Partnership members’ skilled staff use a wide range of campaign strategies to improve the lives of children and youth. Learn about the varied approaches our members use to catalyze change through techniques such as agenda setting, message framing, data analysis, policy analysis, monitoring programs, research reports, coalition building, and mobilization. Click the arrows to expand the sections and read how states are succeeding in this work.
Setting an Agenda
Partnership members set their agenda using data, policy analysis, and information from partners and the community. Since they look at the needs of the whole child, when they give policy makers their top priorities for children, policy makers listen.
When Kentucky Youth Advocates started planning its 2016 legislative agenda in 2015, it realized Kentucky families need big ideas that lead to strategic actions to produce unrivaled results for kids. To gather those big ideas and to reach its mission of making Kentucky the best place in America to be young, KYA started a campaign that involved idea gathering from grassroots organizations and advocates, grasstops decision-makers and legislators, and everyone in between, including parents, teachers, school nurses, and child care providers. It created an online survey asking strategic questions about the challenges facing Kentucky kids, the greatest opportunities to make positive changes for kids, and concrete policies or programs that would positively impact kids. It asked: What are your BIG IDEAS for Kentucky kids? It then shared those messages on social media, through its email lists, on its website and blog, and it even mailed a postcard to legislators. It was both targeted and broad in its approach. It tweeted directly at legislators and key partners, and invited responses from the general public. In the end, KYA received over 300 responses, and those big ideas have been invaluable in shaping KYA’s 2016 legislative agenda and the messaging around it.
Partnership members select, analyze, present, and frame data on the well-being of children and families in ways that advance their agenda and promote equity and opportunity for all children.
To celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2015, KIDS COUNT in Delaware hosted community conversations to gather feedback regarding the added value of producing an annual fact book for the last 20 years. One theme emerged that encouraged the staff to rethink how to produce the annual Fact Book product. Specifically, participants reported that, when their data is vetted through KIDS COUNT in Delaware processes for inclusion in the annual Fact Book, the information is viewed as more credible than if it were to come from the other organizations directly. Participants suggested, and gave examples, that advocacy efforts are more likely to be effective when data is included in the KIDS COUNT Fact Book than if the data came solely from the other organization(s). With this in mind, in 2015, KIDS COUNT in Delaware was able to help partner organization Nemours pass legislation that requires children to wear helmets when operating/riding an all-terrain vehicle. By vetting children’s ATV injury data in order to include it in its book, KIDS COUNT in Delaware was able to arm advocates with credible data that supported their cause.
NC Child produces an annual state-level report that compiles the latest child health and wellness data into a convenient document that uncovers emerging trends, enhances discussions about the well-being of North Carolina children and youth, and promotes investments that prepare children to lead healthy, productive lives. The NC Child Health Report Card is used by policymakers, practitioners, members of the press, and advocates to elevate child health on the public policy agenda and to highlight the impact of previous state investments on child well-being outcomes.
Health impacts every aspect of child well-being from academic achievement to reaching developmental milestones and successfully transitioning to college or career. Despite improvements in child health that have increased insurance coverage and reduced the child death rate, important challenges remain. North Carolina has developed county data report cards to inspire community action to improve children’s health.
As state-level policy discussions became increasingly polarized in North Carolina, NC Child recognized an opportunity to ignite community-level action to sustain previous improvements in child health while gaining important new ground. In 2012, NC Child introduced county data cards to supplement the annual NC Child Health Report Card. The goal of the county data cards is to replicate the success of the state-level report in communities across North Carolina by illuminating local trends in child health and wellness, identifying opportunities for strategic investments, promoting evidence-based strategies to improve child well-being outcomes, and empowering communities to advocate on behalf of their children and youth. The county data cards provide more than 30 indicators of child health and well-being, many of which are disaggregated by race and ethnicity. Since their inception, the county data cards have been used by local administrators, foundations, and community leaders to develop shared priorities, allocate local resources to support better health, and measure progress in key indicators of child health and wellness. To date, the county data cards have inspired or informed collective action initiatives to address child health and well-being in at least four counties, with far more indicating the data cards help to inform their local activities.
