In order to see what the public thinks about human services, FrameWorks first looked at how the public defines and understands well-being. FrameWorks identified the following limited cultural models that Americans use in considering well-being—which run counter to experts’ knowledge—and, in turn, restrict how they think about how human services can cultivate it:
- Well-being is financial self-sufficiency and physical health. The public’s readily-available understanding excludes essential aspects of well-being, like mental health and social connections, which leads the public to think of a narrow set of strategies for fostering well-being.
- Well-being is threatened by a lack of individual will power, bad parents, and dangerous communities. This line of thinking makes it harder to see how the broader societal context, policies, and institutions influence well-being and rules out possible social solutions.
- Individuals themselves are responsible for improving well-being. Americans believe that individuals should have the drive and determination to improve their own lives and are skeptical of the government’s ability to play a productive role in supporting well-being. Both concepts decrease support for collective solutions.
- Human services is an unfamiliar term. As a result, people default to understandings of it as direct and temporary services to address basic needs for people in crisis, which create further misunderstandings of dependency and exclude prevention, advocacy, and the many other ways that human services support well-being throughout life.
As FrameWorks explains, understanding these cultural models allows “communicators [to] anticipate what their messages must overcome, proactively maneuver around unproductive understandings, and intentionally activate more productive ways of thinking.”