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Increasing Participation In Public Policy: One Route Towards Social Justice
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Increasing Participation In Public Policy: One Route Towards Social Justice


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  • 1. Increasing Participation in Public Policy: One Route Towards Social Justice Irma Serrano-Garc ía Eduardo A. Lugo Hernández University of Puerto Rico Paper presented at the SCRA Biennial Conference, June 18-21, 2009 Montclair State University, New Jersey, USA
  • 2. Objectives
    • Present a process geared towards increasing psychologists’ participation in public policy (PP) as a route to social justice
      • Research as initial and continuous process
      • Strategies
        • Within training programs
        • Within the Puerto Rico Psychology Association (PRPA)
        • In other settings - legislature; community groups; electoral process
    • Conclusions and future directions
  • 3.
    • Spanish speaking Caribbean island
    • Colonial relationship with Spain and the
    • U.S.: has never been politically
    • independent
      • Economically dependent on USA
    • Social and economic problems
    The Context: Puerto Rico
  • 4. Economic problems: In a nation of 4.0 million inhabitants:
    • Unemployment at 11.5% and rising (2008)
    • 48.2% under the poverty level
    • 70% of industry controlled by foreign interests
    • 5% of the people receive 25% of the national
    • income
    Social problems: In 2007
    • 24.2% of high school students drop out
    • 74,289 dependent on illegal drugs, 123,133 dependent
    • on alcohol
    • Violence
      • acts in the schools 2,553 (2007)
      • 728 murders in 2007
      • 19,060 cases of child abuse in 2007
      • 17,239 cases of domestic violence
  • 5. Strengths
    • Highly educated work force
    • Strong representative democracy
      • High percentage of participation in
      • electoral processes
    • Natural beauty – Tourism
    • National identity-despite colonialism
    • Cultural diversity and richness
  • 6. The impetus for change persists in a country convinced that it deserves something better than its actual government. (Torrech,2009)
    • Social justice
      • individual and group entitlement to fair and equal rights and to partaking equally of social, educational, and economic opportunities and resources. 
    • To achieve social justice, people must actively participate.
  • 7. Participation (S ánchez, 2000)
    • Is action led by goals, interests, or needs to be pursued or satisfied
    • Entails control of the decision making processes
    • Is an inclusive process and a voluntary act
    • Public policy is one of various levels in which one can participate.
  • 8. Social Justice Professionalism (Barlow, 2007; Burawoy,2007)
    • Requires political imagination - the political practice of turning personal distress into public issues
    • Entails opposition and resistance to dominant social arrangements
    • Requires capacity to formulate, influence and implement policies.
      • Professionals can play an intermediary role
        • Provide resources and valuable contacts
        • Become liaisons between communities and elites
  • 9. Psychologists’ Participation in PP
    • Psychologists have been estranged from participation in public policy.
    • Because of:
      • the disciplines’ focus on individual behavior and intervention,
      • the fragmentation of its knowledge,
      • an emphasis on scientific neutrality, and
      • lack of training for those who want to participate (Serrano-Garc ía, 2008) .
    • Psychological associations do not generally promote these efforts. APA, SPSSI and SCRA are notable exceptions.
  • 10. Process in Puerto Rico : Background
    • Participation of psychologists in PP in Puerto Rico has been infrequent and inconsistent.
    • In 1983 for APA Task Force study evidenced extremely limited participation (Serrano-Garc ía, 1983)
    • Mainly through the Puerto Rico Psychology Association (PRPA)
      • Increased activity from 1990 to present
      • Focus has been on licensure and other guild issues
      • Recently has begun to create alliances with other professional groups particularly related to mental health concerns (D íaz & Serrano-García, 2007)
  • 11. Process in Puerto Rico: Initial and continuous research Three studies in 6 years
    • Survey of licensed psychologists and evaluation of training programs
    • Legislators and aides perception of psychologists in PP
    • Community organizations perception of psychologists in PP
      • 78% participated in at least one phase of the PP process.
      • 59% thought their colleagues did not legitimize their participation.
      • Recommended training and more involvement with legislators
      • Legislators/aides and NGO staff believed that psychologists can participate in all phases of the PP process
      • Legislators/aides were willing to work with and hire psychologists.
