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History of Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology

A Perspective on the History of the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology—the Events and the People

by Richard R. Abidin, Ed.D.

University of Virginia


Reprinted from InBalance, Spring 2007


From its origin, SCCAP has been committed to advancing the clinical knowledge base and services provided to children and their families. In recent years the society has matured to the point that it is an APA division with an agenda that includes work on policy issues related to child and adolescent’s mental health, providing grants and awards to help shape and build the scientific base of practice, and co-sponsoring conferences designed to bring cutting-edge clinical research to frontline practitioners. The body of this article focuses on the critical events and people who shaped the Society. Apologies are extended in advance for the many omissions that occurred given the newsletter’s space limitations. Thus some events and people deserving of mention will not be included. Nevertheless, it must be acknowledged that the creation, growth, and advancement has been and continues to be a team effort. The content of this article cover 1) critical events and people, 2) development of the Division 53 journal, 3) enabling power of SCCAP’s financial resources, and 4) a look forward.

Critical Events and People

SCCAP traces its roots back to APA Division 12, Clinical Psychology, and the events of the late 1950s. Much of this early history will not be covered, however, the interested reader is referred to Don Routh’s excellent book Clinical Psychology Since 1917: Science, Practice, and Organization (1994). In 1962, Clinical Child Psychology became the first section of Division 12, (Section 1) under the leadership of the first chair, Alan O. Ross. At that time, Ross was a psychologist at the Pittsburgh Child Guidance Center, and had recently authored the book The Practice of Clinical Child Psychology (1959). Given the times, his book was psychodynamically oriented, and for those trained in that era, it helped focus their identity as psychologists committed to working with children and their parents. From its earliest origins, Section 1 was committed to both science and practice, exemplified by the creation of the Distinguished Professional Contribution Awards. Nicholas Hobbs was the first recipient for his creative and innovative children’s intervention programming. One interesting side note to the events of the 1960s, echoed by the recent history of SCCAP, is the fact that the founder of the section, Ross, was transformed from a clinically oriented Freudian to a behaviorist who became the director of clinical training at the new SUNY campus, Stony Brook.

Today SCCAP’s support of clinically relevant evidence-based treatments allows for the inclusion of any theoretical perspective that is open to scientific evaluation. Membership in SCCAP does not imply any orthodoxy, which is a continuation of the Section 1 tradition of allowing through its by-laws for up to 50 percent of its membership not to be members of either Division 12 or APA. In addition to clinical psychologists, the Section 1 membership included developmental, school, educational, counseling, and policy oriented psychologists—all of whom shared a common focus on children and families, and an empirical approach to research and treatment.

Between 1965 and 1985, establishing licensure for professional practice was the dominant professional issue. While a welcome development by many, legal recognition of practitioners was not without problems. Many individuals with limited or no formal training and no experience relative to working with children were licensed to provide services to the entire age range of clients. To make matters worse, there was the wholesale grandfathering of individuals who claimed to have been providing services identical or similar to those provided by appropriately educated individuals. Beyond that problem was the fact that many well-established and APA-accredited programs in clinical psychology required very little, if any, training in clinical child psychology. Unfortunately, given the rise in demand for services and the presence of federal and state funding of these services, many of these “licensed” psychologists were providing services to children and families. The leadership of Section 1 made the decision to address the issue by beginning to define minimal training standards and guidelines for the preparation of clinical child and adolescent psychologists. The first major accomplishment in this effort was the Hilton Head Training Conference of 1985, chaired by June Tuma. The documents and models developed at that conference have gone through a number of revisions and expansions under the leadership of Jim Johnson with the able help of others, most notably Michael Roberts. The sustained efforts of Johnson and other Section 1 members bore fruit in 1998 when APA formally recognized the specialty of clinical child psychology within the pantheon of professional psychology. The Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Proficiencies in Professional Psychology (CRSPPP) document that lead to the recognition, defined the parameters of practice, the theoretical and empirical foundation, and the required training for the practice of clinical child and adolescent psychology, is available at www. on the specialty links page. CRSPPP recognition was renewed in 2005 and an archival description of the revised specialty description is available at

Building on the success of the specialty recognition effort in 2001 the Society formed a committee chaired by Al Finch, and provided funds for the purpose of creating an American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) diplomate program to recognize the advanced practice of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. Many members of the Society served on the committee and underwent the process of evaluation for the purpose of further advancing the profession and awarding the American Board of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology specialty recognition (see  In 2001 the Society also established a committee I chaired that was charged with establishing standards and a review process for the purpose of recognizing Fellows of the Society.

