funding

should be addressed ; minimum

one page double spaced

Submitted to

instructor via BB as

part of the advocacy

assignment

Module 6.1/6.2 Final

Project due Sunday

EOD

(F.1)

Advocacy

actions –

letter to editor

Write a letter to the editor for a

local or state (such as

Democrat Gazette) supporting

the DAO

NOTE: creating the action is

the intent of the project; I

cannot determine if you do

actually send your letter (but I

encourage you to do so!)

public Meets accepted criteria for letter

to editor (length, format);

accurately reflects advocacy

position statement; uses lay

language; is persuasive; clearly

and consistently presents the

DAO

Posted to BB

advocacy blog for

feedback from peers

and instructor;

submitted via BB as

part of advocacy

assignment

Module 5.1. DB Draft

Advocacy Actions

Initial Post due

Thursday

Module 6.1/6.2 Final

Project due Sunday

EOD

(F.2)

Advocacy

actions –

letter to policy

maker

Write a letter to an

APPROPRIATE policy maker to

advocate for your DAO policy

change

NOTE: creating the action is

the intent of the project; I

cannot determine if you do

actually send your letter (but I

encourage you to do so!)

Relevant

policy maker

Meets accepted

criteria/formatting for letter to

policy maker(salutations/format,

length, voice), accurately reflects

advocacy position; uses formal

language; as addressed to

appropriate policy maker; is

persuasive; clearly and

consistently presents the DAO

Posted to advocacy

blog for feedback

from peers and

instructor; submitted

via BB as part of

advocacy

assignment

Module 5.1. DB Draft

Advocacy Actions

Initial Post due

Thursday

Module 6.1/6.2 Final

Project due Sunday

EOD

(F.3)

Advocacy

actions –

multi media or

social media

You have choices here – video

created or proposed posts to

social media venues (such as

twitter, FB, google hangouts…).

Social Media venue posts must

be a minimum of 5 connected

and consecutive posts created

to provide a “story” supporting

your DAO

Pubic Evidences good communication

skills for the format; uses lay

language/minimizes professional

jargon; makes good use of the

medium; persuasive; clearly and

consistently presents the DAO

Posted to advocacy

blog for feedback

from peers and

instructor; submitted

via BB as part of

advocacy

assignment

Module 5.1. DB Draft

Advocacy Actions

NOTE: creating the action is

the intent of the project; I

cannot determine if you do

actually post your social media

actions (but I encourage you to

do so!)

Initial Post due

Thursday

Module 6.1/6.2 Final

Project due Sunday

EOD

(F.4)

Infographic

Create an infographic that

informs the public about your

DAO

Public Correct information, persuasive,

lay language (minimalize

professional jargon); clearly and

consistently represents the DAO

Posted to advocacy

blog for feedback

from peers and

instructor; submitted

via BB as part of

advocacy

assignment

Module 5.1. DB Draft

Advocacy Actions

Initial Post due

Thursday

Module 6.1/6.2 Final

Project due Sunday

EOD

Effective Communication about the Early Years
The Elements of the Frame – Part One

Early childhood development is a complex process and communicating it effectively
can be difficult. To help infant-toddler professionals successfully communicate with
policymakers and the public about early childhood development, the ZERO TO
THREE Policy Network is publishing a series of articles in The Baby Monitor
focused on effective communication about the early years.

In the first article (http://www.zerotothree.org/policy/framingissues.html), we
provided a basic introduction to some concepts of effective communications; first by
outlining the fundamentals of framing, and then by introducing ways to think about
reframing your communications.

“Framing refers to the way a story is told and to the way these cues [or
stories], in turn, trigger the shared and durable cultural models that people
use to make sense of their world.”1

We also included some concrete examples of how to reframe a message related to
early childhood development.