Wisconsin has been addressing racial equity issues through data and education. Since its beginning in 2012, the Race to Equity Project (R2E), a project of the Wisconsin Council on Children & Families, has broken barriers and contributed to opening honest and transformative dialogue across Dane County, Wisconsin about the significant disparities among children, youth, and families of color. Its report outlined disparities across education, employment, housing, justice, and economic well-being. It has become a foundational resource for policy-makers and community members across the county and has led to significant initiatives in public policy, education, and in the business community to begin to address many of the disparities that exist. The Race to Equity report has been used or cited in the media over 500 times, has drawn interest from other communities around the state that want to take active steps to promote equity, and has made a significant contribution to increasing the awareness of residents across the county about the depth of disparities and importance of providing opportunities for every child and family. The Race to Equity work has included making over 100 presentations to varied community groups, reaching out to and partnering with authentic voices and members of the minority community, and actively engaging community ambassadors to be the eyes and ears of how these disparities are impacting the real lives of children and families and how we can move public policy and investments to achieve equity.
Partnership members identify policy changes that will improve the well-being of children, using the evidence-based approaches, and advocate for implementation of changes in federal law and policy in ways that will best serve children.
By 2012 Voices for Children in Nebraska had become increasingly alarmed by the racial disparities shown annually in its KIDS COUNT report. Voices pulled together a group of partners to look at disparities and determine how to make progress. The group, Partners for Race and Equity in Nebraska, decided to start with a statewide conference where they could highlight the racial history of Nebraska, look at the data, let the data drive the conversation, and have a meeting. Voices for Children in Nebraska served as the coordinator for the conference planning group. Voices led its conversations with data — disaggregated data in context. Initially, the partners had hoped to hold a conference in 2013, but disagreements over the approach made that impossible. Some members of the group wanted to focus on individual acts of bigotry, others wanted to address the institutional factors that foster inequity — the macro perspective. The discussions were difficult. To help align the stakeholders around a common vision to address structural racism, Voices brought in the Race Matters Institute (RMI). It took months of having the same conversations, along with RMI as a credible partner, to finally get everyone in agreement. Voices brought in RMI again in May 2014 for a strategic planning meeting to make sure leaders understood they needed to be intentional about advancing race equity by examining structural bias and to begin the process by engaging stakeholders in conversations. By the end of the day, they began planning for a conference in December 2014.
The two-day, statewide conference included key audiences across all sectors: funders, city council members, state legislators, board members of nonprofits, and a few members of the business community. At the conference, the partners introduced a racial equity impact analysis tool. The tool provides a set of guiding questions to determine whether existing and proposed policies, programs, and practices are likely to close the gap for specific racial disparities. The conference also offered a broad array of sessions that explored how disparities affect children of color and created a sense of urgency to help them. On the second day of the conference, the group created action steps, with guidance on moving forward.
Voices for Children in Nebraska and its partners continue to address structural racism. For example, in early 2015 the Voices President was invited to address the Nebraska State School Board. She presented data on race equity and discussed its effects on children of color, using disaggregated data and telling stories to show how children were suffering. One board member, who was widely viewed as being hostile to issues of race equity, was visibly moved by the presentation, saying he had no idea that systemic racism was producing such horrible outcomes for children of color. Voices offered to come back to the board and do a training on the seven steps to racial equity. The board unanimously agreed that they wanted to receive this training.
Partnership members frame information persuasively to resonate with the people who make the decisions and those who influence them.
CHILDREN AT RISK and its allies in the state spotlighted the importance of school breakfast and improving public policy to increase access for hungry Texas school children in 2013. In Texas, more than 3 million children qualify for a free or reduced school meal. While school lunch participation has held steady for many years, participation in school breakfast consistently lags behind due to barriers such as late bus arrival, short meal serving times, and stigma. Without breakfast, it is difficult for hungry students to be active learners in the classroom. Unfortunately, the message of feeding hungry children did not catch the attention of Texas legislators, so CHILDREN AT RISK decided to frame the conversation differently. The message was reframed to focus on the financial impact an increase in school breakfast participation would have on Texas farmers and the agriculture community, and that the school breakfast program could provide an additional $370 million dollar investment in Texas agriculture. With the reframing of this message, CHILDREN AT RISK and its allies were able to find powerful legislators to back the bill and pass it through both the House and the Senate. The final legislation, Senate Bill 376, was then signed by Governor Perry and became state law in 2013. Now, an additional one million children are able to begin their school day with a nutritious breakfast rather than an empty stomach.
