The maltreatment of children is one of the most complex, challenging and compelling areas in psychology, yet few psychologists are aware of the one APA organization devoted exclusively to this topic.

The Section on Child Maltreatment of APA's Div. 37 (Child, Youth and Family Services)--also known as Section 1--is home to some of the top researchers and clinicians in the area. The group boasts of activities and networking opportunities well worth the price of admission ($15 for general members and $10 for student members).

"Our membership is strong and supportive, but we only have about 400 members," says Section President Bette L. Bottoms, PhD, of the University of Illinois at Chicago. "I'm sure there are many more people interested in child maltreatment than are represented here--everyone from psychologists who deal with victims in their practices to those researching the effects of abuse."

In addition to attracting more clinical practitioners, the section hopes to bring in more basic researchers whose main focus might not be child maltreatment, but who can add their own interests and abilities to this growing field, says Tom Lyon, PhD, JD, professor of law at the University of Southern California and the section's president-elect. He's a case in point: Trained as a basic researcher in developmental psychology, Lyon now studies issues related to child witnesses, including secret-keeping and truth-telling among youngsters who have been maltreated.

Indeed, the field offers many opportunities for psychologists. "Child maltreatment is a very special area where you can do everything from important theoretical work on understanding the human mind and how it reacts to trauma, to contributing to social policy that can keep children from suffering," says Section Past-president Gail Goodman, PhD, of the University of California at Davis.

While the field has come a long way in the last 10 years, numerous areas still need psychologists' contributions, Bottoms adds. These include the need for more controlled research on clinical interventions for maltreated youngsters; more study of reasons for the recent reported decline in reported child sexual-abuse cases; and testing laboratory findings on improving the accuracy of children's testimony in the field.

Among the section's current activities are:

  • A presidential symposium to be held at APA's 2002 Annual Convention in Chicago, Aug. 22-25, that will highlight cutting-edge developments in the field and suggest areas for future research and practice. Five renowned researchers will discuss "best practices" for treating children maltreatment victims; possible reasons for the recent decline in reported child abuse cases; new legal trends such as changes in the law of evidence regarding child witnesses; multicultural factors; and how child maltreatment professionals from different disciplines can work together more effectively.

  • A special issue of the Div. 37 journal, Children's Services: Social Policy, Research, and Practice, coming out later this year, devoted to posited links between child maltreatment and juvenile delinquency. The topic for the issue grew out of a section-sponsored symposium at APA's 2001 Annual Convention.

  • Co-sponsorship of the 14th National Conference on Child Abuse and Neglect, to be held in St. Louis in 2003. This is the first time the section has been involved in the meeting, which is geared toward front-line workers. The section will play an important new role in the conference, Bottoms says, by suggesting ways to increase its research-based offerings.

  • A briefing on Capitol Hill that will seek increased congressional funding for the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

  • A newsletter that keeps section members up-to-date on intriguing developments in the field. The spring newsletter, for instance, features invited articles on postpartum depression, child maltreatment and legal exemptions for religion-related child neglect. It also includes the first installment of a "Best Practices" column by Anthony Mannarino, PhD, who chairs Allegheny General Hospital's Department of Psychiatry, that will discuss the latest research on clinical practice issues. The newsletter also contains a "Case Notes" column that discusses recent legal decisions related to child maltreatment.

  • A "Section ALERT" that provides updated information on funding resources for research and intervention in child maltreatment. It's published once a year and is always available on a newly updated Web site--www.apa37sectionalert.udayton.edu--which is linked to the section's Web site. The ALERT is also mailed to members.

  • A number of student benefits, including a guide to clinical internships, a $400 dissertation research grant to help graduate students with their dissertation research and a $50 poster presentation award.

  • A new early career award for contributions to the field, the first of which will be awarded this year. The award will alternate between practitioners and researchers, and is intended to bring the recipients important professional recognition.

For more information on joining the section, contact APA's Division Services Office at (202) 336-6013; go to the membership heading of the Section 37 Web site, or e-mail Bette Bottoms, PhD, at bbottoms@uic.edu.

Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, N.Y.