Child welfare

From New World Encyclopedia
Child Protection and Developement Center in Pattaya, Thailand

Child welfare is a term used to describe a set of government services designed to protect children and encourage family stability. These typically include investigation of alleged child abuse and neglect ("child protective services"), foster care, adoption services, and services aimed at supporting at-risk families so they can remain intact ("prevention services" or "family preservation services").

The idea behind child welfare programs is that, in certain circumstances, the interests of the child could be better served by removing children from the care of their parents and placing them into state custody. While a preferred scenario is to support the family while keeping it intact, the circumstances that are detrimental to the child may be too severe. Under these conditions, children are removed on a temporary basis while the parents, and possibly remaining siblings, receive supportive services until the family is deemed in a position to resume care of the child.

Although removal of a child may be deemed better than remaining in a situation of danger, either in the form of neglect or abuse, there are also serious consequences to such actions. Children naturally form strong attachment bonds to their parents, even when abused, and breaking these bonds is psychologically traumatic. Thus, the decision to remove a child cannot be taken lightly. Fundamentally, however, a child whose situation is so bad that it warrants breaking up the family for the sake of the child's welfare has already seriously damaged the child. To grow up healthy, children need more than external things such as shelter, food, and the material necessities of life and the absence of abuse. Children also require the loving care of parents to nurture their emotional and psychological development. Unfortunately, such support cannot be imposed by any government program, and so many children lack the love and security that they need to grow up to be healthy adults.


Most children who come to the attention of child welfare social workers do so because of any of the following situations, which are often collectively termed child maltreatment or child abuse:

  • Neglect (including the failure to take adequate measures to protect a child from harm)
  • Emotional abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Physical abuse

Child welfare policies and initiatives target the health and well-being of children. They aim to protect children from the harmful effects of poverty, family and parenting problems, child abuse and neglect, and inadequate resources.


The concept of a state sanctioned child welfare system dates back to Plato's Republic. Plato theorized that the interests of the child could be served by removing children from the care of their parents and placing them into state custody. To prevent an uprising from dispossessed parents:

We shall have to invent some ingenious kind of lots which the less worthy may draw on each occasion of our bringing them together, and then they will accuse their own ill-luck and not the rulers.[1]

Poor laws were passed in the 1500s in Elizabethan England to help provide relief to the poor. These laws were aimed at providing work to those fit for it and to provide care for those who could not work. This could be seen as one of the first instances of child welfare as apprenticeships were established for impoverished children under these laws as well. Also established in England were workhouses in which the poor were supported and housed by the local municipality.

In 1655, in what is now the United States, there were criminal court cases involving child abuse.[2] In 1692, states and municipalities identified care for abused and neglected children as the responsibility of local government and private institutions. In 1696, England first used the legal principle of parens patriae, which gave the royal crown care of "charities, infants, idiots, and lunatics returned to the chancery." This principal of parens patriae has been identified as the statutory basis for U.S. governmental intervention in families' child rearing practices.[2]

In 1825, states enacted laws giving social-welfare agencies the right to remove neglected children from their parents and from the streets. These children were placed in almshouses, in orphanages, and with other families. In 1835, the Humane Society founded the National Federation of Child Rescue agencies to investigate child maltreatment. In the late 1800s, private child protection agencies—modeled after existing animal protection organizations—developed to investigate reports of child maltreatment, present cases in court, and advocate for child welfare legislation.[2] [3]

In 1912, the federal Children's Bureau was established to manage federal child welfare efforts, including services related to child maltreatment. In 1958, amendments to the Social Security Act mandated that states fund child protection efforts.[4] In 1962, professional and media interest in child maltreatment was sparked by the publication of C. Henry Kempe and associates' "The battered child syndrome" in Journal of the American Medical Association. By the mid-1960s, in response to public concern that resulted from this article, 49 U.S. states passed child-abuse reporting laws.[2][3] In 1974, these efforts by the states culminated in the passage of the federal "Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act" (P.L. 93-247) providing federal funding for wide-ranging federal and state child-maltreatment research and services.[2][3]

Declaration of the Rights of the Child

The Declaration of the Rights of the Child was drafted by Eglantyne Jebb and adopted by the International Save the Children Union, Geneva, February 23, 1923, and endorsed by the League of Nations General Assembly on November 26, 1924. It states that:

