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Evolution of Federal Child Welfare Legislation
















Medical logoThe 20th Century: Medical Attention to the Issue

The medical field called attention to the problem of abused and neglected children in the middle of the 20th century.  The x-ray was developed in 1910, and by 1946,
Dr. John Caffey was reporting cases of children with subdural (under the skin) injuries and untreated fractures.  Woolley and Evans spoke out in 1955 against physicians who ignored multiple injuries to children committed by their adult caretakers.  In 1962, Dr. C. Henry Kempe’s term “battered child syndrome” captured public attention.  With leadership from the medical profession, legislative action followed.  By 1965, every state had enacted a child abuse reporting law.

Legal ScalesLegal Foundations

Historically, child welfare legislation has been tied to federal funding streams directed to states for the care of needy children.  The federal government’s role in child welfare policy formally began with passage of the Social Security Act of 1935, which provided small federal grants to states for child welfare services and aid to needy families.  As public awareness of abuse and neglect grew, states formed child welfare agencies and set their own policies.  The federal government’s role in the modern child welfare system has expanded because federal funding has included rules and requirements regarding practice, outcomes, and policy.

Child welfare laws are the foundation of today’s casework practice.  In the next section, you learn about the key federal legislation that influences and guides contemporary casework.

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