Partnership members mobilize communities to ensure that they are working with the community, to build public will in support of their agenda, to locate spokespeople who have first-hand experience with the policy or issue in question, to raise awareness of the issue, and to engage more people in advocacy.
The Colorado Children’s Campaign’s statewide network of child advocates, It’s About Kids, was formed in 1998 after a new term limits law began turning over seats in the Colorado General Assembly. After losing long-time connections with lawmakers in rural areas, the Children’s Campaign turned to building better relationships in those communities. What started with just three rural communities has grown to a statewide network in 52 counties. About 92 percent of Colorado kids are represented in It’s About Kids by volunteer leaders from the plains to the plateaus. The leaders include health, early childhood and K-12 education professionals, community and business leaders, parents, and other advocates. These community leaders provide guidance to their communities and to the Children’s Campaign in a variety of ways. These include voicing the unique needs and characteristics of the children in their communities, exchanging information with Children’s Campaign staff to help shape and support legislative agendas, and establishing and maintaining relationships with policy makers and the media in their communities. For each statewide election, It’s About Kids leaders are armed with legislative district-specific fact sheets on child well-being and are encouraged to reach out to both candidates and incumbents to help explain local data, act as a resource on children’s issues, and provide context by telling stories about local children and the impact that public policy has on making positive change for communities. Leaders also co-host presentations on child well-being to help communities understand issues facing kids. In 2015, leaders helped organize 27 community presentations on child well-being, legislative priorities, policy issues, and other topics. Through the years, the Colorado Children’s Campaign has worked hard to provide value to our It’s About Kids members and together we have formed a strong corps of advocates across the state.
As a research driven organization, Connecticut Voices for Children begins with the data, looking to impartial and quantifiable evidence to advance policy solutions to help Connecticut children learn, grow, and thrive. It assesses data through multiple lenses, including town, race, gender, and ethnicity, to ensure that it can identify disparities and advocate for equitable opportunity. To connect its research to people, Connecticut Voices for Children builds coalitions with direct service organizations and advocacy groups, empowering individuals to share their narratives along with its research. One example involves outreach to youth in the foster care system: youth who often expressed frustration with policies and services but had few opportunities to promote solutions. To address this gap, Connecticut Voices for Children collaborated with Connecticut’s Department of Children and Families to host Youth Advisory Boards, listening sessions where young people in state care across Connecticut could communicate their concerns and priorities for change. Inspired by these conversations with youth, Connecticut Voices for Children now organizes an annual Youth at the Capitol Day, a forum for youth involved with the foster care system to speak directly to policymakers about their experiences. The themes from Youth at the Capital Day inform its legislative agenda and build bipartisan momentum for legislative change. In December 2014, Connecticut Voices hosted its Fourth Annual Youth at the Capitol Day, focused on the importance of healthy, permanent relationships for foster youth. Connecticut Voices for Children’s partnerships with state legislators, the Department of Children and Families, and youth themselves during the legislative session led to the creation of Public Act 15-199, which includes language to strengthen youth participation in permanency planning and permits youth to identify adults with whom they have strong connections as permanency resources.
In order to develop increased power over political decisions for kids, The Children’s Agenda (Rochester, NY) works to mobilize key “grasstops” constituencies (including the business, faith, medical, and higher education communities), as well as “grassroots” advocates (including the 3,100 participants in its online Advocacy Network and parent advocacy leaders participating in the Parent Leadership Training Institute) as advocacy champions for kids. Every year, the staff analyzes the impact on children of city, county, and state budgets, and designs advocacy around those pending decisions. Last year, for instance, 108 congregations from every faith community participated in the Children’s Agenda’s annual Children’s Sabbath, which generated 3,720 hand-signed letters to elected officials calling for increased funding of child care assistance for low-income working families.