By the present declaration of the Rights of the Child, commonly known as the Declaration of Geneva, men and women of all nations, recognizing that mankind owes to the Child the best that it has to give, declare and accept it as their duty that beyond and above all considerations of race, nationality or creed:

  1. The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually
  2. The child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped, the delinquent child must be reclaimed, and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored
  3. The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress
  4. The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation
  5. The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of its fellow men

A slightly amended version was adopted by the United Nations in 1946, and on November 20, 1959 the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted a much expanded version as its own Declaration of the Rights of the Child.[5]

Convention on the Rights of the Child

The United Nations "Convention on the Rights of the Child" is a convention establishing the political, economic, and cultural rights of children around the world, which came into effect in 1990. Most members of the United Nations have signed the convention partially or completely. Signing the convention requires that countries collect statistics on basic aspects of child welfare for report to the UN. The convention defines children as any person under the age of eighteen. Some of the rights specifically defined include: access to health care and education, developing their personality, growing up in a happy environment, and information of their rights.[6]

Child Protective Services

Child Protective Services (CPS) is the name of the governmental agency in the United States that responds to child abuse and neglect. These agencies often run orphanages, coordinate foster care and adoption services.

Child maltreatment that merits action by CPS is generally indicated by the presence of any of the following:

  1. Abuse, which might include:
    • Physical abuse
    • Sexual abuse
    • Emotional abuse (not recognized by all states)
  2. Neglect, which might include:
    • Lack of supervision
    • Failure to provide necessary medical or remedial care
    • Inappropriate discipline
    • Exposure to domestic violence
    • Exposure to parental substance abuse
  3. Alleged perpetrator, which might include:
    • Parents
    • Other relatives
    • Other in-home adults
    • Guardians, custodians, caregiver/caretaker
    • Daycare staff
    • Residential treatment (such as group home) staff

CPS agencies generally perform a series of functions that can be identified as follows:

  1. Intake: Receive reports of child maltreatment allegations. In most states, everyone is a mandatory reporter, with the following exceptions: Attorneys representing clients on child-maltreatment criminal charges; and, substance-abuse treatment providers.
  2. Screening the Report: Determine if a received report's allegations meet statutory definitions for child maltreatment. If statutory definitions are met, then the report is accepted for investigation/assessment; otherwise, it is screened out and might be forwarded to another agency.
  3. Investigation/Assessment: If a received report is accepted, then CPS "investigates" or "assesses" the allegations through contacts with the family and pertinent collateral-information providers. Home visits are usually included although different states have different restrictions regarding this.
  4. Case Decision: If the child-maltreatment allegations prove sufficiently credible and/or if the family is in need of services to prevent future maltreatment (independent of the parents/caregivers' actions), either involuntary or voluntary post-investigative services are generally provided.
  5. Treatment/Case Management: CPS case-management/treatment services are provided to a family to prevent or address child maltreatment. If the child's remaining in the home creates an imminent or significant long-term risk to the child's safety, then arrangement for the child's placement outside of the home is made either with the family's consent or through the courts (See also, foster care).
  6. Case Closure: If the case decision found no need for follow-up services by CPS, or if the family and/or community has addressed all risk factors that lead to the provision of CPS case-management services, or if a family's rights to a child is terminated and the child has been adopted, then the case can be closed.

Activities: States must articulate how a CPS agency is to respond to alleged maltreatment including:

  • Timeframes for responding to different levels of child maltreatment
  • Manner in which reporters are provided follow-up information (for example, case disposition letters)
  • Confidentiality restrictions (for example, which may differ during the investigative and case-management phases)
  • Conflict-of-interest cases (for example, a CPS agency would not investigate a report against their own staff)

Additionally, state and local CPS-related institutions will develop policies and practices that further shape communities' response to child maltreatment. Examples include:

  • Coordinating efforts between CPS, law enforcement, schools, mental health and other institutions
  • Providing further standards for defining maltreatment, such as how does one define "inappropriate discipline"
  • Maintaining records and/or centralized databases regarding reports and families
  • Appeal processes, if any
  • CPS-related court processes

