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Example 2: The Kansas Health Foundation's (KHF) Children's Effort: Creating the Best Place in the Nation in Which to Raise a Child

The Kansas Health Foundation (KHF) children's health initiative was formed to create environments in which children can grow to be healthy, caring, contributing adults. KHF is a private philanthropy based in Wichita, Kansas, that is dedicated to improving the health of all Kansans. It works in three funding areas - children's health, leadership, and public health. In order to improve the health status of all children in Kansas and make it the best place in the nation in which to raise a child, KHF decided to engage the commitment of every adult in the state. Especially important were those adults living in homes without any children, which constitute between 70-80% of adults in the state.


A social marketing effort that combined mass media and community strategies was initiated January 22nd, 2001 in order to increase awareness among adults and try to bring about long term changes in levels of adult-child interaction. It formally concluded October 14th, 2001. Social marketing through the media is only one component of a larger effort. There is a commitment to raise awareness about children's issues and create nurturing environments for children. The Foundation has committed to supporting this effort for the next 20 years. With annual grant making totaling over $20 million, KHF has the resources to support a comprehensive social marketing campaign and make an impact in communities across the state.


The Foundation conducted focus groups with people who had children, as well as those who didn't, to identify possible barriers that would keep people from engaging with children. For example, those interviewed often expressed the belief that one had to spend a lot of time with a child before it made any significant difference. Listening to those in the community throughout the effort helped shape the direction of the social marketing effort's focus and message.

Additionally, KHF representatives listened for individuals' stories about how adults had made a difference in their lives when they were children. Storytelling helped the people interviewed think about how others had influenced them (and, consequently, how they themselves might make a difference in a child's life). They also provided great examples for the Foundation to use with others when raising awareness about how adults could influence children's lives. Stories made it clear how small acts had significantly influenced a child's development and suggested ways to do so.


  • Issues and broad goals

The basic goal of the media component of the social marketing effort was to increase awareness of the positive effects of adult's intentional interaction with children. All adults in the state of Kansas were targeted for increased awareness and eventual attitude and behavior change. KHF wanted adults to take advantage of incidental interactions they had with children to connect with them in a more intentional and positive way. In addition, adults would be encouraged to create deliberate opportunities for interaction, like sending birthday cards to their neighbor's children or placing an article in their city's Chamber of Commerce newsletter. In conjunction with the social marketing campaign, KHF has also launched a community development initiative to help create and support intentional networks of individuals who are committed to constructing environments that put children first.

  • Identifying the product, its price, place and promotion

The results of focus groups, forums and interviews with community people revealed that the perceived costs of changing adult behavior toward children were that: 1) it takes too much time, 2) small amounts of time with children do not make significant differences in their lives, 3) getting involved with another person's child might be seen as somehow wrong or questionable, and 4) one could be rejected, especially by older youth. The Foundation chose to address the first two barriers by using people's stories of how their lives were affected by the small acts of adults when they were children. Often, in getting a person to recount their own experiences with adults as children, they realized how little time adults had had to spend with them to make a big difference. KHF sought and received the support of law enforcement officials regarding issue of "stranger (equals) danger". Police officers enthusiastically supported the message that all adults needed to be more involved in children's lives. The message was particularly consistent with the community policing efforts in Wichita.

The social marketing effort was conducted through multiple media, including television, radio, newspapers, the Internet, and public relations efforts. Promotional efforts were geared to enable individuals to carry forward the goals of the campaign. For example, those who inquired about the campaign received a packet of inspirational postcards to send to others. They are encouraged to mail these to children and youth they know to praise or encourage them for something they have done. The campaign emphasized that increased adult/child engagement could and should occur everywhere children and youth are. Places where children can be engaged extend beyond geographical locations - there are times in children's and youth's lives where adult relationships are especially significant. Examples would be times of major transition, e.g. going from elementary to high school, graduation, childhood to adolescence, moving into a new home, or experiencing divorce. However, whether a child is at greater risk or not, KHF assumed that opportunities for adult/child interactions would be more likely to occur where the individual felt more comfortable exhibiting the behavior. For example, adults may feel more comfortable with their own children or those related to them, but as their level of comfort and experience grow, they may feel more comfortable talking with other children.

  • Who and what should change

The behavior of the average adult, specifically their level of interaction with children and youth, is central to the ultimate goal of KHF's effort. However, in order to raise awareness of the importance of adult/child interaction and the ways that it can be achieved, the behavior of connectors, mavens, and salespeople/persuaders must be changed. Those who bring others together (the connectors), share ideas (the mavens), and convince others of the efficacy of change (the salespeople) will spread the word and advance the effort the quickest. Thus, the Foundation is identifying those in communities who might fit that description when conducting the listening forums and interviews in order to engage them as conduits for the campaign's message.

The desired attributes and expected benefits for increasing the overall amount of positive adult/child interactions are two fold. The children of Kansas would gain greater self-esteem and confidence, and it would give them access to experience and knowledge that could help them grow into healthy, caring adults. Adults report that it makes them feel good about themselves when they are part of a child's life and the relationship makes them feel important. Often they will also, after relaying how an adult reached out to them as a child, express a sense of gratitude to that adult and need to repay that debt by being a similar caring adult in another child's life.

  • Specific behavioral objectives

Developing specific behavioral objectives, especially proximal ones, has been difficult for KHF's social marketing effort. There are so many diverse behavior changes that could be adopted by adults to increase adult/child interactions. Simple changes such as making a concerted effort to know the names of the children on one's street or attending local school drama productions could increase the opportunity for engagement, but it is unclear which behavior changes would engage the most children and youth successfully. The Foundation continues to use scientific research associated with social determinants of health, social capital, and social marketing to determine intermediate measures. Changes in population based outcomes such as decreasing the incidence of youth violence and teen pregnancy are not the immediate goals of the campaign - but are long-term outcomes that reflect on the health and lives of all Kansans.

As told by Tami Bradley, Vice President for Communications at the Kansas Health Foundation, and Jacquie Fisher, former Associate Director of the KU Center for Community Health and Development, to Steve Fawcett, Professor of Human Development and Director of the Center for Community Health and Development at the University of Kansas. Written by Valorie Carson, former research associate with the KU Center for Community Health and Development.