This second article begins to break the process down even further by examining the
strategic elements that comprise a frame. The elements of a frame help people
understand new information by providing cues for how to interpret the
communication. The concepts and research in this article are derived from the work
of the FrameWorks Institute, a non-profit communications research organization in
Washington, DC. According to FrameWorks, the essential elements of a frame are:

Context
Numbers
Messengers
Visuals
Metaphors and Simplifying Models
Tone

In this article, we examine the first three elements of the frame – context,
numbers and messengers – the research which supports each element, how to use
it effectively in your communications and examples that relate each element
directly to communicating infant-toddler issues. The next piece in the series will
focus on visuals, metaphors and simplifying models, and tone.

Context
What does it mean to provide context in our communications? Context refers to the
conditions or circumstances that help illustrate a situation. “The way you identify

1Gilliam, F.D. & Bales, S.N. (2004). Framing Early Childhood Development: Strategic Communications and Public
Preferences. In: Halfon N., Rice T., and Inkelas M., eds. Building State Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems
Series, No. 7. National Center for Infant and Early Childhood Health Policy. Retrieved January 17, 2006 from
http://www.healthychild.ucla.edu/NationalCenter/default.asp: 4.

2000 M Street NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036 PHONE 202.638.1144 FAX 202.638.0851 www.zerotothree.org/policy

http://www.zerotothree.org/policy/framingissues.html

http://www.healthychild.ucla.edu/NationalCenter/default.asp

the problem [or issue you want to communicate] makes all the difference in how
people are able to view [the solutions you propose.]”2 Establishing context in your
communications may seem like a rather straightforward and simple strategy. And
yet, context is the element which is most often overlooked. “When people
understand issues as individual problems, they may feel critical or compassionate,
but they won’t see policies and programs as the solutions.”3 When you provide
context, it allows people to think about your issue as one that affects the entire
community, and helps them see that community solutions are needed.4

RESEARCH SUGGESTS:5

Context establishes the cause of a problem and who is responsible for solving
it.

Context can further systems thinking and minimizes the reduction of social
problems to individual solutions.

Context must be built into the frame from the very beginning when the
problem is introduced.

So how can we use context to positively impact our communications? The
FrameWorks Institute proposes the following strategies6:

1. Define the problem so that community influences and opportunities are
apparent.

2. Make the connection between data and long-term trends.
3. Interpret the data: Tell the public and policymakers what is at stake and

what it means to neglect this problem.
4. Connect the issue to root causes, conditions and trends with which people are

familiar.
5. Assign responsibility.
6. Present solutions.
7. Acknowledge how well the state or community is doing in addressing the

problem, rather than focusing on how individuals are addressing it.

Let’s take a look at a fictional example of using context in a communication that
impacts infants and toddlers.

Paid Family & Medical Leave

The Jackson Paper Company is taking its employees and executives on the
road and making the case for paid family and medical leave at the State
House. The company realizes that investing in the healthy growth and

2 Bales, S.N. (June 2004). Framing Public Issues. Washington, DC: 16.
3 Ibid.
4 Ibid.
5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.: 18.

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development of the community’s youngest children pays huge dividends for
everyone, and they want the state to recognize it too. So they are asking the
state to demonstrate their commitment to families with very young children
by passing legislation that would make family and medical leave more
accessible and affordable. Jackson Paper provides 6 weeks of paid family and
medical leave and up to 6 additional weeks of unpaid family and medical
leave to all of its employees – both men and women – upon the birth or
adoption of a new baby or when a family member becomes ill and needs care.
They recognize that to build a satisfied and loyal workforce, you have to
support and value the people who work for you. Now it’s time for the state to
do the same and make paid family leave a priority.

This example illustrates context by making paid family and medical leave a public
issue, rather than the problem of one individual family. It presents the problem,
offers solutions, and assigns responsibility.

Numbers
We see numbers everywhere – in our work, in the news, in our everyday life
activities – and yet numbers alone do not tell a story. Research from the cognitive
sciences tells us that numbers must be accompanied by narrative in order for them
to be fully understood.

