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Public Policy and the Science of Child Mental Health---How Communication Science Bridges the Divide

CE Credit: 2

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Length: 110 minutes

Session offered by Division 37.

Public policies regarding child mental health are interpreted by the public through cultural patterns of understanding. The research presented in this symposium will show that the science of child mental health has yet to be effectively translated. Despite a strong science base and an equally strong commitment to translate these findings and influence policy, this symposium will show that public understanding around this issue remains “stuck.” The two presentations will address the science-policy divide through different theoretical perspectives: psychological anthropology and linguistics. These two fields share a common cognitive perspective that suggests the lack of policy support is a cognitive rather than a moral issue—that it is not that people don’t care, but rather that they don’t understand enough about the issue to realize what to care about. New frames must be developed and tested to invigorate different ways of understanding the intersections between policy and child mental health. Drawing from a multi-method, iterative series of research projects conducted by the FrameWorks Institute for the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, researchers will present findings that document the divide between expert and lay understandings and explain how support for policies is frame-dependent.

The overarching argument is that the science related to child mental health needs additional social science to realize the implications of its work. The presentations will map the cultural assumptions that are brought to bear in understanding the issue of child mental health and will detail empirically-tested techniques that scientists and policy experts can use to navigate this landscape. The first discussant, Ron Manderscheid, will turn a pragmatic lens on the relationship between public discourse on child mental health and the policy debate. The second discussant, Karen Saywitz, will anchor effective framing on child mental health for the advocacy work of psychologists and APA groups.

Learning Objective 1
Identify common public perceptions regarding child mental health that mitigate understanding the findings of science.

Learning Objective 2
Describe the importance of framing messages in such a way as to enlist public support for policies (and investments) to promote child mental health.

Presenters: Mary Ann McCabe, PhD (Chair); Nat Kendall-Taylor, PhD; Michael Erard, PhD


Supplementary Materials

  • APA 7-31-11
  • Reference list
  • Reference list pdf
  • Bios
  • Bios pdf