A Short History of Child Protection in America Pt #3

Child Protection History — ABA
John E.B. Myers


IV.  The Modern Era of Child Protection

A. 1962 to the Present

The first two sections of this article describe child protection before 1962.  The next section discusses the post-1962 development of
the child protection system.  By the late 1970s, government-sponsored child protective services spanned the nation, settling
into urban and rural areas alike.

B. Child Abuse Becomes a National Issue

The 1960s witnessed an explosion of interest in child abuse, and physicians played a key role in this awakening.  Prior to the 1960s, medical schools provided little or no training on child abuse, and medical texts were largely silent on the issue.  Even pediatricians were largely uninformed.  The spark that eventually ignited medical interest in abuse was an article published in 1946 by pediatric radiologist John Caffey.  Caffey described six young children with subdural hematoma and fractures of the legs or arms.  Although Caffey did not state that any of the children were abused, he hinted at it. Following Caffey’s classic paper, a small but steady stream of physicians drew attention to the abusive origin of some childhood injuries.  This trend culminated in the 1962 publication of the blockbuster article The Battered Child Syndrome by pediatrician Henry Kempe and his colleagues. Kempe played a leading role in bringing child abuse to national attention during the 1960s and 1970s.

As the medical profession became interested in child abuse, so did the media.  Local media had always covered noteworthy cases, as when a child was beaten to death, but coverage by national media was uncommon prior to the 1960s.  Following publication of The Battered Child Syndrome, national news outlets like Newsweek, Saturday Evening Post, Parents Magazine, Time, Good Housekeeping, and Life published emotional stories of abuse, often citing The Battered Child Syndrome and Henry Kempe.  A Newsweek story from April 1962, for example, was
titled When They’re Angry and quoted Kempe:

One day last November, we had four battered children in our pediatrics ward.  Two died in the hospital and one died at home four weeks later.  For every child who enters the hospital this badly beaten, there must be hundreds treated by unsuspecting doctors. The battered child syndrome isn’t a reportable disease, but it damn well ought to be.

Prior to 1962, there was little professional research and writing about  abuse. Elizabeth Elmer noted,  “The amount of systematic research on the problem of abuse and neglect is conspicuously scant.’   Following publication of The Battered Child Syndrome, a trickle of writing became a torrent that continues to this day.

News stories and journal articles captured public and professional
attention.  Behind the scenes, Congress placed new emphasis on child protection with amendments to the Social Security Act in 1962.  Vincent De Francis remarked that the 1962 amendments “for the first time, identified Child Protective Services as part of all public child welfare.  In addition to sharpening the focus on child protection, the 1962 amendments required states to pledge that by July 1, 1975, they would make child welfare services available statewide.  This requirement fueled expansion of government child-welfare services, including protective services.

The year 1962 was momentous not only for publication of The Battered Child Syndrome and amendments to the Social Security Act.  In the same year, the federal Children’s Bureau convened two meetings to determine how the Bureau could more effectively help states respond to child abuse.  Attendees at the meetings, including Henry Kempe and Vincent De Francis, recommended state legislation requiring doctors to report suspicions of abuse to police or child welfare.  These meetings were the genesis of child abuse reporting laws, the first four of which were enacted in 1963. By 1967, all states had reporting laws.

As reporting laws went into effect, the prevalence of child abuse and neglect came into focus.  By 1974, some 60,000 cases were reported.  In 1980, the number exceeded one million.  By 1990, reports topped two million, and in 2000, reports hovered around three million. In the early twenty-first century, reports declined but remained high.

Turning from reporting laws to another critical component of child protection, foster care, during the nineteenth century, children who could not live safely at home ended up in orphanages or almshouses.  Nineteenth century, reformers like Charles Loring Brace struggled to remove children from institutions and place them in foster homes.  Debate over the merits of foster care versus orphanage care raged from the 1850s to the early decades of the twentieth century.  Eventually, proponents of foster care
prevailed, and almshouses and orphanages disappeared.

In the early days, foster care was viewed as a major advance and as the best solution for many dependent children.  In the last quarter of the twentieth century, however, some came to view foster care as a problem rather than as a solution.  Critics lamented that nearly half a million children are in foster care at any point in time and that too many children get “stuck” in out-of-home care. What’s more, children of color, particularly African-
American children, are sadly overrepresented among foster children.  Yet, despite problems, foster care remains a safe haven for many abused and neglected children.


A Short History of Child Protection in America Pt #2

Child Protection History — ABA
John E.B. Myers

I want everyone to know that after I got into the first part of this, I felt like it was the perfect answer to all the stress and depression that has built-up inside of me, with each really bad case of what Our Children are forced to endure.

Today, I came face to face with the one person that I am lucky that Our meeting wasn’t a good many years ago.  You see I spent the day with my Best Friend and ones I love.  I was enjoying time away from my flaky internet, and when my Best Friend gave me that look, which no one would realize was a smile, I suddenly saw what no Child should ever see….


III. Child Protection from 1875 to 1962

Organized child protection emerged from the rescue in 1874 of nine-year-old Mary Ellen Wilson, who lived with her guardians in one of New York City’s worst tenements, Hell’s Kitchen.  Mary Ellen was routinely beaten and neglected.  A religious missionary to the poor named Etta Wheeler learned of the child’s plight and determined to rescue her.

