PUBLIC POLICY & LAW

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 noteworthy 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.

Congress placed new emphasis on child protection with amendments to the Social Security Act in 1962. The 1962 amendments 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. 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, 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.

Prior to 1974, the federal government played a useful but minor role in child protection. The Children’s Bureau was founded in 1912, but the Bureau paid little attention to maltreatment until the 1960s. The Social Security Act of 1935, as amended in 1962, provided money to expand child welfare services. Yet, as late as 1973, U.S. Senator Walter Mondale wrote, “Nowhere in the Federal Government could we find one official assigned full time to the prevention, identification and treatment of child abuse and neglect.” Due in substantial measure to Mondale’s efforts, Congress assumed a leadership role with passage of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 (CAPTA).

Since 1974, Congress has passed several laws related to and regulating child protection and welfare.
Click here for a listing of major federal legislation.

While Federal laws provide standards and guidelines, issues involving child abuse and neglect, foster care and adoption are primarily governed by State laws and regulations in the United States.
Click here for more information on state statutes governing child welfare.

The Louisiana Children’s Code, established in 1992, governs child abuse and neglect in Louisiana. Title V, Services to Families, Title VI, Child in Need of Care, Title X, Judicial Certification for Children for Adoption, Title XI, Surrender of Parental Rights, and Title XII, Adoption of Children, are the primary provisions governing child welfare.
Click here to learn more.

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