Running Commentary

To prepare for a recent presentation on the translation of research into policy and practice in children's mental health, I had the opportunity to review our efforts in this area, particularly our policy work. The association's work in the advocacy arena is not always the most visible to members, so I wanted to share with you some highlights of what we are doing regarding children's mental health.

Why focus on children's mental health policy?

The need for such a focus is clear. The report of the Surgeon General's Conference on Children's Mental Health (2000) stated: "The nation is facing a public crisis in mental health care for infants, children and adolescents." Evidence shows that the development of behavioral and health problems in childhood can initiate a developmental trajectory leading to health and functional problems in adulthood. As researchers, program administrators and practitioners, psychologists are well-equipped to address the mental health needs of children. In addition, psychology has the scientific knowledge base to help shape policies on children's mental health. Psychology needs to be at the table as public policy is being formulated. The role of APA is to bring psychological expertise, based on science, to the public policy process.

What we do at APA

Our advocacy work focuses on three key areas. First, we advocate for and support policies that create positive environments for children--that is, environments that foster healthy development in children and families. For example, we have advocated for broader access to school-based mental health services for children, with psychologists as eligible service providers. And we have promoted the "Lifespan Respite Care Act" to provide critically needed respite care to parents of children with mental and/or physical disabilities. Second, we play a convening and leadership role in advocating for policies conducive to children's welfare, and we build coalitions to advocate for such policies. For example, we are actively involved in the National Child Abuse Coalition to promote evidence-based prevention and treatment services under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act. Finally, we educate policy-makers on the developmental issues that pertain to policy formulation. For example, we co-sponsored (with the College Board) on June 11 a congressional briefing entitled, "How Traumatic Events Worldwide are Affecting Adolescents' Decisions about Postsecondary Education."

How do we set advocacy priorities?

We do this in several ways. We receive input from APA Governance groups, particularly the Council of Representatives, the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest, and the Committee on Children, Youth and Families. In addition, we receive recommendations from the APA Working Group on Children's Mental Health (which issued a response to the Surgeon General's Report on Children's Mental Health). Finally, we receive information and advice from APA Public Policy Office staff concerning pending legislation.

Current policy priorities in children's mental health

Below are our policy priorities along with some examples of work already under way:

  • To play a leadership and convening role to form coalitions to support a primary mental health care system for children. This past year we chaired the National Consortium for Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, a longstanding coalition of 30 organizations dedicated to the promotion of a primary mental health care system for children.

  • To promote integrated and evidence-based mental health care for children. We worked successfully with the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health to incorporate both evidence-based and emerging best practices in their recommendations for the delivery of an integrated system of mental health services for children.

  • To advocate for research funding in the areas of child and family development and for the application of research findings. We chaired a broad-based coalition to advocate for increased research funding on child development at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

  • To support, strengthen and protect current programs that benefit children and families, such as Head Start. We sponsored a congressional briefing on Head Start on June 6 to inform policy-makers about the strong research base underlying the program's multiple components and performance standards.

  • To advocate for the mental health service needs of children and adolescents within the juvenile justice system. Children's mental health is just one of many policy areas in which APA has a major voice. Our work in this and other topics helps to ensure that our scientific discoveries are translated into appropriate policies, many of which call for the greater use of practicing psychologists to implement policy mandates. I am very proud of our efforts in this area.