RESEARCH SUGGESTS7:
Numbers alone often fail to create “pictures in our heads.”
Most people cannot judge the size or meaning of numbers; they need cues.
Once a frame is established, it will “trump” the numbers.

What, then, does this mean for people who use data regularly in their work? It
means that we must think more strategically about how we use numbers, how we
explain them and how we use them to support our frame. These strategies8 from
FrameWorks help us use numbers more effectively:

1. Never provide numbers/data without telling what they mean.

2. Try to provide the interpretation first, then the data.

An excellent method for accomplishing this is “social math,” a way of
associating numbers with comparisons of similar things that people can
understand. This strategy was developed by experts at The Advocacy

7 Ibid.: 19.
8 Ibid.: 19-21 and Bales, S.N. (November 2003). .” “The Storytelling Power of Numbers.” KIDS COUNT E-Zine.
Issue No. 25. Washington, DC: FrameWorks Institute.
http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/products/issue8framing.shtml. Retrieved November 21, 2005.

2000 M Street NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036 PHONE 202.638.1144 FAX 202.638.0851 www.zerotothree.org/policy

http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/products/issue8framing.shtml

Institute and Berkeley Media Studies Group. Here’s an example of social
math from the international advocacy community:

“’Two years ago in Nigeria, an AK-47 could be had in exchange for two cows.
Now the price is down to one cow. And in Sudan, you can get an AK-47 for a
chicken.’ (Marie Griesgraber, Oxfam America)”9

3. Use numbers only when necessary. When you use dramatic numbers, you
may have the inadvertent effect of making the problem seem unmanageable
or scary.

4. Use numbers to demonstrate cost-effectiveness and to convey the cost of

ignoring the problem.

Let’s take a look at an example of using numbers effectively in a communication
about infants and toddlers.

Using Social Math

“In the time it takes to watch an episode of Law and Order SVU, five infants
are being removed from their homes for abuse or neglect or both. During the
time you’re getting ready to go to work, another five babies move into foster
care. Everyday in the United States, 118 babies leave their homes because
their parents cannot take care of them.10”11

As this example demonstrates, associating numbers with something people know
and recognize can help describe the scope and size of the data being presented.

Messengers
The person who delivers your message – the messenger – is one of the most
important elements in a frame. The messenger is the person who establishes why
this is a problem about which people should care.12 In fact, “messages can be
reinforced or undermined by their attachment to a [particular messenger].”13 For
example, FrameWorks’ research on children’s oral health found that when dentists
were the messenger, they were perceived as speaking from a position of self-
interest.14 Thus the choice of messenger interfered with the success of the frame.

9 Bales, S.N. (June 2004). Framing Public Issues. Washington, DC: 20.
10 Administration for Children & Families. (August 2005) The AFCARS Report: Preliminary FY 2003 Estimates as
of April 2005 (10) What were the ages of the children who entered care during FY 2003?, U.S. Department of
Health and Human Services, http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/tar/report10.htm , retrieved
January 23, 2006.
11 Youcha, V., Hudson, L. and Rappaport, D. (April 3, 2006) “From Science to Public Policy: Court Teams for
Maltreated Infants and Toddlers.” The Baby Monitor: ZERO TO THREE Policy and Advocacy News. ZERO TO
THREE Policy Center. Washington, DC.
12 Bales (June 2004): 22.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.

2000 M Street NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036 PHONE 202.638.1144 FAX 202.638.0851 www.zerotothree.org/policy

http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/stats_research/afcars/tar/report10.htm

You can strengthen your frame by carefully selecting messengers who will lend
credibility and avoid perceived self-interest.

RESEARCH SUGGESTS15:
The choice of messengers is as important as the message itself.
The message is reinforced or undermined by the choice of messenger.
Knowledge and trustworthiness are critical to public acceptance, not

likeability or familiarity.
Some messengers are not credible on certain issues because we assume they

are biased toward a perspective.
Unlikely allies can prompt public reconsideration of an issue or

recommendation.
Some messengers convey specific frames.

