Child Protection in America

By Barbara Anderson

Sad to say that for centuries in the U.S.A. animals were better protected from abuse than children. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) began in 1866, but there was no organization in existence to protect children from abuse. It was in the early 1870’s, when a particularly horrific case of a child in a foster home being whipped daily came to the public’s attention. Things began to change when attorneys for the ASPA argued that laws protecting animals from abuse should not be greater than laws protecting children. Soon, the world’s first child protection organization, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, was established in 1875 as a nongovernmental organization.

It wasn’t until the early 20th century that a public call was made for both state and federal governments to focus on child protection services as an arm of social services. In 1935, Douglas Falconer wrote the following on the best proactive approach towards child protection: “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.”

In 1962 pediatrician Henry Kempe and his colleagues published one of the first articles dealing with the subject of child abuse within America, “The Battered Child Syndrome.”

Further, in 1962 Congressional amendments to the Social Security Act placed a greater emphasis on child protection. By the end of the 1960’s laws had been enacted in nearly all states that placed the responsibility for child protection in the hands of the government. Despite a state and federal shift towards governmental responsibility to protect children, in 1973, U.S. Senator Walter Mondale wrote in a letter, “Nowhere in the Federal Government could we find one official assigned full time to the prevention, identification and treatment of child abuse and neglect.” Congress responded with the passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 (CAPTA).

With the availability of federal funding state investigators were able to respond to, and investigate allegations of child abuse, including physical abuse, neglect, and sexual abuse.

By the end of the 1970’s the prevalence of child sexual abuse within society was starting to be reported by mainstream media that continues today. Nevertheless, child abuse happens more than people care to believe. It has been reported that in the U.S. annually, more than three million reports of child abuse are made involving nearly six million children.

Today, more than ever, there is a need for state laws that match in the area of reporting abuse and neglect; protecting children from abuse, and regarding statutes of limitations, instead of the confusing, diverse laws respecting these matters seen in place from state to state.

It is imperative that state legislators sponsor Bills that reform outdated, objectionable and unacceptable laws that do little to protect children and that do not give a voice to abuse victims who want justice in criminal or civil courts. Reporting laws for charitable institutions need to be improved, plus “Working with Children” laws need to be enacted. If the safety and welfare of our children becomes a paramount legislative issue for elected officials, just imagine what could be accomplished nowadays in America.

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