Case Study

Addressing Mental Health Struggles For Young People

Annie E. Casey Foundation

The Challenge

For more than 30 years, the Annie E. Casey Foundation has compiled an annual report about child and youth well-being across the U.S., the KIDS COUNT Data Book. Using 16 indicators across categories including economics, health and education, the Data Book ranks how young people fare in each state. Every year, Fenton is tasked with determining how this data relates to the national dialogue about family and children and securing broad media coverage of the Data Book and its insights. Further, the Foundation seeks stories in each state to detail progress and setbacks in areas vital to child well-being and paint a holistic picture for the country. Given the unprecedented stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Fenton urged the Foundation to focus on the emotional well-being and mental health of young people. Understanding that the mental health of children and youth is inextricably linked to their well-being, we promoted a new data set to increase media coverage of the KIDS COUNT report and elevate advocate’s voices to policymakers to increase resources and prioritize support for youth in need.

Our Approach

Data-inspired messaging highlighted that anxiety and depression in young people had increased 26% and shared the Foundation’s policy recommendations urging lawmakers to prioritize efforts to ensure that young people receive the support and care they need to thrive. To underscore the national urgency, we added the U.S. Surgeon General’s diagnosis that youth were facing a “mental health pandemic.”

We employed state and national data with targeted messaging across all media materials, including a national press release and a local press release template that was tailored to each state’s data; an op-ed bylined by the Foundation’s president and CEO, Lisa Hamilton, which tied mental health to children’s basic needs of nutritious food, stable housing and safe neighborhoods, and emphasized that caring for our youth is a bipartisan priority. A robust and rigorous Fenton pitch team amplified 50+ state grantees to secure regional coverage while ensuring that their localized press releases reflected the overall campaign messaging. We reached hundreds of media outlets in all 50 states, coordinated interviews with grantee spokespeople and paid close attention to coverage to determine which points broke through.


By collecting and reporting on data showing a rise in mental health challenges, the Foundation demonstrated that it is attuned to current circumstances affecting young people. Coming out of the pandemic, the campaign’s messaging engaged media and created a timely hook for coverage. After seven years of publicizing KIDS COUNT, Fenton secured the widest coverage ever in 2022. Stories appeared in a total of 261 media outlets, including 3,100 state-focused stories, 352 national stories, and the op-ed by the Foundation’s president published in The Hill. 26 unique op-eds were written about the 2022 KIDS COUNT Data Book with 25 subsequent pickups and reprints, Additionally, there were 10 original editorial pieces captured with 7 pickups.

While focusing on the mental health of young people provided a timely news angle for coverage of the Data Book, many local media outlets also focused on their state’s salient data and rankings in the areas of education, health, economics, and family and community context. Key messages from the Data Book and the press release were picked up in national and state news outlets, demonstrating that our tactics and messaging were newsworthy and resonant.

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