      • NGO staff recommended that psychologists increase their training in PP.
  • 12. Strategies
    • Within Training Programs
      • Meetings with Program Directors
        • Presentation of research findings
        • Promotion of CE certificate on
        • psychology and PP
      • Development of model syllabus
      • Practicum course for Social-
      • Community Psychology students
  • 13. Strategies: Within the PRPA Education Creation of the PP Committee Legislation
  • 14. Within PRPA cont…
    • Education
      • Presentations at Conventions and CE course offerings
      • PP column in the PRPA Bulletin
    • Legislation
      • Development of a directory of experts
      • Promote the development of public policy positions about socially relevant topics
  • 15. Identification of Socially Relevant Topics
    • Male dominated education and roles
    • Discrimination and stigma
    • Poor access to quality mental health services. Fragmented and based on medical model
    • Criminalization of substance abuse
    • Implementation without evaluation
    • Focus on treatment
    • Control by party politics
    • Gender perspective
    • Opposition to discrimination by sexual orientation
    • Integration of psychologists in primary healthcare settings
    • Substance abuse public health perspective
    • Evaluation of public policies and programs
    • Focus on prevention
    • Challenge the role of political agendas
    Dominant perspective Challenges
  • 16. Strategies - Other Settings
    • Legislature
      • Testimonies and briefings before the legislature
      • Development of fact sheets
    • Electoral process
      • Participatory process lead to “Proposals without colors” (in Spanish, Propuestas sin colores )
        • Mental Health, Education, and Violence
      • Media Participation (eg. Press conferences, radio programs, newspaper columns)
  • 17. Strategies cont.
      • Community groups
        • Create alliances with other professional and NGO’s
        • Participation in the Community Conclave
          • Prepare community mandate for government
        • Participate in demonstration against government policies
  • 18. Conclusions
    • Have we contributed to social justice?
      • Our achievements are modest
      • If participation is a pre-requisite for social justice, we have increased the profession’s participation in PP and its public visibility
      • We have developed a permanent infrastructure within the PRPA.
  • 19. Conclusions
      • Opposition to some dominant ideologies
        • Within profession
        • Within the political structure
      • Become liaisons between communities and the State.
      • Develop relationships and personal contacts with the media
  • 20.
    • Inclusion of PP within psychology training
    • Complete the directory of experts
    • Solidify PRPA’s positions on specific social issues
    • Increase visibility at the legislature
    • Expand collaboration with community groups, alliances and other professional organizations
    Future Directions
  • 21. Acknowledgements
    • To all students and colleagues that participated in our research projects
    • To all members of the Committee on Psychology and Public Policy
    • To the PRPA Board
  • 22. Contact Information
    • Irma Serrano-García
      • [email_address]
      • 787-789-2188
    • Eduardo A. Lugo Hernández
      • [email_address]
      • 787-764-0000 ext. 2956
  • 23. References
    • Barlow, A. (2007). Transformative collaborations: Professionals and minority community power. In A. Barlow (Ed.) Collaborations for social justice: Professionals, public and policy change. (1-32). Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield.
    • Burawoy, M. (2007) Private troubles and public issues. In A. Barlow (Ed.) Collaborations for social justice: Professionals, public and policy change. (125-134). Lanham, MD: Rowan & Littlefield.
    • S ánchez, E. (2000). Todos con la “Esperanza”: Continuidad de la participación comunitaria. Caracas, venezuela: Universidad Central.
    • Serrano-García, I. (2008, march) Psychology and public policy: A call to action. Invited address at CUNY.
    • Serrano-Garc ía , I., C héve re, K., Cabrera, M., Lugo, E. Canales, M & Vigo, M.(2008). Psicolog ía y legislatura: Relaci ón prometedora. Revista de Ciencias Sociales, 19 , 70-99.
    • Serrano-Garc ía , I. (2005) (Invited editor) Psicolog ía y pol ít ica p úbli ca: 20 a ños despu és . Special Section of the Revista Puertorrique ña d e Psicolog ía , 16 , 149-297.
    • Task Force on Psychology and Public Policy. (1986). Psychology and public policy. American Psychologist, 41 (8), 914-921.
    • Torrech, R. (2009. January 8) La fuerza es el cambio. El Nuevo D ía . P. 45.