Public Interest Advocacy News--Winter 2009

Welcoming New Staff

In June, Krysta Jones, M.A., joined PI-GRO as the new Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer. Prior to joining APA, she worked at the American College of Ob-Gyns where she served as Federal Representative for over five years. In that capacity, Krysta was responsible for managing a wide range of legislative and regulatory initiatives impacting women's health. She is also the CEO and Founder of Virginia Leadership Institute, Inc., a non-profit candidate training organization in Virginia. Krysta holds a Master's Degree in Legislative Affairs from The George Washington University, and her diverse professional experiences include serving as consultant in the Peace Corps in Paraguay for two years where she procured over $10,000 in equipment and training from USAID and America On Line for a local radio station in an effort to increase transparency and participation in government affairs. As part of the PI-GRO team, Krysta is responsible for issues impacting women and their families as well as issues related to socioeconomic status.

Aging

Congressional Briefing. On May 15, PI-GRO, along with the American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry, the National Association of Social Workers, and the Older Women's League, APA sponsored a congressional briefing on Capitol Hill on Meeting the Mental Health Needs of an Aging America: Opportunities and Challenges for Federal Policy. APA member Tony Antonucci Ph.D., co-chair of the APA Presidential Task Force on Integrative Healthcare for an Aging Population, represented APA at this important event. During her remarks, Dr. Antonucci strongly advocated for integrated health care for older adults. She also discussed the Task Force's report, which recommends that health-care providers embrace an interdisciplinary model of care in which teams of professionals--from psychologists and pharmacists to physicians and nurses--work together to devise treatment plans for each patient. On such teams, no one member is "the leader;" rather, members share leadership and power and bring their own expertise to the table to maximize patient care.

Children, Youth, and Families

Youth with Serious Mental Illness (SMI). On June 25, APA's SMI/SED Task Force member, Arthur Evans, Ph.D., represented APA at an important and well-attended -standing room only - Congressional Press Conference on Transition Youth with SMI, which was jointly held by Representative Pete Stark (D-CA), Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), and Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT). The purpose of the press conference was to announce the release of a key Government Accountability Office report regarding Young Adults with Serious Mental Illness and to introduce the Healthy Transition Act of 2008 (S. 3195 / H.R. 6375), legislation designed to address the challenges faced by transition-age youth with SMI. APA's Public Interest Government Relations Office played a significant role in helping to develop this legislation and in securing Dr. Evans' participation as the sole mental health expert in the panel of speakers. Dr. Evans, the Director of Philadelphia's Department of Behavioral and Mental Health Services, spoke about the challenges he faces as the director of a $1 billion mental health department in a major city to help young people transition to the adult mental health system.

Abstinence-Only Education. Following a request from the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, PI-GRO staff submitted written testimony for a congressional hearing held on April 23 entitled Domestic Abstinence-Only Programs: Assessing the Evidence. APA's testimony was positively cited in the opening statement of Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-CA) for its support of comprehensive sexuality education programs that have proven effective. The Department of Health and Human Services currently makes available annually $163 million for abstinence-only and abstinence-until-marriage education. The statement submitted by PI-GRO took as its basis the February 2005 APA Council Resolution in Favor of Empirically Supported Sex Education and HIV Prevention Programs for Adolescents.

Residential Treatment Facilities for Children. On June 26, the House of Representatives approved the Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008 (H.R. 6358), a bill to mandate much-needed standards to prevent and respond to child abuse and neglect at residential treatment facilities. The Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act, which has been a top legislative priority for PI-GRO for many years, lays a foundation for change by monitoring the care of children and youth in certain residential treatment facilities by:

  1. prohibiting program staff from physically or mentally abusing children and youth in their care or denying children essential water, food, clothing, shelter or medical care, whether as a form of punishment or for any other reason;

  2. requiring that programs only physically restrain children and youth if it is necessary for their safety or the safety of others and to use restraint in a way that is consistent with federal law;

  3. requiring programs to provide children and youth with reasonable access to a telephone and informing children and youth of their right to use the phone; requiring programs to train staff in what constitutes abuse and neglect and how to report it;

  4. requiring programs to have plans in place to provide emergency medical care.

Furthermore, the legislation would prevent deceptive marketing by such programs by requiring programs:

  1. to disclose to parents the qualifications, roles and responsibilities of all staff members;

  2. to notify parents of substantiated reports of abuse or violations of health and safety laws; and

  3. to include a link or Web address for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, which will carry information on all private residential programs.

Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment. On June 18, the House Education and Labor Committee approved the Education Begins At Home Act (H.R. 2343), legislation to support parents with young children through home visitation at the State and local levels. Strong evidence indicates that early home visitation is especially effective in preventing child maltreatment in populations that are at elevated risk of child abuse and neglect. On a related front, PI-GRO staff submitted testimony for a hearing convened on this important legislation. Furthermore, on June 26, PI-GRO staff submitted testimony for a hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions' Subcommittee on Children and Families to discuss the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention & Treatment Act (CAPTA), the nation's most important law addressing child abuse and neglect. In anticipation of this critical reauthorization, PI-GRO staff worked closely with APA members with expertise on child abuse and neglect to develop comprehensive, APA-wide recommendations to improve this federal law. Specifically, APA's recommendations address the prevention of child maltreatment; children with disabilities; young children in the child protective and child welfare systems; cultural competence and the overrepresentation of minority children in foster care; interagency collaboration, including collaborative procedures between child protective services and domestic violence services; attorney representation for children who have been abused or neglected; and the impact of mandated reporting laws on research.

Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). On June 18, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Arlen Specter (R-PA), and Herbert Kohl (D-WI) introduced the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Reauthorization Act of 2008 (S. 3155), legislation to update the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA). Since 1974, JJDPA has served as the nation's most important law pertaining to the treatment of juvenile offenders and the prevention of delinquency among at-risk youth. APA's priorities, which were sent to key congressional staff in March, incorporated in the introduced legislation include a seat on the Federal Coordinating Council for a mental health expert; participation of mental health experts on the State Advisory Groups; and the authorization of a study to be performed by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) that specifically addresses issues surrounding female offenders and those at-risk for delinquency. Additionally, the proposal places a greater emphasis on the significant mental health needs of those who come into contact with the juvenile justice system and focuses on providing resources for mental health screening, planning, and service provision and coordination between juvenile justice and mental health agencies.

Disability

PI-GRO staff has been working tirelessly with disability groups, business organizations, faith-based groups and civil rights organizations to ensure passage of legislation that will restore the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Currently, individuals with certain health conditions, such as epilepsy, diabetes, psychiatric diagnoses, and other mental health conditions that are controlled with medications or other disease management strategies, are not covered by the ADA. They are routinely dismissed as "not disabled enough" to warrant protection of the statute. As a result of these advocacy efforts, the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (H.R. 3195), a bipartisan compromise, was overwhelmingly passed by the U.S. House of Representatives on June 25 by a vote of 402-to-7. The bill now moves to the Senate for consideration.

Ethnic Minority Affairs

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). PI-GRO staff continues to monitor issues affecting immigrant children and families, including the impact on these populations of recent ICE raids and their access to medical and mental health care while in detention. There are numerous reports of children being separated from their parents for periods of time due to these procedures. The potential implications of these situations can result in an adverse impact on the family unit, and can also have a detrimental effect on childhood development. PI-GRO staff provided information to Congress regarding the potential long-term adverse psychological impact on children's mental health of these policies, and continues to discuss these critical issues with key congressional staff in an effort to develop and implement appropriate policies and standards for the well-being of immigrants, including immigrant children's mental health and educational needs. Recently, PI-GRO staff submitted testimony to the U.S. House Workforce Protections Subcommittee (House Committee on Education and Labor) for a hearing held on these issues entitled ICE Workplace Raids: Their Impact on U.S. Children, Families, and Communities. Furthermore, as a result of strong advocacy efforts, PI-GRO staff has received numerous requests for psychologists to share their expertise at regional hearings taking place to discuss these important issues. On June 24, APA member and current Chair of the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs, Jose Cervantes, Ph.D., provided a powerful testimony before a national commission in Los Angeles investigating the policies and practices of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. The hearing focused on the impact of workplace immigration raids. During his compelling testimony, Dr. Cervantes, who also serves as President of the National Latina/o Psychological Association, discussed the widespread and lasting emotional and psychological damage of the raids-particularly on children and families. Dr. Cervantes spoke before an audience of over 1,000 individuals and his testimony will become part of the commission's public report. This will assist in shaping several worker, advocacy, and immigrant groups' legislative and Congressional efforts throughout the next year.