Children First for Oregon hosts Oregon Foster Youth Connection (OFYC), a statewide, youth led, advocacy group of current and former foster youth between 14 and 25 years of age. OFYC is completely youth led, meaning youth members shape every aspect of what OFYC is, how it is structured, which policies to work on, and what activities to participate in. With support from CFFO staff, and training from Foster Youth in Action (FYA), OFYC trains and empowers youth to actively participate in the development of policies, programs, and practices that improve the lives of the thousands of kids in foster care.
In 2014, CHILDREN AT RISK staff researched and published the second edition of Texas School Guide: A Parent’s Roadmap to Success. This publication has filled an important niche in the Dallas and Fort Worth communities, serving as a one-stop-shop for parents wanting to maximize their child’s educational attainment. The guides contain detailed data on campuses in Dallas and Fort Worth, covering key topics ranging from average class sizes to graduation rates. CHILDREN AT RISK strategically distributed over 3,000 guides to parents, community members, schools, non-profit organizations, community health clinics, public officials, school board representatives in both districts, and key distribution partners, such as community centers and libraries. This widespread distribution plan, in addition to targeted distribution to key partners that work with underserved populations, provided school information to many parents who previously lacked access due to socio-economic status or language preference.
In 2008, West Virginia KIDS COUNT launched a groundbreaking grassroots campaign, called the Kids First Communities Campaign, to build support among parents, childcare providers, and community leaders for new public investments to improve the quality of childcare. KIDS COUNT provided seed money and technical assistance to six non-profit organizations in Beckley, Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Parkersburg, and Wheeling. These “Kids First Leaders” successfully educated, organized, and mobilized parents, childcare providers, and community leaders in support of a childcare quality rating and improvement system (QRIS). KIDS COUNT’s grassroots efforts led directly to the passage of the QRIS legislation during the closing minutes of the 2009 legislative session. Unfortunately, the legislation did not have the funding necessary to launch the program and KIDS COUNT has continued to advocate for the funding necessary to get the system up and running.
Partnership members create, join, staff, and lead coalitions and organizations around specific policy topics affecting children and families, expanding the number of voices working for children.
The Maine Children’s Alliance coordinates the Start ME Right Coalition, a group of early childhood experts and advocates devoted to improving early childhood health and education. Start ME Right has coalesced around an agenda to support funding and policies to promote key early childhood programming such as Maine Families/Home Visiting, Head Start, and subsidized child care. During the legislative session, the group has weekly calls to provide updates on happenings in the State House as well as continuing work on messaging materials, research and advocacy tools, coordinated letters to the editor and op-eds, and organized press conferences. Message development in particular has been a key component for the group with crucial support from its communication expert at Davey Strategies to create messaging templates that are appropriate for letters, op-eds, and press statements. This is particularly useful in staying “on message” and responding to the arguments against early childhood funding, such as those relating to Head Start “fade-out.”
The Children’s Agenda (Rochester, NY) manages “collective impact” tables on children’s academic success, healthy weight, and a unified, focused annual policy advocacy agenda to help make its goals for children’s success the community’s goals. These tables, which offer collaborative community ownership, provide opportunities to promote cross-sector alignment of strategies, resources, and accountability for what children need most and what works best. For example, the annual “State of Our Children Address” brings together the County Executive, City Mayor, City School Superintendent, and the heads of the United Way and Community Foundation to respond to an annual report card on data regarding the health, education, and well-being of children in Rochester.
