Child Protection from
The term “child welfare” services does not refer to cash safety net assistance programs (AFDC or TANF) but to the system addressing child abuse and neglect. As described in Chapter 10 below, the juvenile courts evolved under a parens patriae concept that did not clearly distinguish between juvenile law violators, and juvenile child abuse victims. Many of those subject to the “House of Refuge Movement” were impoverished children who had committed no criminal offense. Many were abandoned, orphaned, or neglected. Most suffered extreme poverty.
When the Illinois Act, widely replicated in the states, established a juvenile court it similarly grouped minor offenders and child abuse victims into a single system designedly to aid children in trouble. The Illinois Act defined “dependency and neglect” to include “(1) any child…destitute or homeless or abandoned, (2) [without] proper parental care or guardianship, (3) who habitually begs or receives alms, (4) who is found living in any house of ill fame or with any vicious or disreputable person, (5) whose home, by reason of neglect, cruelty, or depravity on the part of its parents, guardian or other person in whose care it may be, is an unfit place for such a child, (6) [who is] under the age of 8 years who is found peddling or selling any article or singing or playing any musical instrument upon the street or giving any public entertainment.” 1
Current notions of child abuse based on excessive corporal punishment, failure to treat for medical ailments, or even molestation were not ascendant in the early formation of juvenile courts. Parental authority over children was close to absolute and the system focused on children effectively abandoned or orphaned by parents. Over time, the delinquency system discussed in Chapter 10 evolved to incorporate some adult criminal justice procedures, particularly after the Gault decision. Meanwhile, the “dependency” jurisdiction of juvenile court separated into a system where children enjoyed broader state protection. That protection covered physical abuse, psychological abuse (where in extremis), sexual abuse, medical neglect, and general neglect. In addition, “status offenses” marked the entry of juvenile court jurisdiction for runaways, truants, curfew violators, “incorrigible” children, and those with intractable drug addiction problems. As discussed below, mandated reporting and investigations have increased caseloads markedly in most states. Much of the increase and many of the problems of children relate to poverty and parental drug and alcohol abuse, both at high incidence, as the data presented below reflect.
Recent national data on child abuse reports and disposition find: 2