In the Public Interest

Early in the 1990s, the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI) developed a thematic emphasis on violence prevention. Following BAPPI's lead, the APA Public Interest Directorate embarked on a series of violence-prevention projects and communicated the results in books, reports, pamphlets and convention programs. Violence prevention was addressed across issues of gender, age, sexual orientation and race and ethnicity. In 1995, Jackie Gentry, PhD, director of the Office of Public Interest Initiatives, proposed that in addition to communicating what had been learned to the professional and scientific communities, we should consider sharing our knowledge with the general public--"giving psychology away," in the words of former APA President George Miller. This "gift" would consume countless hours and many dollars; giving psychology away "ain't cheap."


After considerable discussion, it was decided to develop a national campaign to educate the public about the early years of childhood and the role adults play in primary violence prevention. This project became ACT (Adults and Children Against Violence), which includes both media and training aspects. From its inception ACT was collaborative within APA, as it included Rhea Farberman, executive director for public and member communications, working with Jackie Gentry and Julia Silva, training program coordinator for public interest initiatives. Outside collaborators were the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), the Ad Council and advertising agencies Flashpoint and Chemistri. The APA Board of Directors and Council of Representatives provided the seed funds with the understanding that long-range funding would be sought from foundations and government agencies.

The ACT media campaign utilized public service announcements (PSAs). Initially, television was used, but production costs were quite expensive, so it was replaced with radio, billboards and print advertisements. All forms of media provided a toll-free number that enabled viewers/listeners to request ACT brochures on parenting and violence prevention. Additionally, the ads listed APA, NAEYC and the Ad Council as sponsors of ACT. In later years, the MetLife Foundation, which has provided continuing support, was also listed as a sponsor.

Early in the project development, it was decided that while the media campaign would effectively raise awareness, it was not likely to effect positive behavior change. While more limited in scope, the ACT training program was designed to train professionals who, in turn, would train parents, teachers and others responsible for young children. Using sophisticated research-based materials developed by psychologists, two kinds of training models were initiated. The first was a community-based training program sponsored by a local agency that involved local professionals, who, when trained, would then train parents and others using ACT materials. The second model was a national effort that consisted of inviting psychologists and other professionals to Washington, D.C., providing training to them with the understanding that they would then train parents and other caregivers of young children within their respective communities.


As ACT enters its fifth year, there are some interesting things to report. The media campaign at last report had reached more than 60 million households. The radio public service announce- ment (PSA) has received more than 150,000 airings, and in 2002 was ranked ninth for all Ad Council campaigns. The $200,000 of seed money provided by the APA Board of Directors and Council of Representatives has enabled the campaign to earn more than $60 million in donated airtime and advertising space. That's quite a return on investment, and more is expected as the new ad firm, Chemistri, is preparing media materials for a third wave of ACT PSAs.

ACT training, also in its fifth year, provides a wide array of educational materials, as well as technical assistance, to locales and professionals. It has conducted four Washington, D.C.-based national workshops, trained more than 100 professionals and created program sites in 29 states. An evaluation of ACT sites by Battelle Centers demonstrated that the efforts of ACT trainers have successfully transmitted knowledge and skills to adults in local communities. Additionally, the evaluation reflected some positive changes in attitude and behavior of caregivers toward children. In this year, ACT training will expand further into Latino/a communities, reach out to more military bases and, perhaps, partner with a violence prevention initiative in Puerto Rico.


Further Reading

For more information on ACT, visit