Although Voices for Virginia’s Children had worked on improving access to mental health care for kids for almost ten years with some success, there were still large systemic problems with the state’s children’s mental health system. With more than 130,000 children and youth in Virginia estimated to have a serious mental health disorder, the system was fragmented, confusing to families, and lacked an adequate array of providers trained to treat children. In 2009, Voices decided to form a broad-based coalition of partner organizations, brand the effort, and focus its education efforts on the general public as well as policymakers. With more than 60 partner organizations and a steering committee of statewide mental health organizations, the Campaign for Children’s Mental Health has increased media coverage of children’s mental health issues and cultivated strong legislative champions. Empowering and coaching affected parents to speak up has been a critical element of its success. Results to date include: protection of Virginia’s one remaining state psychiatric hospital for children as the safety net when it was twice slated for closure during the recession, and more than $6.5 million annually in new state general funding allocated exclusively to child psychiatry and crisis response services. (That funding started at $1.5 million annually and has grown every year to its current amount.)
Partnership members issue research reports that use data to describe how children are doing, explore the research to identify evidence-based policies and programs that work, and recommend policies that will advance the well-being of children. These reports inform policy makers and can garner significant public attention.
The Maine Children’s Alliance recently brought together key stakeholders to discuss social emotional development after hearing reports of increasing numbers of very young children being encouraged to leave or expelled from programs because of challenging behaviors they were exhibiting in the classroom. Research conducted on the brains of young children shows that the early years are crucial and lay the foundation for later development. While policy makers often focus on whether children have the cognitive skills necessary for school, we need to remember that children also need emotional and social skills if they are going to succeed in school, at work, and, indeed, in life. As a result of these important conversations, the Children’s Alliance is now assisting the Maine Children’s Growth Council on a report to the Education Committee of the Maine Legislature on these issues. The report will include possible efforts to promote social emotional learning and development of young children and reduce expulsions in early child care and education settings. The report will include an inventory of policies, rules, funding, and services regarding early child care and education in the State and recommendations, including possible legislation, to strengthen the support for young children’s social emotional learning and development and to address young children’s behavioral needs.
The Rhode Island Kids Count Factbook, released every April at a high profile policy breakfast attended by the Governor, the Congressional delegation, the legislative leadership and over 500 community leaders, presents a comprehensive portrait of Rhode Island children, with actionable data and policy information on 71 different indicators of child well-being.
Engaging Policy Makers
Partnership members testify; meet with legislators, governors, and their staff; send reports; answer questions; take policy makers on tours of children’s programs; and invite them to meetings and events.
In 2016, Voices for Utah Children persuaded legislators to remove the five-year waiting period for lawfully residing immigrant children to be insured through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Medicaid. Although Hispanic children in Utah are three times more likely to be uninsured than other Utah children, past efforts to eliminate this waiting period had failed. Voices for Utah Children realized, based on advice from the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, that the newly increased federal reimbursement level for CHIP gave them a new opportunity to eliminate the waiting period because it significantly reduced the state’s cost and made the change even more cost-effective. Voices staff worked with key legislative champions and with the Department of Health to craft language in an appropriations bill that directed the Department of Health to eliminate the waiting period. They conducted and shared with legislators research showing that the bill made fiscal sense, which helped move the bill forward. By including the provision in a larger bill, they were able to avoid some of the heated debate over larger issues that had proved problematic in the past. They also led the coalition fighting for the change. Soon lawfully present children can be enrolled in public health insurance right away instead of having to wait for five years.
Partnership members monitor whether programs that serve children and families are complying with the law, serving children effectively, and have adequate resources.
The Tennessee Commission on Children & Youth (TCCY) has long advocated for more therapeutic services in the Youth Development Centers operated by the Juvenile Justice Division of the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services. In 2014, following two suicides at a Youth Development Center within a few weeks, the Commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services requested TCCY conduct an investigation and report findings. The report was presented to the Commissioner and his leadership team. Subsequently, a TCCY intern developed a policy brief entitled A Therapeutic Approach to Juvenile Justice. The policy brief was distributed to stakeholders. While there are still substantial opportunities for improvement, the Department of Children’s Services has made significant strides in moving toward a more therapeutic approach in its juvenile justice programs and expresses commitment to continuing these efforts.
Educating the Public
Partnership members often undertake campaigns to educate parents and other caregivers about children’s needs and wellbeing.
Partnership members raise the visibility of children and the policies they need during elections, educating candidates over voters. They do not endorse candidates, but do sometimes take positions on ballot initiatives and referendums.
