In the Public Interest

One of the most interesting activities of APA has been its involvement in issues and concerns of children and youth, usually, though not necessarily, in the context of families and communities. Because APA does not have children as members or affiliates for a variety of reasons--primarily because it's difficult to accomplish all that education and training in 18 years--it is somewhat unusual that an organization devoted to scientific and professional interests would develop a strong policy and advocacy arm focusing on children and families. It is likely that these interests were always present, perhaps from APA's beginning, but didn't become evident until the late 1970s and early 1980s.

For much of the history of psychology and APA, children, youth and families have benefited from psychologists' desire to intervene, examine or theorize about young people in family, social or community contexts. However, as the number of child-family interest groups--including divisions and subdivisions--within APA increased, it became apparent in the mid-1970s that there should be a focal point within APA around which these interests could coalesce. In about 1978, an interdivisional Task Force on Children, Youth and Families, made up of representatives from Divs. 7 (Developmental), 12 (Society of Clinical Psychology), 15 (Educational), 16 (School), 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology) 27 (Society for Community Research and Action), 33 (Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities) and 37 (Child, Youth and Families), was created. The task force submitted its final report to the Board of Social and Ethical Responsibility (BSERP) in 1983 and recommended the establishment of a "...continuing Committee on Children, Youth and Families reporting to BSERP."

In 1985, the Council of Representatives voted to establish the continuing Committee on Children, Youth and Families (CYF) as recommended "...to insure that children, youth and families receive the full attention of the Association in order that all human resources be actualized." CYF was charged with accomplishing goals related to identification and dissemination of information, offering consultation to relevant APA groups, encouraging psychological research, contributing to formulation and support of public policies, and designating priorities for APA involvement in a range of issues, including those related to gender and ethnicity.

Over the years, the CYF charge would be updated to reflect APA priorities, so that in 1993 priorities also included sexual orientation and disability. And CYF now reports to the Board for the Advancement of Psychology in the Public Interest (BAPPI). Interestingly enough, the divisions that conceived and brought CYF into being did not abandon it. Over the years, its meetings have been enriched by the active participation of six to seven liaisons in addition to the six members elected by BAPPI. In the almost two decades since its inception, CYF has addressed many of the goals identified for it by council. The committee, task forces and other groups have produced and published educational and informational reports and other documents on children and family matters that have been widely distributed. As appropriate, CYF has shared its interests and expertise with other elements of APA governance and has encouraged more and continued research on issues important to children and families. CYF has also reached out to other parts of APA and to the society as a whole on policy development on professional, educational and research concerns. As charged by the task force that created it, CYF has worked on such areas as child abuse, racism, unemployment, teenage pregnancy and TV violence to "raise the consciousness" of the APA membership and as well as of the general public.

As part of APA's greater legislative involvement, the task force also encouraged CYF to influence policy related to children's legal rights, provision of age-appropriate mental health services and education for family development. Efforts in these directions spawned a wide range of positions espoused by CYF and supported by APA leadership on policy concerns such as child custody; corporal punishment; prevention of motor vehicle trauma and its psychological and physical sequelae; firearm safety and youth; a resolution on cigarette smoking; a resolution on lesbian, gay and bisexual youths in the schools; a resolution on violence against children by governments; violence in mass media; use of anatomically detailed dolls in forensic evaluations; and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

These and other approved statements have become APA policy, but more importantly have permitted strong and effective advocacy and education at the federal level to influence important policy outcomes within the executive, congressional and judicial branches of government.