A new open-access piece in the Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences will interest AHP readers: “The Joint Commission on the Mental Health of Children, 1965–1970: Emotional disturbance, race and paths not taken in child psychiatry,” Laura Hirshbein. Abstract:
The Joint Commission on the Mental Health of Children (JCMHC) was a sprawling, multidisciplinary project that took shape in the years immediately after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Participants included child psychiatrists, educators, psychologists, social workers, philanthropists and other laypeople and professionals interested in the plight of children. While the original inspiration for the JCMHC was to address the potential for violence from disturbed children and adolescents, its findings and recommendations were an indictment of American society itself in which poor children went hungry, minority children were oppressed and there were not sufficient resources dedicated to the mental health of the nation’s population of young people. The task forces and committees of the JCMHC spent significantly more time addressing prevention and mental health rather than mental illness. Two years into the work of the JCMHC, the leadership formed a committee to specifically examine issues related to race. The final report, published in popular book form as Crisis in Child Mental Health, arrived after the unraveling of the liberal consensus that had fueled President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. Most of the proposed solutions for government intervention were ignored by the Nixon administration. The focus on mental health and the willingness to take a critical look at the detrimental effects of racism had represented child psychiatry at that time. In the decades that followed, however, child psychiatrists turned away from issues about prevention, race and environment and instead focused on the problems of mental illness in individual children.