Child Abuse—A History - Modern America
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The federal government first provided child welfare services with the passage of the Social Security Act of 1935 (49 Stat. 620). Under Title IV-B (Child Welfare Services Program) of the act, the Children's Bureau received funding for grants to states for "the protection and care of homeless, dependent, and neglected children and children in danger of becoming delinquent." Prior to 1961 Title IV-B was the only source of federal funding for child welfare services.
The 1962 Social Security Amendments (Public Law 87-543) required each state to make child welfare services available to all children. It further required states to provide coordination between child welfare services (under Title IV-B) and social services (under Title IV-A, or the Social Services program), which served families on welfare. The law also revised the definition of "child welfare services" to include the prevention and remedy of child abuse. In 1980 Congress created a separate Foster Care program under Title IV-E.
Title IV-A became Title XX (Social Services Block Grant) in 1981, giving states more options regarding the types of social services to fund. Today child abuse prevention and treatment services have remained an eligible category of service.
State Programs That Help Children at Risk
Under Title IV-B Child Welfare Services (Subpart 1) and Promoting Safe and Stable Families (Subpart 2) programs, families in crisis receive preventive intervention so that children will not have to be removed from their homes. If this cannot be achieved, children are placed in foster care temporarily until they can be reunited with their families. If reunification is not possible, parents' rights are terminated and the children are made available for adoption.
States use the Foster Care (Title IV-E) program funds for the care of foster children and for the training of foster parents, program personnel, and private-agency staff. Title XX funds provide such services as child daycare, child protective services, information and referral, counseling, and employment.
The Battered Child Syndrome and the Development of a Child Abuse Reporting Network
In 1961 Dr. C. Henry Kempe, a pediatric radiologist, and his associates proposed the term "battered child syndrome" at a symposium on the problem of child abuse held under the auspices of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The term refers to the collection of injuries sustained by a child as a result of repeated mistreatment or beatings. The following year The Journal of the American Medical Association published the landmark article "The Battered Child Syndrome" (C. Henry Kempe et al., vol. 181, no. 17, July 7, 1962). The term "battered child syndrome" developed into "maltreatment," encompassing not only physical assault but other forms of abuse, such as malnourishment, failure to thrive, medical neglect, and sexual and emotional abuse.
Dr. Kempe had also proposed that physicians be required to report child abuse. According to the National Association of Counsel for Children, by 1967, after Dr. Kempe's findings had gained general acceptance among health and welfare workers and the public, forty-four states had passed legislation that required the reporting of child abuse to official agencies, and the remaining six states had voluntary reporting laws. This was one of the most rapidly accepted pieces of legislation in American history. Initially only doctors were required to report and then only in cases of "serious physical injury" or "nonaccidental injury." Today all the states have laws that require most professionals who serve children to report all forms of suspected abuse and either require or permit any citizen to report child abuse.
One of the reasons for the lack of prosecution of early child abuse cases was the difficulty in determining whether a physical injury was a case of deliberate assault or an accident. In recent years, however, doctors of pediatric radiology have been able to determine the incidence of repeated child abuse through sophisticated developments in X-ray technology. These advances have allowed radiologists to see more clearly such things as subdural hematomas (blood clots around the brain resulting from blows to the head) and abnormal fractures. This brought about more recognition in the medical community of the widespread incidence of child abuse, along with growing public condemnation of abuse.
Federal Legislation against Child Abuse
In 1974 Congress passed the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA; Public Law 93-247). The law stated:
[Child abuse and neglect refer to] the physical or mental injury, sexual abuse, negligent treatment or maltreatment of a child under age eighteen, or the age specified by the child protection law of the state in question, by a person who is responsible for the child's welfare under circumstances which indicate the child's health or welfare is harmed or threatened thereby, as determined in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.
This law created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN), which developed standards for handling reports of child maltreatment. NCCAN also established a nationwide network of child protective services and served as a clearinghouse for information and research on child abuse and neglect.