Effects of early maltreatment on children in child welfare

The National Adoption Center found that 52 percent of adoptable children (meaning those children in U.S. foster care freed for adoption) had symptoms of attachment disorder. Dante Cicchetti has found that 80 percent[7] of abused and maltreated infants exhibited attachment disorder symptoms (disorganized subtype).[8]

Children with histories of maltreatment, such as physical and psychological neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse,[9] are at risk of developing severe psychiatric problems.[10] These children are likely to develop reactive attachment disorder (RAD).[11] These children may be described as experiencing trauma-attachment problems. The trauma experienced is the result of abuse or neglect, inflicted by a primary caregiver, which disrupts the normal development of secure attachment. Such children are at risk of developing a disorganized attachment.[12][13] Disorganized attachment is associated with a number of developmental problems, including dissociative symptoms,[14] as well as depressive, anxiety, and acting-out symptoms.[15][16]

Children who have experienced such early chronic trauma often experience complex post-traumatic stress disorder and require extensive and specific treatment to address multi-dimensional problems experienced by these children.

Attachment disorder

Attachment disorder refers to the failure to form normal attachments with caregivers during childhood. This can have adverse effects throughout the lifespan. Clinicians have identified several signs of attachment problems. Attachment problems can be resolved at older ages through appropriate therapeutic interventions.

Reactive attachment disorder

Reactive attachment disorder, sometimes called "RAD," is a psychiatric diagnosis (DSM-IV 313.89, ICD-10 F94.1/2). The essential feature of reactive attachment disorder is markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate social relatedness in most contexts, which begins before the age of five and is associated with gross pathological care.


In the United States, data suggests that a disproportionate number of minority children, particularly African American and Native American children, enter the foster care system.[17] Additionally, once they enter foster care, research suggests that they are likely to remain in care longer.[18] Earlier research had shown no difference in the rate of abuse and neglect among minority populations when compared to Caucasian children. However a more recent report indicates differences: Unlike previous NIS cycles, the NIS–4 found strong and pervasive race differences in the incidence of maltreatment. In nearly all cases, the rates of maltreatment for Black children were significantly higher than those for White and Hispanic children.[19]

The Juvenile Justice system has also been challenged by disproportionate negative contact of minority children.[20] Because of the overlap in these systems, it is likely that this phenomenon within multiple systems may be related.

Rates of child orphan-hood vary by country, although estimates have placed the number of orphaned children around the world at around 143 million. Many factors influence child orphan-hood, primarily economic status and culture. In China, there are some 15 million orphans, mostly girls. This disproportionately high number comes as the result of China's "one child" policy in which couples are penalized for having more than one child. Chinese society typically values male children higher because it is the traditional responsibility of a male child to care for his parents in their old age whereas female children traditionally care for their husband's parents. In Africa, AIDS has orphaned over 11 million children.[21]

The state of child welfare

Though the rights of children are given more attention today than ever before, as the above statistics indicate there is much progress that still needs to be made. The international community has taken useful first steps in passing agreements such as the "Declaration of the Rights of the Child" and "Convention on the Rights of the Child." These agreements, however, do too little to actually hold states accountable for the welfare of children. Still too many children suffer abuse, or homelessness, poverty, and illiteracy. In order to remedy these problems, international bodies like the UN must encourage the development of national organizations devoted to child welfare similar to the offices of child protective services in the United States. Beyond this minimal level of attention, nations must be willing to offer health care, education, housing, and food for their children. Implementing successful programs in all these spheres is no easy task, but it appears necessary to improve the well-being of children. Merely mandating services is unlikely to succeed—improving the welfare of children requires a concerted effort from parents, extended family, neighbors, community services, health professionals and educators, and the faith community, as well as all levels of government.


