The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry began as a series of meetings in the early 1950s by child psychiatrists from across the country, with the intent of beginning a journal (1). Although the Journal of the Academy of Child Psychiatry was not published until 1962, the concept of an organization focused on the support of the myriad roles of the child psychiatrist took root and flourished.
In 1953, the American Academy of Child Psychiatry began with membership by invitation only. Initial functions were meetings offering “academic exchange” and continuing education (2). Membership and structure of the organization remained small until the 1960s. During that decade a number of changes put the academy firmly in position as the most important national organization for child and adolescent psychiatrists. These included recognition by the American Medical Association (AMA) as a “duly accredited specialty organization” and component membership in the International Association of Child Psychiatry and Allied Professions (both in 1964). Membership by application began in 1969 (3), and significant growth followed this pivotal change in concept toward a membership and advocacy organization for all child and adolescent psychiatrists.
The organization became the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) in 1989. This change more accurately reflected the role of the organization’s members in the care of both developmental age groups. There are more than 7,400 members as of 2005. The AACAP now requires that members, identified as fellows, be certified in child and adolescent psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). Other membership categories include those for medical students and for residents in training in “general” (adult) psychiatry, pediatrics, or child and adolescent psychiatry. Child and adolescent psychiatrists in other countries and physicians who are not child and adolescent psychiatrists but support the goals of the organization can also be members, but not for organizational purposes (e.g., officers and elections) (4).
The AACAP strongly supports its recognized “regional organizations” as the child and adolescent psychiatrists’ local link to national efforts. Similar to the “district branches” of APA, these are geographically organized groups. They do not align with state boundaries because of the varied distribution of child and adolescent psychiatrists across the country. High membership areas (e.g., California and New York) have multiple groups, and very low membership areas (e.g., the Plains states) may not have a regional organization. The regional organizations provide child and adolescent psychiatrists collegiality, continuing education, and a forum for legislative advocacy.
The assembly of representatives of regional organizations has become an important part of the AACAP since its formal organization in 1973. Representation is by size of the regional group. The assembly brings together child and adolescent psychiatrists from across the country twice yearly to provide the academy with invaluable “grassroots” reports from the membership.
Education remains a primary purpose of the AACAP. The annual meeting attracts approximately 3,000 attendees, about half nonmembers, to engage in dialogue about new research, discuss review presentations, and participate in a variety of clinically oriented activities (5). The AACAP has traditionally offered two other annual meetings, the Mid-Year Institute and the Annual Review Course. The review is specifically targeted as preparation for the ABPN examinations in child and adolescent psychiatry. The mid-year meeting is changing its mission to focus on the need for maintenance of certification for child and adolescent psychiatrists with time-limited certificates (6). A new CME meeting, the Psychopharmacology Update Institute, attests to the AACAP’s responsiveness to the needs of child and adolescent psychiatrists for continuing education in all areas of practice (6).
Undeniably, the most successful educational effort of the AACAP is its 46-year-old Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (JAACAP). Fondly referenced as the “orange journal” for the striking color of its cover, it has become one of the top 10 journals in medicine and is routinely ranked either 1st or 2nd as the most cited of all journals in pediatrics and in the top five when compared with all psychology journals. A truly international journal, there was an average of 36% non-U.S. authors for published articles from 2001 to 2003 (7). The JAACAP is also the publication site for the AACAP’s practice parameters and the very clinically useful “Ten-Year Review” series of invited articles. These publications, along with the AACAP’s well-received books written for parents, Your Child (8) and Your Adolescent (9) are available at the AACAP’s Web site.
The multiple-award-winning Web site, www.aacap.org, is also the source for the AACAP’s major effort in public education, the “Facts for Families” series. Now numbering over 80, these single-page fact sheets are available in English and five other languages (including Spanish and French). They are designed to address important areas in child and adolescent mental health in an easy-to-use format. They are particularly useful as talking points for members in contact with the media.
The AACAP offers a number of services for its members beyond educational activities. It has sustained a relatively low-cost, comprehensive malpractice insurance plan during a time of crisis in other areas of medicine. It offers resource connections to child and adolescent psychiatrists across the country for patients who are relocating, through both the Web site and representatives of regional organizations. The AACAP job bank is accessible both at the annual meeting and online.
The AACAP annotated code of ethics (10) first appeared in 1980 (11) and was updated in 1995 to address the role of child and adolescent psychiatrists vis-à-vis their patients in the ever-changing landscape of the doctor-patient relationship in the modern practice of psychiatry. Through its office in Washington, D.C., the AACAP has been a strong, ethically conscious advocacy voice for the mental health of children and families. It received APA’s 1996 Distinguished Service Award for its ongoing efforts in this area, as well as in public education (12). It has been a leader in forming consortia of other associations to affect governmental bodies. The AACAP’s use of electronic communication to keep its members informed of legislative issues—nationally and locally—has been a pioneering model for other organizations. The AACAP’s Department of Government Affairs has been active since 1978 (13).
The AACAP is the premier guild organization for physicians devoted to the mental health of children, adolescents, and their families. It has grown to this stature based on the dedicated efforts of a mix of volunteer child and adolescent psychiatrists from across the country and a small, dedicated paid staff. The AACAP staff is headed by Executive Director Virginia Q. Anthony, who has remained in her position for over 30 of the Academy’s 54 years.
For individual members who invest efforts locally and nationally (like the author), the AACAP is a welcoming structure that allows opportunities for engagement based strictly on time and talents. The ability for a young child and adolescent psychiatrist to be actively supported in critical local or national efforts is supported by an open committee structure. Given the organization’s relatively small size, the ability to liaison with other national organizations (the AMA, APA, the Association for Academic Psychiatry, etc.) as a representative of the AACAP is also available.
In many ways, the AACAP can be considered the model of a socially conscious, member-focused medical organization. Its success over time allows members at all levels of interest to receive mentoring in the wide variety of roles that they may be called upon to fill in their local area and as well as the national arena.