Public Policy Update
During September and October, the attention of Congress and the executive branch focused primarily on hurricane-relief measures and Supreme Court nominations. Yet, federal officials somehow found the time to act to ensure the continuation of existing federal programs for children and youth, and to propose other measures to safeguard child welfare.
Among them are:
Early childhood development. On Sept. 22, the House of Representatives passed the School Readiness Act of 2005 (H.R. 2123), which reauthorized Head Start. The bill includes APA-recommended language to reflect the vital role of children's social and emotional development in school readiness and the need for mental and behavioral health services. The bill features provisions to prevent child maltreatment and protect abused and neglected children, while alleviating the effects of maltreatment.
Amendments that passed the House by voice vote include provisions that suspend further implementation of the National Reporting System while the National Academy of Sciences conducts a review and provides recommendations on appropriate outcomes and assessments for young children; allow homeless and foster children to be automatically eligible for Head Start; and require the Department of Health and Human Services to provide additional technical assistance and resources to Head Start agencies in the Gulf Coast region affected by Hurricane Katrina.
Special education. On June 21, the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA) of 2004. Although IDEIA sets forth many changes to our nation's special education law, it retains the vital guarantee of a "free, appropriate public education" for every child, including those with disabilities.
Public Interest Policy staff worked with APA leadership, governance groups, directorates and expert members to develop a comprehensive response to the proposed regulations, submitted to the Department of Education on Sept. 6. Special acknowledgement is due to Tom Kubiszyn, PhD, and Jeffrey Braden, PhD, who as representatives of APA's Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessment, contributed their time and expertise to help draft the sections of the letter pertaining to the assessment of, and intervention for, children with learning disabilities.
Child mental health training. Strong advocacy has also led to increased bipartisan support in Congress for the Child Health Care Crisis Relief Act (H.R. 1106/S. 537). The bill has been sponsored in the House by Reps. Patrick Kennedy (D-R.I.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and in the Senate by Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine).
This bill represents a significant step toward improving services for children by enhancing training for child mental health professionals. Provisions provide financial support to graduate students as well as to community-based mental health providers and training institutions. It would create educational incentives-such as scholarships and grants to graduate schools and a loan-forgiveness program-to encourage students to enter various mental health fields, including psychology.
Bullying prevention. The Public Interest Policy staff have been working closely with the offices of Reps. Linda Sanchez (D-Calif.) and John Shimkus (R-Ill.) in their efforts to advance legislation introduced in January to promote bullying prevention. These efforts primarily involve two pieces of legislation. The Bullying and Gang Prevention for School Safety and Crime Reduction Act of 2005 (H.R. 283), introduced by Rep. Sanchez, promotes violence prevention and incorporates accountability-based programs designed to enhance school safety. Provisions of this bill were included in the Department of Justice reauthorization act (H.R. 3402), which passed the House on Sept. 28. These provisions amend the Juvenile Accountability Block Grant (JABG) program to allow states and localities to use grant funds for bullying- and gang-prevention programs. The provisions also give permission to the U.S. attorney general to recommend that states use JABG funds for such programs. A provision to combat cyber-bullying is also included.
Reps. Shimkus and Danny Davis (D-Ill.) introduced H.R. 284 to amend the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act to include bullying-and harassment-prevention programs, incorporate bullying and harassment under the definition of violence, and provide for programs to address and prevent bullying and harassment.
Child safety and juvenile justice. On Sept. 14, the House passed the Children's Safety Act (H.R. 3132), which mandates a national sex-offender registry and similar registries in states and localities, with additional requirements to establish or maintain
these registration programs for people convicted of sex offenses. The bill includes a provision that would extend the current definition of sex offender to include juveniles. Since the bill treats juveniles as adults, juveniles who have been adjudicated of a sexual offense against another minor would be placed on the public sex-offender registry for life. Although APA and other organizations sent letters to members of the House of Representatives requesting the removal of this provision, it remained in the House-passed bill.
Prior to Senate consideration of similar legislation, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (S. 1086), Public Interest Policy staff met with key Senate offices to express serious concerns about this provision. With the effective advocacy of APA and other organizations, an amendment was included in the Senate bill approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 20 that would specifically protect juveniles from this registration requirement.
Child welfare in residential treatment facilities. Public Interest Policy staff have been working with the office of Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) and several national organizations on the End Institutionalized Abuse Against Children Act (H.R. 1738). This legislation would establish guidelines to prevent child abuse and neglect and ensure the safety and well-being of American children in residential treatment facilities, often called "therapeutic boarding schools."
APA co-sponsored an Oct. 18 congressional briefing focused on the need to enforce government regulation and oversight of residential treatment facilities for children. The briefing highlighted reports alleging physical and sexual abuse and neglect of children with mental and emotional problems placed in unlicensed and unregulated facilities. The briefing was sponsored by the Alliance for the Safe, Therapeutic and Appropriate Use of Residential Treatment (A START), a multidisciplinary task force coordinated by the Florida Mental Health Institute and the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. APA and A START member Robert Friedman, PhD, of the University of South Florida, was one of the presenters at the well-attended briefing.
For more information on child and youth policy issues, visit the APA Public Policy Office Web site at www.apa.org/ppo or contact Annie Toro.
Annie Toro is APA's senior legislative and federal affairs officer for children, youth and families, and Amena Hassan is the advocacy communications officer in APA's Public Policy Office.