Student Feature

Cathleen MacCaul - Policy Advocacy to Protect Vulnerable Adults

IAS Intersections

Cathleen MacCaulA second year Master of Arts in Policy Studies student, Cathleen MacCaul is also the Advocacy Director for AARP Washington State. AARP is the nation's largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering Americans 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. In her first year in the Policy Studies program, Cathleen combined her coursework with an ongoing legislative effort to help revise and pass House Bill 1153, which help protect older adults and the vulnerable from being taken advantage or otherwise abused by their caregivers.

Cathleen has made a career in the non-profit and development sectors. After earning a bachelor’s in communication from California State University of Northridge, Cathleen started out in media relations for World Vision, an international relief and development organization. Through several positions there, Cathleen began work on building awareness around the complex issues of poverty and social justice.  She was later recruited by Microsoft to assist in building out a communications program to support the corporation's global philanthropic efforts. Cathleen has also worked for both YWCA Seattle-King-Snohomish and Within Reach as the Director of Community Affairs.

Cathleen’s professional experiences led her to realize that she could do more to address societal issues. “As I started becoming more involved in public policy work, I felt a strong need to understand the various processes and how to effectively contribute to change,” Cathleen says. This sense prompted Cathleen to choose the Policy Studies program at UW Bothell.

In her first year in the Policy Studies program, Cathleen took “Policy Process,” a course that focuses on political and institutional aspects of public policy process. Cathleen’s individual research project for the course followed House Bill 1153, which is designed to better protect the elderly and people with disabilities by increasing penalties for theft from vulnerable adults, and by making it easier to bring charges and secure convictions of those who exploit and neglect vulnerable adults.

MacCaul in OlympiaCathleen worked on passing this legislation for three years. It was initiated by Page Ulrey from the King County Prosecutor’s office, who was also on AARP’s executive council. Their strategy for the first two years relied solely on the merits of the proposed legislation and the wisdom of the state legislature. However Cathleen’s course work and research in the Policy Studies program gave them additional tools to employ:

“In 2014, I first became aware of the issue around the financial exploitation of vulnerable adults, seniors and people with disabilities. I was surprised that the King County Prosecutor's Office was finding it difficult to prosecute these crimes. In starting to talk to coalition partners and my colleagues, everyone seemed to have a story of someone they know who had been financially exploited.

“My course work helped me think about this as an economic issue. Basically, if someone loses their retirement nest egg, they become more reliant to the social service program funded by tax payers. It was a huge ah-ha moment for me. The reporting requirements and the definition of mandatory reporters is something I want to pursue in further original research,” explains Cathleen.

In the third year, Cathleen worked with the Attorney General’s office, which ran both a House and Senate version of the bill. At the same time, Cathleen began working on research comparing Washington State laws with other states, as part of her work in the “Advanced Seminar in Legislative Research,” led by Bruce Kochis in conjunction with Kelly Synder, the UW Bothell Officer for Government Relations. Cathleen found that the data showed a real gap in Washington State laws, independently validating the Attorney General’s findings.

Cathleen says that her policy studies research meant that she was viewed “not just as a lobbyist, but a credible expert on the issue.” In her advocacy role, Cathleen also worked to develop a community engagement and outreach campaign that delivered more than 8000 signed petitions from AARP members from across the state and mobilized about 40 volunteers to hand deliver the petitions to legislators on Lobby Day. House Bill 1153 was signed into law on May 10, 2017 by Governor Jay Inslee.

You can read more about this legislation in the following articles:

After completing her M.A. in Policy Studies, Cathleen would like to stay at AARP and continue to be an advocate for the aging population, as the proportion of people 50 years and older will continue to grow as the baby boomers age. She sees opportunities to create the policies, programs and services we all need to live the live we choose filled with purpose and dignity.

MacCaul in front of state capitol
MacCaul in front of state capitol