  1. Chapter 5: On matrimony and philosophy Plato's Republic Translation of Benjamin Jowett (1901). Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Peter J. Pecora, James K. Whittaker, and Anthony N. Maluccio, The Child Welfare Challenge: Policy, Practice, and Research (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1992, ISBN 0202360822).
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Christopher G. Petr, Social Work with Children and their Families: Pragmatic Foundations (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0195106075).
  4. David Laird and Jennifer Michael, "Budgeting Child Welfare: How will millions cut from the federal budget affect the child welfare system?" Children's Voice 15(4) (July/August 2006).
  5. Declaration of the Rights of the Child, 1959 Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  6. Convention on the Rights of the Child UNICEF. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  7. V. Carlson, D. Cicchetti, D. Barnett, and K. Braunwald, Finding order in disorganization: Lessons from research on maltreated infants’ attachments to their caregivers, in Dante Cicchetti and Vicki Carlson (eds.), Child Maltreatment: Theory and Research on the Causes and Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989, ISBN 978-0521379694).
  8. D. Cicchetti, E.M. Cummings, M.T. Greenberg, and R.S. Marvin, An organizational perspective on attachment beyond infancy, in Mark T. Greenberg, Dante Cicchetti, and E. Mark Cummings (eds.), Attachment in the Preschool Years (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, ISBN 978-0226306308).
  9. L. Gauthier, G. Stollak, L. Messe, & J. Arnoff, Recall of childhood neglect and physical abuse as differential predictors of current psychological functioning, Child Abuse and Neglect 20 (1996): 549-559.
  10. R. Malinosky-Rummell & D.J. Hansen, Long term consequences of childhood physical abuse, Psychological Bulletin 114 (1993): 68-69.
  11. M. DeKlyen and M. Greenberg, Attachment and Psychopathology in Childhood, in Jude Cassidy and Phillip R. Shaver (eds.), Handbook of Attachment (New York: The Guilford Press, 2018, ISBN 978-1462536641).
  12. Judith Solomon and Carol C. George (eds.), Attachment Disorganization (New York: The Guilford Press, 1999, ISBN 978-1572304802).
  13. M. Main & E. Hesse, Parents’ Unresolved Traumatic Experiences are related to infant disorganized attachment status, in Mark T. Greenberg, Dante Ciccehetti, and E. Mark Cummings (eds.), Attachment in the Preschool Years: Theory, Research, and Intervention (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993, ISBN 978-0226306308).
  14. E.A. Carlson, A prospective longitudinal study of disorganized/disoriented attachment, Child Development 69(1988): 1107-1128.
  15. K. Lyons-Ruth, Attachment relationships among children with aggressive behavior problems: The role of disorganized early attachment patterns, Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 64: 64-73
  16. K. Lyons-Ruth, L. Alpern, & B. Repacholi, Disorganized infant attachment classification and maternal psychosocial problems as predictors of hostile-aggressive behavior in the preschool classroom, Child Development 64(1993): 572-585.
  17. R.B. Hill, Institutional racism in child welfare, in Joyce E. Everett, Sandra S. Chipungu, and Bogart R. Leashore (eds.), Child Welfare Revisited: An Africentric Perspective (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004, ISBN 978-0813534626).
  18. F. Wulczyn, B. Lery, J. Haight, Entry and Exit Disparities in the Tennessee Foster Care System. Chapin Hall Discussion Paper, 2006. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  19. Report to Congress: Executive Summary Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS–4). Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  20. C.E. Pope & W. Feyerherm, Minorities and the Juvenile Justice System Research Summary Washington, DC: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 1995. Retrieved May 14, 2021.
  21. Africa's Orphan Crisis: Worst Is Yet to Come UNICEF, November 26, 2003.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Cassidy, Jude, and Phillip R. Shaver (eds.). Handbook of Attachment. New York: The Guilford Press, 2018. ISBN 978-1462536641
  • Cicchetti, Dante, and Vicki Carlson (eds.). Child Maltreatment: Theory and Research on the Causes and Consequences of Child Abuse and Neglect. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0521379694
  • Everett, Joyce E., Sandra S. Chipungu, and Bogart R. Leashore (eds.). Child Welfare Revisited: An Africentric Perspective. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2004. ISBN 978-0813534626
  • Greenberg, Mark T., Dante Cicchetti, and E. Mark Cummings (eds.). Attachment in the Preschool Years: Theory, Research, and Intervention. University of Chicago Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0226306308
  • Pecora, Peter J., James K. Whittaker, and Anthony N. Maluccio. The Child Welfare Challenge: Policy, Practice, and Research. New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1992. ISBN 0202360822
  • Petr, Christopher G. Social Work with Children and their Families: Pragmatic Foundations. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. ISBN 0195106075
  • Solomon, Judith, and Carol C. George (eds.). Attachment Disorganization. New York: The Guilford Press, 1999. ISBN 978-1572304802

External links

All links retrieved December 10, 2023.


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