All of these efforts to establish the unique identity of clinical child and adolescent psychology link back the Society’s continuing concern about the accreditation of training programs with limited or no child and family components to their curriculum, and the issue of gaining APA accreditation for training programs in clinical child and adolescent psychology. The division is continuing to work toward formal accreditation of this specialty and hope that the opportunity will develop in the near future.

The Transition

During the 1990’s Annette La Greca and Michael Roberts championed the idea that Section 1 consider becoming a new division of APA. The primary reasoning behind the issue was that the Section lacked visibility both within APA and to the public, and the profession had matured to the point that it could function more effectively as a separate division. Their concerns were similar to those expressed by Trudy Williams, a Section 1 member who, in the 1970’s, fought to gain recognition for the need of increased advocacy for children and family policies in Division 12, in APA, and the public policy arena of government. Williams’ leadership resulted in the creation of Division 37, Children Youth and Family Services, in 1978. The persistence of La Greca and Roberts slowly changed the minds of many of the Section’s executive board, and other leaders in the Section. This change came about through the continued experience of working within Division 12 and APA, where the concerns of the Section were not addressed (e.g. training standards, children’s mental health policy, being called on for our child expertise, or even being notified of important child and adolescent issues being address by Congress). Section members were continually being notified late about issues involving APA deadlines and were not being asked to serve on APA boards and committees etc. After years of trying to remedy the issue and work within the system, the section’s leadership, including myself, finally succumbed to the data presented by Roberts and La Greca, and voted to support the proposal to seek APA division status. The Section’s executive board charged me with looking into the APA process for creating a new division, negotiating the issues related to retaining the financial resources of the Section, and with writing a set of bylaws for the proposed division. With the approval of the Section membership—79% supported the change—the Section applied for division status and was approved as Division 53 Clinical Child Psychology in August 1999.

In 1999, Bill Pelham served as the last president of Section 1. This was ironic, as his dissertation chair was Alan Ross, who as noted above served as the first president. 1999 also represented a significant turning point in the history of SCCAP, not only because of the transition to division status, but because it represented the beginning of an era of increased commitment to advocacy and support for evidence-based practices in clinical child and adolescent psychology. Section 1 lead a task force that reviewed the evidence in support of child mental health interventions that was published in the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology in 1998 (Lonigan, Johnson & Elbert, 1998). The division’s board decided to foster efforts to disseminate evidence-based practices. One outcome of that decision was the co-sponsorship of the 1999 Niagara Conference at Niagaraon- the-Lake in Canada, created and lead by Bill Pelham, and the co-sponsorship of the Kansas Conference on Child Psychology, lead by Michael Roberts.

Another example of this commitment was the creation of the Task Force on Evidence-based Practice and the funding of the task force’s work under the leadership of John Weisz. The work of that task force created a coding system whereby research on interventions could be evaluated in a scientific manner to determine if there was appropriate evidence that established the utility of the intervention. This work, in large part, lead to the creation of the Society’s website by Mitch Prinstein. The site serves as a vehicle to communicate with members, prospective members, and the public about the Society’s activities and about evidence-based psychological intervention. The task force continues its work and the site’s section dealing with clinical practice is continually updated.

In January 2000, John Weisz, the first president of the new division, suggested that the name of the Division be changed to the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology, and that the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology have its name changed to the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology. These changes were designed to better express the range of interests and involvement of the Division’s membership. Both of these changes were approved by nearly 90 percent of the voting membership.

The move to divisional status has had its intended impact on the Division’s involvement in APA initiatives. Divisional members now routinely serve on prominent APA committees and begin key initiatives in APA council. For example, the recent working group on Psychotropic Medications for Children and Adolescents (September 2006) was initiated by the Division’s council representatives, and staffed almost exclusively by divisional members.

The Development of the Society’s Journal

In 1971 the first issue of the Journal of Clinical Child Psychology (JCChP) was published under the editorship of Gertrude “Trudy” Williams and was open to all forms of communication from research papers to parent’s anecdotal reports. Advocating for services to children and families was the main thrust of JCChP in its early years. The advocacy perspective continued under the editorship of Diane J. Willis. In 1982 under the editorship of June Tuma (1982-86) JCChP went from a self-published journal to publication by Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers (LEA). Tuma also began the shift toward publishing primarily empirical research.