Wheeler consulted the police, but they declined to investigate.  Next, Wheeler sought assistance from child helping charities, but they lacked authority to intervene in the family.  At that time, of course, there was no such thing as child protective services, and the juvenile court did not come into existence for a quarter century. Eventually, Wheeler sought advice from Henry Bergh, the influential founder of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.  Bergh asked his lawyer, Elbridge Gerry, to find a legal mechanism to rescue the child. Gerry employed a variant of the writ of habeas corpus to remove Mary Ellen from her guardians.

Following the rescue of Mary Ellen, animal protection advocate Henry Bergh and his attorney Elbridge Gerry lamented the fact that no government agency or nongovernmental organization was responsible for child protection.  Bergh and Gerry decided to create a nongovernmental charitable society devoted to child protection, and thus was born the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC), the world’s first entity devoted entirely to child protection.  Gerry became president of NYSPCC and served in that capacity into the twentieth century.

News of the NYSPCC spread and by 1922, some 300 nongovernmental child protection societies were scattered across America.  Although 300 is an impressive number, for much of the twentieth century, many cities and nearly all rural areas had little or no access to formal child-protective services.  For most abused and neglected children help came—if it came—from family and neighbors willing to get involved, from police, and from courts.

As nongovernmental child-protection societies popped up across the country, another important innovation appeared: the juvenile court.  The world’s first juvenile court was established at Chicago in 1899.  Juvenile courts spread quickly, and by 1919, all states but three had juvenile courts.  Before long, the remaining states fell in line.  Although the reformers who created the juvenile court were concerned primarily with delinquent children, juvenile courts from the outset had jurisdiction to intervene in cases of abuse and neglect.  Today, of course, the juvenile court is a central player in the child protection system.

As noted above, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, child protection agencies were nongovernmental.  The first few decades of the twentieth century witnessed increasing calls to shift child protection from nongovernmental Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCCs) to government agencies.  Douglas Falconer wrote in 1935:

“For many years responsibility for child protection was left almost entirely to private agencies …. Great sections of child population were untouched by them and in many other places the service rendered was perfunctory and of poor standard …. The belief has become increasingly accepted that if children are to be protected from neglect the service must be performed by public agencies.”

The call for government child protection coincided with the increasing role of state and federal governments in social services. Prior to the twentieth century, there were relatively few state-level departments of social services.  What government services there were the province of local government.  During the early twentieth century, states created or strengthened state departments of welfare, social services, health, and labor.

As for the federal government, prior to 1935, Washington, D.C., played an insignificant role in child welfare policy and funding. Creation of the federal Children’s Bureau in 1912 broke the ice, followed by the Sheppard-Towner Act, which provided federal money from 1921 to 1929 for health services for mothers and babies.  It was the Great Depression of the 1930s, however, that stimulated the sea change in the federal government’s role in social welfare. In 1935, as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal to save the nation from economic ruin, Congress passed the
Social Security Act. In addition to old-age pensions, unemployment insurance, and vocational services, the Social Security Act created Aid to Dependent Children, which provided millions of dollars to states to support poor families. Tucked away in the Social Security Act was an obscure provision that authorized the Children’s Bureau “to cooperate with state public-welfare agencies in establishing, extending, and strengthening, especially in predominantly rural areas, [child welfare services] for the protection and care of homeless, dependent, and neglected
children, and children in danger of becoming delinquent.”‘  This
provision was an important shot in the arm for the nascent social work specialty of child welfare, and a modest step toward what in the 1970s became a central role for the federal government in efforts to protect children from abuse and neglect.

The Great Depression of the 1930s hastened the demise of nongovernmental SPCCs.  The charitable contributions that were the lifeblood of SPCCs withered with the economy, and only the heartiest SPCCs weathered the economic drought.  In the 1930s and 1940s, many SPCCs merged with other organizations or closed.  In some communities, child protection was assumed by the juvenile court or the police, whereas in other communities,
organized protective work ceased.

In 1956, Vincent De Francis, director of the Children’s Division of the American Humane Association, conducted a national inventory of child protective services.’  De Francis found eighty-four nongovernmental SPCCs, down from the high of 300 early in the century.  Thirty-two states had no nongovernmental child-protective services. In these states, and in states with SPCCs, government agencies were slowly assuming responsibility.  At midcentury, many communities had no agency clearly in charge
of this vital service.

A decade after his 1956 survey, De Francis again took the pulse of
child protection.  By 1967, the number of nongovernmental SPCCs was down to ten. De Francis wrote, “Responsibility for provision of Child Protective Services under voluntary auspices, like the old soldier it is, is slowly fading away.  By 1967, nearly all states had laws placing responsibility for child protection in government hands.  Yet, De Francis complained, “No state and no community has developed a Child Protective Service program adequate in size to meet the service needs of all reported cases of child neglect, abuse and exploitation.”‘  A few years earlier, Elizabeth Glover and Joseph Reid wrote in a similar vein: “In hundreds of
counties in the United States, there is no protective service for children, other than police services, and in many of the nation’s largest cities, the only protective service is provided by voluntary agencies that are not sufficiently financed to give total community coverage. 

In 1965, California had no county system of child protective services.  In most states, protective services were not available statewide.  Most communities lacked twenty-four hour coverage. Thus, for the first six decades of the twentieth century, protective services in most communities were inadequate and in some places nonexistent.