I’m excited to share with you highlights from the final keynote presentation at the 2014 National Summit on the Quality of Home Visiting Programs. I found it a refreshing surprise. Most of the Summit sessions addressed issues and interventions related to “toxic stress” experienced by children and families. We highlighted another keynote by Andrew Garner in a prior post. However, this final session presented by Bill McInturff, Public Opinion Strategies, and Michael Bloomfield, the Mellman Group, coached us regarding the messages we need to convey at the local, state and federal levels to rally support for home visiting with families of young children. I want to share this with you because the information can help you advocate for your program. As we’ve discussed in previous blogs, we can cite Nobel Prize winner James Heckman’s call for investment in early childhood and focusing on parenting, and the value of strengthening parent-child relationships that build foundations for lifelong health and development. But we must first grab the attention of funders, legislators and the community and hold their attention while we share the evidence base for home visiting, parent support, and family services.
During their session, Public Opinion on Home Visiting, McInturff and Bloomfield, leading public opinion and communication strategists, described two studies they conducted to determine the best words and strategies to gain support for home visiting programs.
Hearing From Skeptics
The speakers started by conducting four focus groups in Dallas and Detroit, comprised of those who they expected to be particularly skeptical of government spending on home visiting. They discovered that the term “home visiting” had a negative connotation for many people (e.g. death and dying) and didn’t convey any information about who receives services or the benefits they receive. When stating the goal of home visiting, rather than saying “reducing social problems” or “keeping families together”, as we have so frequently done in this blog, language that gained more favor was “helping parents learn how to make good decisions for children”. Furthermore, the focus groups favored descriptions of program administration and funding that highlighted the local level, such as “government program administered by a local or community organization” instead of “government-funded program”.
Casting a broader net, the speakers conducted an internet survey in January 2014 which included 802 adults, half of whom were parents with children 18 years or under living at home. Respondents rated the appeal of language related to 5 aspects of home visiting.
Don't Call It Home Visiting
Naming the Program Services (average rating):
- Family Support (62)
- Family Coaching (55)
- Parent Education (53)
- Parent Mentoring (53)
- Parent Coaching (50)
- Home Visiting (34)
Focus on Need for Skills and Knowledge
Highest Priority Groups to Serve:
The internet survey results showed that by far the most appealing service group was “families that do not have the experience or support to provide basic parenting skills (45%)”. Note that this language referred to skills and resources families need, as opposed to demographics, such as “low income families (29%)” or “teen parents (22%)“, or families that live in areas with high rates of unemployment (18%)”.
It’s about Children
The focus groups also showed a strong preference for serving at-risk children or vulnerable parents and children.
Top Groups People Want to Help:
- At-risk children (70%)
- Vulnerable parents and children (68%)
- Families (49%)
- Mothers (23%)
- Parents (21%)
- Moms and Dads (19%)
It’s amazing to see that the words “children” and “at-risk” or “vulnerable” carried such power in deciding the priority of groups to help; more than 3 times the endorsement than for the words mothers and fathers alone. Talking about children and families in risky situations is the way to get attention and tug at heartstrings.
Communities Helping Families
Internet survey respondents read several home visiting program descriptions and were asked to highlight key phrases that were most convincing. Check the list below to see whether you are optimizing your messaging by including any of the following language.
Key Language that Resonated in Program Descriptions:
- Communities working together/community effort
- Help/help for families in need
- Helps families without grandparents or friends to show them how to care for child
- Save money over long run/works from a dollars and cents perspective /for every dollar spent almost twice that much is saved
- Family support/support
- Teach how to be better parents/teach skills needed/assist parents
- Prenatal through first few years/critical time for child development
- Children do not come with an instruction manual
The Proposal Your Funder Dreams About Includes Parenting Assessment
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