Infant-toddler professionals and researchers can improve their communications
about early childhood development by broadening the scope of professionals they
utilize as messengers. Strategies16 proposed by FrameWorks include:

1. Use messengers who can make the connection between the severity of the
problem and the system that can address it. Be sure to use a messenger who
can establish that the problem is public, not the problem of an individual or a
particular family.

2. Test your messengers for public perceptions of their knowledge and
trustworthiness.

3. Use unlikely allies.
4. Only use professional advocates and those closest to the issue in supporting

roles, understanding the public’s assumption that they are already vested in
the issue.

Let’s take a look at an example of using messengers effectively in a communication
about infants and toddlers.

Judges as Messengers
Babies and toddlers are the most vulnerable to the effects of maltreatment,
which can have life-long implications on all aspects of their development if
not properly addressed. Yet the needs of infants and toddlers in the child
welfare system are often overlooked. Social workers, early intervention
specialists, court appointed special advocates and numerous other
professionals are faced with the overwhelming issues that plague infants and

15 Ibid.
16 Ibid.: 23.

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toddlers in the child welfare system. But who can speak most effectively
about these issues? ZERO TO THREE’s experience with its Court Teams for
Maltreated Infants and Toddlers project has found that judges are
knowledgeable and trustworthy messengers for communications about
infants and toddlers in the child welfare system. Judges provide a respected
and authoritative voice and help define the issue as one that must be
addressed within the public arena.

Conclusion
There are several strategic elements that contribute to the ways in which a
communication is understood. By appreciating these elements and utilizing them
in the most resourceful ways, you can improve your communications and advocacy
in support of healthy early childhood development. Watch for our next framing
article, which will examine visuals, metaphors and simplifying models, and tone.

Author:
Debbie M. Rappaport, Senior Field Coordinator, ZERO TO THREE Policy Center

Published: May 30, 2006

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Effective Communication about the Early Years:
Understanding the Basics of Framing

Babies are great communicators. They communicate from day one, through sounds
(crying, cooing, squealing), facial expressions (eye contact, smiling, grimacing), as
well as gestures and body movements (moving arms and legs in excitement or
distress). Most babies learn to communicate to get attention or to get a need
fulfilled. They continue to develop more sophisticated communication capacities
and are encouraged to do so when their efforts are rewarded by appropriate and
timely responses from the people around them.

As adults, we are not that different. Throughout our everyday lives, we are
constantly communicating both verbally and non-verbally. Over time we learn how
to communicate best with various people and in different situations. We continue to
develop and expand our communication capacities when our efforts are successfully
received by the people around us.

As members of the infant-toddler field, we know how to communicate effectively
with one another. We commonly use jargon about self-regulation, early
intervention, infant mental health and healthy child development. Yet our
professional lexicon may seem like a foreign language to lay people, including
policymakers who want to understand child development and articulate policies
that will help promote healthy development for babies, toddlers and their families.
Policymakers are not likely to be well-versed in the terminology of our field, yet
they are expected to comprehend intricate details of our work in order to create
policies that support infants and toddlers appropriately.

Early childhood development is a complex process and communicating it effectively
can be difficult. However, we must meet this challenge, so that policymakers and
the public fully understand the needs of babies and the solutions that best support
families raising young children. This article is designed to provide infant-toddler
professionals and researchers with a basic introduction to some concepts of effective
communications; first by outlining the fundamentals of framing, and then by
introducing ways to think about reframing your communications. We conclude this
article with some concrete examples of how to reframe a message related to early
childhood development.

Framing 101
Effective communication requires an in-depth look at what we are trying to
communicate and how people make sense of the information. Fortunately, there are
people who dedicate themselves to this challenge. The FrameWorks Institute, a
communications organization, conducts scholarly research on framing the public
discourse about social problems and then translates that research into

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recommendations and tools for the non-profit sector.1 The FrameWorks Institute
has conducted extensive research into how to communicate effectively about early
childhood development,2 which makes its work particularly useful to the infant-
toddler field.

