Resource jjmessagingtoolkit 2017

Juvenile Justice Messaging Tool Kit

A Guide for Public Agencies
by the Annie E. Casey Foundation

Building a Strategy

Why and When to Engage with Outside Audiences

Get ahead of problems or requests by keeping your stakeholders in the loop, with both successes and challenges. Reporters may turn to them as sources to validate the direction your agency is taking. Many of the following groups may be key stakeholders and need to hear from you:

  • Your local JDAI Collaborative
  • Executive and legislative branch of state and/or local government: Elected representatives who regularly make decisions on policy, budget and funding, and capital or facilities’ issues, all of which must be informed by the needs of youth
  • Government agencies: Agency staff, especially those working in related systems such as child welfare, education, human services, workforce development and law enforcement
  • Community-based organizations, including faith-based organizations, neighborhood groups and advocate: Potential partners who can disseminate information, reach youth and families and rally supporters
  • School systems: Much attention has been given to school discipline policies as feeders to the juvenile justice system
  • Local organizations focused on people of color: Race and equity advocates are allied in improving equity and fair decision making at every stage of the system
  • Academics/researchers: Experts who can assist in case making and explain subjects such as the unique nature of adolescents or the diminishing returns of long sentences to judges, policy makers and others
  • Grantmaking Institutions: Philanthropic entities, including local community foundations, that may be the source of financial or technical support
  • Families of youth involved in the system: Families can be key allies in helping youth return to the community with guidance and support
    • Many systems increasingly recognize the importance of effective communications with the families of system-involved youth. PIOs and other communicators might want to consider the following recommendations from Justice for Families, a technical assistance provider whose leaders themselves have had family members in the juvenile justice system.
      • Define “family” broadly to include traditional and non-traditional caregivers and other supportive adults. The family and youth should name those who are considered family.
      • Supply family guides to introduce family members to the structure, procedures, staff roles and terminology of the juvenile justice system and how they may advocate for and support their children within that system. (Find a sample at
      • If your system has flexible and inclusive family visitation hours and policies, communicate them broadly.

Identifying Your Goals to Achieve Success

Develop communication strategies in support of policy, program or reform goals. When setting communication goals, you should be able to answer three key questions:

  • Who do I want to reach? Your target audience(s) should be the groups and/or individuals whose beliefs and behaviors you need to change to reach your intended goal. Think about whose support you truly need to be successful in achieving a particular goal. For example, if you are seeking to build a base of support for a community-based detention alternative, community-based organizations may be your first priority.
  • What do I want them to do? When identifying the desired action, be as specific as possible. Avoid broad or vague goals, such as “being aware of juvenile justice reform.”
  • What is the timeline for this? Prioritize the audiences you can realistically reach and activate given the time and resources available.

"S.M.A.R.T." is a framework you can use to gut check the efficacy of your communication golas before building out a larger plan. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • is the goal SPECIFIC?
  • Is it MEASURABLE, so I can know when we've succeded?
  • Is this goal acutally ACHIEVABLE and REALISTIC at this point given capacity, political climate, etc.?
  • And finally, is it TIMELY with specific deadlines and limiatations?

Reaching Your Audience

Important questions to ask include:

  • What do my target audiences care about? For example: public safety, reducing costs, eliminating disparities?
  • Where do they get their information?
  • Which arguments and messages resonate best?
  • Are there blocks and/or biases to account for?

Public Opinion Research: Opinion research techniques range from informal discussions to focus groups or large national surveys. For example, this toolkit contains findings from internal interviews, focus groups and a national survey to determine which messages and frames resonate the best with different audience groups. Issue-relevant organizations, think tanks and foundations may have published research, so seek out what information you need to make your case.

Media Research: For people who have no knowledge of or experience in the juvenile justice system, what they read, see or hear in media might be all they have to go on. Media coverage of the juvenile justice system is an important window into the messages, arguments and data that your target audience groups regularly encounter. Conducting regular media monitoring and analysis will reveal coverage trends, provide the means to measure your own success in pushing messages to the press and help identify receptive members of the media.

Using the Field: Fortunately, JDAI provides a natural peer network. Check out JDAIconnect and use it to ask a question or start a discussion with colleagues in other jurisdictions as well as to find resources. The KIDS COUNT Data Center contains reports, data and graphics on child and family well-being that give you ready access to charts that show both state-specific and national data points.

Identifying Your Messengers

Messengers who have past personal experience with the system and make an emotional appeal are seen as most credible. This includes youth and their parents and guardians. For example, opinion research shows that in comparison to whites, African Americans put less trust in corrections officers and more trust in religious leaders