The Advocates Dialogue on Assisted Outpatient Treatment (AOT) is being conducted to achieve two primary objectives:
- For advocates
Bring together advocates on both sides of the AOT discussion to listen to differing perspectives and share ideas for how to move the national conversation about AOT forward. Key to this effort is a focus on strategies that facilitate collaboration, civility, and improvement of services and supports for individuals with mental health challenges, their families and the communities in which they live.
- For congressional representatives and staff
Provide an opportunity for congressional representatives and staff to observe the dialogue and gain deeper insight into the perspectives and the different advocacy positions. Since legislative staff are critical to the writing of language in any proposed bill that addresses this topic, it will be beneficial for them to have a broader understanding of perspective and utilize that broadened perspective in working on compromise language.
We will capture key points and suggestions for moving the dialogue forward in the discussion and will prepare a written report for dissemination to members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for their consideration as they work toward compromise language to pass meaningful mental health legislation.
Note: For background context on the creation of the Advocates Dialogue on Assisted Outpatient Treatment, please click here.
Overall purpose of the dialogue
The goal for this meeting is not to pit "for" and "against" head to head. Quite the opposite. The purpose of the discussion is to provide an opportunity for the sharing of personal experience around the challenge of addressing this issue and the emotion it brings – precisely why this discussion will not focus on research, data or other props to support a position one way or the other. Everyone in the discussion is quite astute and could argue a position either for or against with plenty of supported data to back them up.
What happens the night before the dialogue?
The dialogue experience will begin with dinner on Sunday, August 24th. The only rule for this dinner is that there will be no discussion of the dialogue to take place the following day. Our hope is that by breaking bread together we will be able to get a richer sense of the gifts each of us bring to the conversation to take place on the following day.
How will the dialogue be structured?
- Scott Bryant-Comstock will facilitate the discussion. Discussants will be seated in a circle in the center of the room. Congressional members and staff will be invited to observe the discussion.
Note: There will be plenty of opportunity in the coming months to widen the circle of discussants. We consider this dialogue a beginning of many dialogues.
- No charts, graphs, research studies, or speeches allowed! There have been presentations of research on both sides of the issue in many different forums. And it seems to us that neither side is listening to the other, so we are gonna leave the PowerPoints behind!
- At the end of the dialogue, observers are welcome to interact with discussants in an informal "after the meeting" environment. We are not asking for any commitment or public statement from any of the observers.
- The goal of the discussion is not to “solve” anything – just to broaden understanding of the unique perspective each brings to the topic. Quite bluntly, our goal in this meeting is not to convince members in Congress of what the “right decision” is, but more to encourage continued and more frequent dialogue between proponents of both bills. Knowledge is power. Ignorance is bliss, which is always short lived.
Why hold an invitation only event?
With the well-documented rancor and ill will regarding this topic expressed publically over the past year, we knew we needed to create an environment of safety for constructive, honest dialogue. As well, a room full of supporters and detractors tends to encourage the delivery of platform speeches instead of honest, personal reflection, which is what we are looking for in this dialogue.
We are purposely inviting only members of Congress and their staff to observe. There will be no press or additional advocacy group representation during the dialogue. Once the dialogue is complete, doors will be opened, and anyone is welcome to talk with anyone. Observers can choose to either engage or not once the official dialogue is over.
Members of Congress rely on well-informed information from the citizenry. Our observation is that over the past year, the numerous expert panels, research findings, etc. have only polarized positions. We have not seen evidence of true collaboration on the tough issues. That has to change, and we in the advocacy community have to lead that change. This dialogue is only the first step. There will be much to follow.
President & CEO
Children's Mental Health Network