APA and its members help inform child and family public policy in America by conducting and dissem-inating relevant and unbiased research, said Brian L. Wilcox, PhD, during a presidential program session at APA's 2006 Annual Convention. Wilcox, who served as APA's first children, youth and families federal public policy officer in 1986, noted that psychologists have affected legislation on issues such as early childhood development programs, the prevention of child abuse and neglect, and services for children with developmental disabilities.
"APA's real strength is the quality of research underlying its efforts," said Wilcox. "We have tried through history to be an honest broker of information...rather than simply being an advocate of policy positions."
Wilcox cited the Children's Television Act, passed in 1990 and still in effect, as an example of how psychologists contribute to policy development. The act aimed to increase the quantity of educational and informational television programming for children by mandating that broadcast stations include at least three hours of educational programming a week. In addition, the act limits the amount of advertising in programming intended for children and requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to consider whether a TV station has served children's educational needs during its license renewal process.
Psychological research clarified what makes television educational and made the case for why it can be of value, said Wilcox. For example, psychologists' research has suggested that not only does educational programming cognitively benefit children by helping them acquire early reading and numerical skills, but it also teaches them prosocial behaviors.
Research also suggests children can attend to programming running over relatively long time periods. Those findings undermined broadcasters' claims that children have short attention spans, and thus that brief public service announcement-type material should count as educational programming. Additionally, psychologists served on the staff of the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Telecommunications and Finance, said Wilcox, and testified on their educational programming research before Congress and the FCC.
Ultimately, said Wilcox, the language in the report accompanying the bill primarily cited psychological research as justification for the act.
"The role of psychologists in these hearings was to summarize the research as it related to the goals of this legislation, and APA played a very active role in disseminating the research to policy-makers," said Wilcox.
Although the Children's Television Act was a success story, Wilcox cautioned that the priorities of politicians take precedence over the priorities of psychologists. Accordingly, psychologists need to be attuned to politics, he said, and push research findings applicable to policy questions in such areas as child care, early childhood education, literacy and the prevention of child abuse.
In recognition of APA's advocacy on behalf of America's children, APA President Gerald P. Koocher, PhD, presented the APA Committee on Children, Youth and Families with a presidential citation. Mary Campbell, director of APA's Office on Children, Youth and Families, accepted the citation on behalf of the committee. The award cited the office's service to psychologists, policy-makers and the public over the past 20 years. Also speaking at the session, which was co-sponsored by the APA Board of Directors and the Committee on Children, Youth and Families, were Lonnie R. Sherrod, PhD, of Fordham University, Nancy E. Hill, PhD, of Duke University, and Donald J. Hernandez, PhD, of the State University of New York at Albany.