Local and state organizations are using the Communications Guidelines for Engaging Parents & Caregivers endorsed by the Early Childhood Leadership Commission (ECLC) to reach and connect with the parents and caregivers in their communities. In October 2021, the ECLC and Illuminate Colorado (Illuminate) partnered together to award four communications mini grants to support early childhood organizations in increasing the quality of their communications efforts. Assuring Better Child Health & Development, or “ABCD” as it is more well-known, was among the awardees. As a statewide nonprofit focused on improving the lives of Colorado children through early identification of developmental needs, ABCD communicates with a wide variety of pediatric and community partners. But, when the organization applied for a mini grant from the ECLC, they knew there was one group with whom they needed to prioritize improving communications- Family, Friend, and Neighbor (FFN) child care providers – to ultimately reach parents and caregivers with their messages.
Finding the Right Messenger
FFN child care is provided by someone who is a relative, friend, neighbor or other community member who does not have to meet child care licensing requirements for a variety of reasons. “When providers have appropriate messages, they can support families by engaging in shared decision making which helps to improve family’s knowledge of resources and information,” shared Joanna Powers, the AmeriCorps VISTA housed within ABCD specializing in communication and marketing VISTA. In the Early Childhood Communications Efforts in Colorado checklist, one strategy that is central to communicating effectively with parents and caregivers is quality. According to the guidelines, enhanced communication training for trusted messengers that connect with parents and caregivers, improves quality, and this is precisely what ABCD is planning to achieve with FFN providers–trusted care providers who have the opportunity to share information with parents and caregivers about child development.
A Plan for Quality Communication
Once ABCD identified increased engagement with FFN providers as a need, they began a process of developing a communications plan by talking with staff, their partners in local communities and FFN providers themselves to truly meet these trusted messengers where they are at today, as well as researching what others in Colorado are trying to do to address the same challenge.
ABCD relied, in part, on the recent report Engaging Colorado’s Family, Friend, and Neighbor Child Care Providers in Early Childhood Systems, released in September 2021 by Early Milestones Colorado. Early Milestones partnered with Mile High United Way in Fall 2020 to conduct a survey and focus groups with FFN providers to produce this great resource; and ABCD was able to leverage the insight outlined in the report at the onset of the planning process to gain a greater understanding of the experiences of people providing child care in this way. According to the report:
- FFN providers make up the largest group of child care providers in the country.
- FFN care is more often used by families of color and low-income families.
- Most FFN child care providers are women, and over half of FFN providers across the U.S. are people of color.
- In 2020, nearly one-fifth (19.1%) of FFN providers surveyed reported caring for a child with special needs.
- Many FFN providers do not consider themselves child care providers or self-identify as FFN. They see themselves as a grandparent, a friend, or a neighbor helping someone in their community.
Now, ABCD has a clear strategy for what improved communications looks like for the organization and how their communications efforts will be measured along the way to achieve their organizational goals and communications objectives.
The elements of their communications plan include:
- Messengers & Spokespeople
- Approach through Communications Channels
- Measurement, Tracking & Evaluation
Funding isn’t necessarily all that is needed to improve communications. One unique aspect of ABCD’s approach to this work was that the organization gained increased capacity to improve communications by partnering with AmeriCorps VISTA. For more than two years the organization has housed a communication and marketing VISTA, spending around 85% of time focusing on communication efforts related to ABCD. So few organizations have communications resources, let alone dedicated staff to address marketing and communications challenges. This resource is one that is worth looking into if your organization is creating communications efforts such as mass messaging campaigns, marketing campaigns, or targeted service awareness that is directed toward parents and caregivers.
Clear Communications Channels
Throughout the course of the mini grant, Powers collaborated with Illuminate to think-through the various audiences and potential new and existing communications channels that the organization could access to reach FFN through trusted community providers, as well as statewide allied coalitions, associations and organizations. The resulting plan includes communicating messages to FFN providers through:
- digital communications channels, like monthly emails and social media engagement on Facebook and LinkedIn
- integrated messaging on ABCD’s website www.coloradoabcd.org and
- in person at HealthySteps® meetings, FFN Network meetings and various statewide meetings.
Pushing powerful messages like “one in 8 Colorado children are affected by some type of social, emotional or behavioral challenges or developmental delays. Unless they receive needed supports, they will struggle to reach their full potential,” will be made easier with the clear list of communications channels which ABCD now has and a content calendar which is ABCD’s next step toward improving communication with FFN providers.
Defining Measurements of Impact
To increase FFN engagement and quality in communication, ABCD identified metrics to measure the degree to which the work ABCD and various communications channels are effectively achieving two key objectives. This is an area where communicators often stumble. How do we measure our impact? To evaluate the effectiveness of each communication channel, ABCD identified key performance indicators associated with how they plan to use each avenue to reach their audiences. For example, on social media the metrics of success look at the number of impressions, engagement, people reached and growth in followers, in addition to the frequency with which they planned to post. While success of their emails are measured by open and click-through rates, website traffic and other conversions will also be looked at in a holistic way, alongside tactics like making sure space is created in meetings to share key messages. Of course, ABCD will also explore ways to support the evaluation of communication efforts through surveys and research to identify gaps in effective communication and messaging resources. This work will further identify the impact of the FFN Communications Plan and give additional guidance and resources to ABCD communications to demonstrate the impact of their work to potential FFN providers. Ultimately, through the efforts of this initial phase of the communications plan, the organization anticipates improved communication with FFN providers will positively impact approximately 600 children ages 0-5 through early identification of developmental needs.