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Focusing the Lens: Language and framing related to the experience of adversity in childhood

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Exposure to adversity in childhood is tied to a range of negative health and social outcomes across the life course. This issue touches individuals, families, and communities. 

Additionally, it reaches across sectors and fields, including public health, education, health care, the legal system, and child welfare. In recent years, there has been tremendous growth in interest and funding to address childhood adversity. However, the rapid spike in interest and funding and the crosscutting nature of the issue have contributed to inconsistent and ambiguous use of terminology. 

Based on conversations with stakeholders in the field, it is clear that the lack of consistency is contributing to a fragmentation of efforts. Beyond influencing how an issue is received and understood, the language and framing used also influence the clinical, policy, and community solutions crafted in response. For example, an issue portrayed as primarily occurring to individual people or families will bring about a different response than one primarily understood to affect populations or communities. 

This document, one piece of a JSI project to understand the state of the practice and evidence regarding adversity in childhood, delves into framing, use of various key terms in the field, how language shapes response strategies, and opportunities for greater clarity. This document is intended as a current snapshot based on key informant interviews, a review of existing literature, and sharing drafts with practitioners in the field.

This work, made possible by funding from Genentech Charitable Giving, includes this document and a companion literature review titled, Strategies to Prevent & Mitigate Childhood Adversity: A Literature Review, JSI. 2020. 

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