Since 1974 CAPTA has been amended a number of times. (See Figure 1.1.) In 1978 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment and Adoption Reform Act (Public Law 95-266) promoted the passage of state laws providing comprehensive adoption assistance. The act provided grants to encourage the adoption of children with special needs and broadened the definition of abuse, adding a specific reference to sexual abuse and exploitation to the basic
definition. That year the Indian Child Welfare Act (Public Law 95-608) was also enacted to reestablish tribal jurisdiction over the adoption of Native American children.
In response to the public outcry about the placement of an increasing number of children in foster care, Congress passed the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 (Public Law 96-272), with the goal of promoting family reunification. In 1988 the Child Abuse Prevention, Adoption and Family Services Act (Public Law 100-294) replaced the original 1974 CAPTA, mandating, among other things, the establishment of a system to collect national data on child maltreatment.
In 1994 Congress passed the Multiethnic Placement Act (Public Law 103-382), directing states to actively recruit adoptive and foster families, especially for minority children waiting a long time for placement in a home. Pursuant to the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act Amendments of 1996 (Public Law 104-235), the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) created by the first CAPTA was abolished. Its functions have subsequently been consolidated within the Children's Bureau of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
By 1997 the federal government had realized that reuniting abused children with their families did not always work in the best interests of the children. Congress revisited the "reasonable efforts" for family reunification originally mandated by the 1980 Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. Under the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (Public Law 105-89), "reasonable efforts" was clarified to mean the safety of the child comes first. States were directed to indicate circumstances under which an abused child should not be returned to the parents or caretakers.
The Promoting Safe and Stable Families Amendments of 2001 (Public Law 107-133) was enacted partly to address the rising number of children with incarcerated parents. The law provided a grant program for creating mentoring services for these children. The law also created a new program to assist youth aging out of foster care, helping them pursue an education or vocational training.
In 2003 CAPTA received reauthorization through 2008 under the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act (Public Law 108-36). The law, among other things, directed more comprehensive training of child protective services personnel, including a mandate that they inform alleged abusers, during the first contact, of the nature of complaints against them. The law called for child welfare agencies to coordinate services with other agencies, including public health, mental health, and developmental disabilities agencies. The law also directed the collection of data for the fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect.
Federal Legislation Dealing with the Prosecution of Child Abusers
The Children's Justice and Assistance Act of 1986 (CJA; Public Law 99-401) offers grants to states to improve the investigation and prosecution of cases of child abuse and neglect, especially sexual abuse and exploitation. The program aims to reduce additional trauma to the child by training persons who are involved in child maltreatment cases, such as law enforcement, mental health personnel, prosecutors, and judges. CJA also supports legislation that would allow indirect testimony from children, shorten the time spent in court, and make their courtroom experience less intimidating.
Until 1995 none of the federal child abuse legislation dealt specifically with punishing sex offenders. In December of that year, with growing acknowledgment of and concern about sex crimes against minors, Congress passed the Sex Crimes Against Children Prevention Act of 1995 (Public Law 104-71). The act increased penalties for those who sexually exploit children by engaging in illegal conduct, or for exploitation conducted via the Internet, as well as for those who transport children with the intent to engage in criminal sexual activity.
Three years later Congress enacted the Protection of Children from Sexual Predators Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-314) that, among other things, established the Morgan P. Hardiman Child Abduction and Serial Murder Investigative Resources Center (CASMIRC). The purpose of CASMIRC, as stated in the text of the act, is "to provide investigative support through the coordination and provision of federal law enforcement resources, training, and application of other multidisciplinary expertise, to assist federal, state, and local authorities in matters involving child abductions, mysterious disappearance of children, child homicide, and serial murder across the country."
Congress passed the Prosecutorial Remedies and Other Tools to End the Exploitation of Children Today (PROTECT) Act (Public Law 108-21) on April 30, 2003. Among other things, the act established a national Amber Alert Program for recovering abducted children and provided that there will be no statute of limitations for sex crimes and abduction of children. (Under previous laws, the statute of limitations expired when the child turned twenty-five.) The law also provided for severe penalties for sex tourism and the denial of pretrial release for suspects in federal child rape or kidnap cases. (The Amber Alert program is named after Amber Hagerman of Texas who was abducted and murdered in 1996. She was nine years old. A witness notified police, giving a description of the vehicle and the direction it had gone, but police had no way of alerting the public.)