FrameWorks’ approach to communications is based on the precept that people rely
on “frames” to make sense of the world.3 “Framing refers to the way a story is told
and to the way these cues [or stories], in turn, trigger the shared and durable
cultural models that people use to make sense of their world.”4 In other words,

“people approach the world not as naïve blank-slate receptacles who take in
stimuli…but rather as experienced and sophisticated veterans of perception
who have stored their prior experiences as an organized mass. This prior
experience then takes the form of expectations about the world, and in the
vast majority of cases, the world, being a systematic place, confirms these
expectations, saving the individual the trouble of figuring things out anew all
the time.”5

We cannot be experts on everything, and so frames allow us to quickly make sense
of the information we are receiving, so we can readily process new information.

“Frames signal what counts, what can be ignored, and allow us to ‘fill in’ or infer
missing information.”6

In essence, frames direct the way in which people reason about the information in a
message. This process can have negative consequences though, because some
frames will direct people to reason about the information inappropriately or
inaccurately. In order to improve our communications, we must identify the frames
that currently govern the way in which people think about infants and toddlers, so
we understand how they are reasoning about the information.

Let’s examine this from the perspective of communications about early childhood
development. For those outside of the infant-toddler field, information about babies
is likely to be guided by their own experiences with very young children, as well as
the frames that dominate the news media and public discourse. These frames may

1 The FrameWorks Institute, http://www.frameworksinstitute.org.
2 See http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/products/ecdreports.shtml for copies of the FrameWorks Institute’s
research reports and recommendations on early childhood development.
3 Bales, S.N. (2002). Framing Public Issues. Washington, DC: 1.
4Gilliam, F.D. & Bales, S.N. (2004). Framing Early Childhood Development: Strategic Communications and Public
Preferences. In: Halfon N., Rice T., and Inkelas M., eds. Building State Early Childhood Comprehensive Systems
Series, No. 7. National Center for Infant and Early Childhood Health Policy. Retrieved January 17, 2006 from
http://www.healthychild.ucla.edu/NationalCenter/default.asp: 4.
5 Tannen, D. (Ed.) (1993) Framing in Discourse. New York: Oxford University Press: 20-21.
6 Gilliam, F.D. and Bales, S.N. (2004): 4.

2000 M Street NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036 PHONE 202.638.1144 FAX 202.638.0851 www.zerotothree.org/policy

http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/

http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/products/ecdreports.shtml

http://www.healthychild.ucla.edu/NationalCenter/default.asp

or may not be accurate, based on what we know from scientific study about child
development in the earliest years of life. If we want our communications to help
people reason about early childhood development appropriately, we should
introduce new frames that lead to alternate ways of understanding the problem and
the policy solutions that match.

The FrameWorks Institute’s approach to communications, and thus to the study of
how to talk about early childhood development, is based on the following
assumptions:7

People are not blank slates.
Communication is interactive.
Communication resonates with people’s deeply held values and worldviews.
Communication is frame-based.
When communication is inadequate, people default to the “pictures in their

heads.”
When communication is effective, people can see an issue from a different

perspective.

Next Step: Reframing
Understanding how frames work is the first step in an effort to help people consider
a familiar issue from a different perspective. The next step is reframing – providing
a different lens or story through which people can understand new information.8
Reframing is hard work and takes practice, but the FrameWorks Institute offers
tools to guide us in this process. One such tool is “levels of thought.”

The FrameWorks Institute “adopts the position…that people reason on the basis of
deeply-held moral values…”9 Those moral values are part of a hierarchical process
for how people think about ideas and issues. As you will see below, ideas and issues
can be divided into three levels of thought.

