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Presidential Message from Michael E. Lamb

Div. 7 President Michael E. Lamb discusses APA's 2018 Annual Convention in San Francisco, Aug. 9-12, and U.S. family separation immigration policies.

Michael E. Lamb What a tumultuous year it has been. Many people, including members of Div. 7, were shocked to hear earlier this year that thousands of children, including infants and toddlers, were being separated from their parents at the U.S. border. Alarmingly, these enforced separations were neither brief nor carefully documented. Instead, children were either warehoused in totally inappropriate conditions or placed in group homes or foster families hundreds and even thousands of miles away from their parents. According to press reports, some were even being considered for adoption. Meanwhile, the authorities often failed to record the locations of the parents and children, complicating or preventing reunification.

As reports of these horrifying events spread, developmental scientists took an active role in ensuring that the relevant policy makers and the public-at-large fully understood the extensive scholarly literature documenting the adverse effects of prolonged child-parent separations on children’s well-being and psychological adjustment, not to mention the traumatic impact on their distraught and disbelieving mothers and fathers. Our efforts helped ensure that public disgust was reinforced by growing understanding of the underlying science, and I am grateful to the many colleagues who helped inform and are continuing to inform reporters, policymakers and members of the public. APA issued strongly worded condemnations of the administration’s policy and several divisions, including Div. 7, published a separate statement that also drew attention to our members’ revulsion.

In delayed compliance with a federal court decision, some of the youngest children have since been reunited with their parents, but many children and parents remain separated at the time of writing. As developmental scientists, we must continue to ensure that policymakers and members of the public understand the established science, while as individual citizens, we also express our opinions regarding the (im)morality of the relevant policies. I have been impressed by the efforts made by our members to inform the ongoing debate and urge you all to remain engaged. 
Although recent attention has focused on the harmful effects of separating children from their immigrating parents, it is worth noting that thousands of children are separated from their parents every day by social service agencies authorized to protect children from harmful abuse by their parents. Many of these children are surely at risk, but overloaded agencies and courts are often unable to properly investigate the circumstances and make judicious decisions. There is considerable evidence that children’s wellbeing and relationships are undermined when parents and children are separated, especially for extended periods of time, and these adverse iatrogenic effects need to be weighed against the benefits of preventing abuse. Developmental psychologists should ensure that their expertise and understanding of developmental processes help to inform such policies and practices in their own communities, not only the immigration policies that have recently attracted so much attention. For me, it is especially exciting to see our division increasingly recognise its responsibility to make scholarship matter at the international, national and local levels.

Particularly for Div. 7, other recent and ongoing issues pale in importance. However, I should note the recent decision by members of the division to change the terms of duty for the elected president. This change was motivated by recognition of the fact that many members were unwilling to participate in elections because the six-year commitment (years each as president-elect, president and past president) seemed too onerous. From now on, the total commitment will only be for three years, and we are hopeful this change will encourage more of our members to become involved in the governance of the division. At the time of writing, members are choosing a president to succeed Suniya Luthar, who will be president throughout 2019. Later this year, members will also be asked to elect several new members of the Executive Committee. I urge you all to participate, both as voters but also as candidates. Please contact me if you would like to become more involved.

Meanwhile, we are on the threshold of the 2018 convention in San Francisco. For many members of the division, convention is much less important that the biennial Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) meeting, but convention offers developmental scientists the opportunity to interact with and learn from psychologists with other sub-disciplinary expertise. The annual convention typically features exceptional lectures by winners of the G Stanley Hall, Bronfenbrenner and McCandless Awards, as well as the presidential address. (In the 2018 Div. 7 program, you’ll see that there are many sessions featuring developmental psychology content.) I especially urge members based in the western U.S., as well as their students, to attend convention. I certainly look forward to meeting many of you in San Francisco.

Next year, convention will be in Chicago, and I hope that midwestern members will submit symposia, papers and posters to enrich that event. Unfortunately, proposals are due just when most of us are gearing up for and launching a new academic year, so let me urge you to get started preparing your submissions now.
Enjoy the rest of the summer, stay involved and see you in San Francisco.


Date created: August 2018