In 2004, the Colorado Children’s Campaign helped lead the effort to pass Amendment 35, a tobacco tax increase. It was a successful, collaborative effort that brought together a broad and diverse coalition of organizations to pass the only successful statewide voter-approved tax increase since the establishment of the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights in the early 1990s.
The Children’s Campaign helped lead Citizens for a Healthier Colorado, the broad and diverse group of health and business community leaders who came together to support Amendment 35. Children’s Campaign CEO, Barbara O’Brien, served as a co-chair of the Amendment 35 campaign along with retired Colorado State University President Al Yates. Together with a coalition of more than 100 supporting organizations, they earned the support of 61 percent of Colorado, with majority support coming from both Democratic and Republican areas of the state. The Children’s Campaign went on to coordinate the lobby team that would pass House Bill 05-1266 to implement the new tax.
Before the amendment passed, Colorado had the lowest tobacco taxes in the country — lower even than the tobacco-producing states North Carolina and Kentucky. Colorado also had a high rate of tobacco use. Increasing the tobacco tax helped to reduce consumption, particularly among price-sensitive youth populations. It also generated new and dedicated revenue for public programs to prevent youth tobacco use, support smokers who wanted to quit, and screen for deadly tobacco-related diseases like COPD and lung cancer. The revenue has also supported public health coverage expansion for low-income populations that were among those most likely to use tobacco and suffer from tobacco-related diseases.
Despite the proven benefits of high-quality pre-kindergarten, only about one in six of Pennsylvania’s three- and four-year-olds has access to publicly funded, high-quality pre-k. Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC) set out to improve this statistic in part by elevating the public policy discussion about high-quality pre-k’s benefits and the urgent need to increase state investments in this once-in-a-lifetime learning opportunity. In early 2014, PPC joined with nine other organizations to launch a statewide, non-partisan campaign called Pre-K for PA. The campaign’s goal is to ensure that every three- and four-year-old in the commonwealth will have access to high-quality pre-kindergarten by 2018. Because 2014 was a gubernatorial election year, part of the challenge was to make sure pre-k was a prominent campaign topic among the candidates for governor – all ten of them. The campaign prepared data-driven policy briefings about the benefits of high-quality pre-k and the unmet need in Pennsylvania. It began aggressively promoting the issue through one-on-one candidate briefings, editorial board outreach and earned media coverage, and a steady stream of social media. As the campaign evolved, all of the leading candidates began voicing public support for stronger investments in high-quality pre-k. The winning candidate campaigned on a platform of universal pre-k in Pennsylvania because, as he put it, “too much of the battle for educational achievement is lost before our children enter kindergarten.” His first year in office, the new governor proposed increasing state funding for high-quality pre-k to boost the rate of access from one in six children to one in four, with a vow to seek subsequent increases in the years to come.
Partnership members hold press conferences, write press releases, meet with editorial boards, appear on TV and radio, write blogs, and manage social media to draw public attention to policy changes that children need.
Since 1990, the NC Child Fatality Task Force has brought legislators together with health and safety experts to craft policies that save children’s lives, resulting in a 45% decrease in North Carolina’s child fatality rate since the Task Force’s inception. Despite this history of success, a small set of state house members snuck a provision in the state budget bill that would have eliminated the Task Force in 2014. When NC Child discovered the provision, it organized a quick, comprehensive response—it mobilized allies and provided them with data-driven communications materials; it reached out to the press to expose the provision; and, it provided legislators with solid data and talking points. During the floor debate, Republicans and Democrats referenced NC Child materials while speaking in favor of saving the Task Force. Ultimately, the state House voted overwhelmingly to preserve the Child Fatality Task Force.
Partnership members often analyze state budgets and advocate to ensure that states and localities have sufficient resources to fund children’s programs adequately, that states provide sufficient resources to match available federal funding where needed, and that tax systems treat lower income families fairly, including offering tax credits to help working families.
Connecticut Voices for Children advocates annually to protect earned income tax credit legislation from threatened elimination from the state’s budget.