Child Protection in America: Past, Present, and Future

Child Protection in America: Past, Present, and Future

Child Protection in America: Past, Present, and Future

Child Protection in America: Past, Present, and Future


Child abuse and neglect are intractable problems exacting a terrible toll on children and rending the very fabric of our society. What can be done to reduce the suffering? If there were simple solutions to abuse and neglect they would have been discovered long ago. There are no easy answers, but in this vivid history of child protection in America, John E.B. Myers introduces realistic policies that will reduce maltreatment and strengthen the system that protects our children.

Before it is possible to design viable improvements in today's system, it is necessary to understand how it evolved. The sweeping, beautifully written account of child protection in America traces its growth from colonial days to the present--from the rise and gradual disappearance of orphanages, the growth of foster care, the birth of organized child protection in 1874, and the rise of private societies to prevent cruelty, to the twentieth-century transition to government-operated child protection.

Myers goes on to describe the principal causes of child maltreatment, including intergenerational transmission of violence, poverty, substance abuse, cultural violence, excessive corporal punishment, sexual deviance, evolution, mental illness, and domestic violence. Once the causes of maltreatment are clear, it is possible to create solutions. Some of the proposals outlined have been in play for more than a century, while others are new. Policies to combat poverty, expand nurse home visiting programs, increase access to day care, strengthen a sense of community, outlaw corporal punishment, rethink our attitude toward alcohol, and lower the toxicity in popular culture are rooted in a deep understanding of the cycle of violence and challenge traditional ways of thinking.

Since it will never be possible to prevent all maltreatment, it is critical to strengthen the existing child protection system. Attainable reforms such as dealing with the lingering effects of racism in the child welfare, reworking funding mechanisms, refocusing leadership, creating a less adversarial system, strengthening foster care, and reinventing the juvenile court point to flaws in our system but demonstrate that progress is possible.

This provocative book will challenge all those concerned with children's welfare to move toward real solutions that will make life better for America's most vulnerable children.


Protecting children from abuse and neglect is a worthy goal. the purpose of this book is to advance this goal in two ways. First, the book offers recommendations to reduce the amount of abuse and neglect. Second, because it is not possible to eliminate maltreatment entirely, the book suggests reforms to the child protection system.

To fully understand the strengths and weaknesses of today’s child protection system, it is useful to study the historical development of child protection. Part I traces the history of child protection in America. With the history in place, part ii shifts the focus from past to present and begins by analyzing the principal causes of child abuse and neglect. Once the causes of maltreatment are outlined, part ii describes broad societal changes that hold promise for reducing child abuse and neglect. Unfortunately, we will never prevent all maltreatment, and the book ends with proposals to strengthen the child protection system.

Historians and social commentators do more than report “facts.” No matter how diligently we try to be objective, we interpret. I have endeavored in these pages to remain conscious of my viewpoint. in the final analysis, however, my twenty years’ work in child protection undoubtedly influences my writing. My “bias” is to see the best in the motives of the people engaged in child protection. Thus, I’m an optimist. I believe the reformers who labored to protect children in the past acted foremost out of genuine concern for children. the same is true for professionals in child protection today.

Every writer views the world from their unique perspective. Some writers on childhood, child maltreatment, and child protection paint a gloomy picture. Lloyd deMause, for example, in his book The History of Childhood (New York: Psychohistory Press, 1974), set the tone in these words, “The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken. the further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused” (p. 1). Although portions of deMause’s book are positive, the overall impression is pessimistic. By contrast, John Boswell wrote an entire volume on abandonment of children and somehow managed to leave the reader uplifted rather than depressed. Boswell’s more hopeful approach begins with his title, The Kindness of . . .

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