A Look at CWLA's History

Children's Voice, January/February 2010 | Go to article overview

A Look at CWLA's History


This year CWLA celebrates its 90th anniversary. Even before its officiai founding in 1920, CWLA's beginning can be traced back to Theodore Roosevelt's first White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children in 1909, where the plight of 93,000 children in institutions, and even more in foster or boarding homes, was discussed. Highlighting the need for a stable home for a child, the conference spurred the establishment ofthe U.S. Children's Bureau.

The Bureau incited national recognition of the need for an overseeing entity for child welfare issues. In 1915, child agency executives created the Bureau for Exchange of Information Among Child Helping Agencies, which reorganized in 1920 as the Child Welfare League of America. With a starting capital of $25,000, and with the support of 68 founding agencies in the United States and four agencies in Canada, CWLA began its work to create excellent services for children and families.

CWLA revolutionized the child welfare field by creating a standardized national child welfare program that promoted permanent and stable homes for children, as opposed to growing up in long-term institutions. In 1925, CWLA created standards for foster care placements, conducting surveys on institutions and child care facilities and raising the bar for the quality of services delivered.

The late 1920s ushered in training programs for agency executives and child welfare staff. It was during this period that CWLA teamed up with the American Legion in emphasizing the need for children to be in permanent and loving homes. The American Legion was then considering building several Orphans' Homes across the nation as a way of caring for ex-service men's orphaned children. CWLA, upon hearing about the Legion's plans from a member agency, aided their plans in caring for children - but instead of building several institutions, CWLA encouraged them to promote family permanence. When families could not be preserved, children went to foster homes or to small cottage homes, rather than multiple institutions.

In the wake ofthe Great Depression and World War II, CWLA kept in tune with the changing needs of children. CWLA focused its efforts on increasing adoptions for refugee children and creating quality day care programs for the children of mothers who went into the defense movement.

The 1950s saw CWLA grow as a national social service agency. In this decade, CWLA fought to keep children in their homes by cooperating with the National Committee for Homemaker Services to avoid having to put children in institutions. CWLA's intensive research efforts showed that children who grew up in institutions tended to be at higher risk for mental illness. Later that decade, CWLA worked closely with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and went into the reservations to see what could be done to strengthen the services being given to American Indian children and to unmarried mothers.

With federal programs being the major sources of social services in the 1960s, CWLA was acclaimed as a model voluntary agency. CWLA critiqued and found ways to improve the already existing public programs, and spearheaded research efforts and the development of newer programs.

Seeking a more comprehensive grasp of the field's needs, CWLA established partnerships with other organizations. CWLA partnered with the Florence Crittenton Association in 1976, establishing CWLA's Florence Crittenton Division. A year later, CWLA and Family Service America (now called the Alliance for Children and Families) founded the Council on Accreditation for Children and Family Services (COA), which today accredits more than 1,800 public and private organizations that serve more than 7 million children and families.

With the development of a public policy office in Washington, DC, in 1970, CWLA became more involved in child welfare issues on the national level. Apart from CWLA's intensive participation in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, CWLA was also a key player in the passage of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980. …

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