While JCChP was initially published at a financial loss, the transition to a publishing company ultimately proved fruitful to Section 1. In addition to her work as editor, Tuma was instrumental in helping the section focus on training issues related to clinical child psychology. She championed the 1985 Hilton Head Conference on training in clinical child psychology and transformed the idea into a reality. One of Tuma’s other activities was the creation of the Directory of Graduate Programs in Clinical Child Psychology which later was expanded to include pediatric psychology programs. The directory was published for 25 years under the successive leadership of Ken Tarnowski and Susan Simonian. The directory information is available on the Division 53 website, www.clinicalchildpsychology. Org (now

From 1987–1992 Don Routh served as JCChP editor, and it was during his term that JCChP was transformed into a journal with a strong scientific reputation. Routh accomplished this by reaching out to both the senior and junior members of the scientific community seeking their contributions. His supportive reviews of manuscripts and attention to detail brought forth high-quality articles. Routh’s term was the tipping point for the journal both from a scholarly perspective, and financially. The rising quality of JCChP resulted in more institutional subscriptions and attracted more members to the Section.

The success of JCChP in terms of its rise to its current prominence in the field of clinical psychology was developed and enhanced by each of the succeeding editors: Jan Culbertson, Tom Ollendick, and Wendy Silverman. These individuals and the exceptional editorial boards they assembled have attracted the top researchers in the area of clinical child and adolescent psychology to publish their work in JCChP and, after name change in 2000, the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (JCCAP). JCCAP currently has such a strong flow of manuscripts that plans are under way to transition JCCAP into a bimonthly versus a quarterly journal in the coming years. While empirically based research articles are the journal’s mainstay, it has not abandoned issues of child and adolescent advocacy. The difference is that it now publishes policy- and practice-related articles with strong data bases and more rigorous methodologies. JCCAP serves its readership and the profession by presenting cutting-edge research and practice information. Thanks to the work of the editors and editorial boards, JCCAP has been transformed from a good journal to a must read.

Financial Resources and Enabling Power

During the past 15 years the executive boards of Section 1 and the Society have handled the financial resources in a responsible and forward-looking manner. I played a central role in developing this pattern of action, resulting in the creation of an endowment and sufficient operating funds to both ensure the future of the Society and its ability to engage in ongoing service to the members and the field at large (author’s note: my role in the Society’s finances is mentioned at the suggestion of draft manuscript reviewers). Figure 1 summarizes the historical development of the current state of affairs, and gives a good summary of the efficiency and good works of the Society. These works include the fact that as of 2007, the society has accumulated its financial resources without a dues increase for full members in the past eight years, and with a 50 percent reduction in student dues.


Looking Forward

The combination of the expertise, energy, and commitment of the membership and the its financial and journal resources puts the Society in position to influence both the research and clinical practice of child and adolescent psychology in the future. Further, the Society can, by the use of its resources and expertise, influence public knowledge and policy as it pertains to the mental health of children and families. I believe this can be accomplished by continuing and strengthening efforts to update and advance the knowledge and skills of practitioners through subsidizing educational and scientific conferences such as the Kansas and Niagara conferences. By expanding grants programs to focus research into topics, such as the use of evidence-based treatments with minority populations in the public sector, and by recognizing and encouraging the contributions of early-career researchers. While the Society’s resources are limited relative to needs, they can, if wisely used, be amplified through alliances with other organizations and lead grants. While we have information to share with the public in general, we also have an opportunity to influence public policy through work with units of government.

One final thought: I believe in the fable of stone soup—if we bring our story and efforts forth to others, they will contribute to the soup. It may be time for the Society to consider reaching out to individuals and foundations who may be willing to contribute a few stones to the effort.

This article came about at the request of the newsletter editor and the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (SCCAP) board, who asked me to provide the membership with a brief overview of the history of the Society. This seemed appropriate since nearly half of the current membership have been members of SCCAP for less than five years. Many people could have written this piece, but it fell to me in part because I have been continuously on the SCCAP’s Board and its predecessor organizations for over 20 years. I would like to thank Bill Pelham, Michael Roberts, and Stephen Shirk, all former presidents, for their thoughtful review and commentary on the draft of this article. I reserve for myself responsibility for any errors or inaccurate presentations along with decisions regarding omissions.

Richard “Dick” Abidin