Alec Stone
AACAP Assistant Director of Federal Government Affairs

Life Member LogoFor more than 50 years, AACAP has been the leading voice for child and adolescent psychiatry. Our work has allowed substantial progress to permeate the highest echelons of American society, changing the fundamental understanding of the appropriate developmental stages of the child. Our Life Members are shining examples of how individuals can quietly make a significant difference in the lives of millions.

The research and clinical achievements AACAP members advanced are the pillars of public policy thought and action, continuing to lead a new generation of advocates as they too champion the cause of mental health for children, adolescents, and young adults.

No place is this more evident than in the halls of Congress. The President, Senators, and Representatives regularly seek AACAP's expertise on child welfare issues, asking that our members contribute, proclaim, and testify before committees of jurisdiction on all matter relating to the broad and specific issues affecting the most vulnerable population. From juvenile justice and foster care to pharmacology and chronic diseases, AACAP's influence is paramount in creating the parameters for the best interests of the child. That reputation has been earned through years of support and leadership for causes that continue to enlighten decision-makers on a variety of issues.

The arc of change for mental health now bends from embarrassment and stigma to understanding and acceptance. Here are just a few examples of how our advocacy has changed the dynamic, raising the profile of children's mental health and bringing significant public policy shifts to the psychiatric profession and the provision of medicine to patients.

We now know that a baby's first year, and even the months before birth, is an extraordinary time of learning. For recognition, parents are aware that within days our children can distinguish voices, shapes, and smells that appear as parents. While these concepts seem instinctual to us, child and adolescent psychiatry has documented the potential brain activity in newborns, allow us to better understand and nurture the child in its most susceptible state. The early stages of life have significant impact on the development of the child throughout life.

As a child grows, still needing the comfort and protection of the parents, changes continue to occur. Previously, children were thought of as small adults, but we have proven that there are huge differences in the growth stages. Where children were once used to help with the family business and crop collection, we now understand that the importance of early intervention and detection for health purposes are necessary, giving children the basic nutrition and educational values for a better start.

While adolescence was once considered a time between phases, it is now understood to be a lengthy, intensive stage of its own. Brain development has not fully matured and the decision-making process is still a bit dubious. It is now well accepted that teenagers and young adults need supervision and guidance in a host of life altering experiences before they are fully capable of understanding their actions. Mentoring, as a society, is important and child and adolescent psychiatry has paved the way for a greater insight into the workings of the brain and our deeds.

AACAP's efforts, based on the extraordinary work of our members, have transformed the field and made lasting impressions on a wide swath of American public health. Has the professional field of child and adolescent psychiatry benefited from the leadership of AACAP? Certainly. But more than that, our findings have generated subsequent procedures in the areas of education, employment, civil rights, and substance abuse, just to name a few. Additionally, school nursing, addiction treatments, criminal justice, and psychology have all benefitted from collaborating with AACAP. Together, we have changed the dynamic for the better in child psychiatry and continue to do so today.

Published July 2010.