Levels of Thought10
Level One: Big ideas and values, like freedom, justice, community, success,
prevention, responsibility

Level Two: Issue-types, like child care or child welfare

Level Three: Specific issues, such as earned income tax credits or family and
medical leave

7 Bales, S.N. (2002): 7.
8 Bales, S.N. “A Five Minute Refresher Course in Framing.” KIDS COUNT E-Zine. Issue No. 8. Washington, DC:
FrameWorks Institute. http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/products/issue8framing.shtml. Retrieved February 27,
2006.
9 Ibid.
10 Ibid.

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http://www.frameworksinstitute.org/products/issue8framing.shtml

Reframing issues about infants and toddlers can be done effectively “by reminding
[people] of the widely shared Level One values they already incorporate into their
thinking…”11 We can communicate with others by using “words and concepts like
‘responsibility,’ ‘community,’ ‘connection,’ ‘prevention,’ and ‘stewardship.’”12 Only
after we have introduced the Level One value, should we communicate more specific
information such as the issue type and policy details. Structuring our
communications in this way provides people with a context or vision through which
they can understand the fine details of our message. Let’s take a look at a fictional
framing and reframing to illustrate the way in which using levels of thought can
improve your communications.

Original Frame
265 new babies were born in Fillmont, Indiana last year. 83% of those babies
were born into homes in which both parents work and child care is a
necessity. The community currently offers support services to new parents,
but funds are lacking. The federal budget reconciliation bill made across-the-
board cuts to domestic programs, including the Child Care Development
Block Grant (CCDBG). This will have serious consequences for child care
programs in our community. And with reauthorization of Early Head Start
coming up this year, there is the possibility for even more cuts to the
programs and services needed by the babies of Fillmont.

What was this message about? It’s specifically about child care and budget
cuts to programs for babies. However, there is no clear value expressed that
would help us think about the information in a particular way. As a result,
we are left to make sense of the information and come to conclusions based on
the “pictures that already exist in our heads.” Unfortunately, those “pictures
in our heads” may not match the communicator’s intentions.

Reframe
The people of Fillmont, Indiana know how to strengthen their community.
They know that a baby’s healthy social, emotional, physical and cognitive
development helps form the brain’s architecture and leads to success in
school, in life and in society. By investing in a comprehensive Early Head
Start program, Fillmont, Indiana has made it a priority to provide the best
start in life for all its babies and toddlers, so that their children will grow up
to be good citizens of the community. The Early Head Start program offers an
array of services to pregnant women, infants, toddlers and their families,
including home visitation, parent support, early learning and access to
medical, mental health and early intervention services. But this community

11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.

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program cannot succeed without adequate federal support for Early Head
Start. Reauthorization of Early Head Start is right around the corner. It’s
time to remind our federal policymakers that babies in Fillmont and across
the country depend on them.

What was this message about? The message was clearly about community,
prevention, stewardship and responsibility. By creating a shared vision for
the success of all children, we illustrate the notion that how we care for our
youngest children is paramount to their future and society’s as a whole. When
we then introduced specific issues and policies, it was through the lens of the
Level One values we had already established in our communication.

This is merely one example of reframing. You can begin to practice framing by
thinking about situations in which you regularly communicate about infant-toddler
development and writing down some sample messages. For instance, if you were
going to meet with a state legislator about establishing a quality rating system for
infant-toddler child care, how would you develop your communication? First, make
a list of the two or three big ideas or Level One values that establish a clear vision
for how you want the state legislator to think about quality rating systems. Then
identify the Level Two category for your communication and write down the specific
Level Three policies that you are promoting. When you put all of these together, you
will have two or three possible frames for communicating about quality rating
systems. Remember, frames have consequences for how people reason about the
information, so be sure to test your new frames to determine whether people are
reasoning about the information in the way you intended.

There is no magic bullet to effective communications. Instead our challenge is to
work hard to understand the frames currently in use, as well as develop new frames
that help people reason about early childhood development more appropriately.
Babies are excellent examples of communication in action. Now it’s our turn to
implement these lessons on framing and Be a Voice for Babies!

Author:
Debbie M. Rappaport, Senior Field Coordinator, ZERO TO THREE Policy Center

Published: April 17, 2006

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