Celebrating 90 Years
of Serving Children

A look at CWLA's history

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Click here to view CWLA's timeline.

This year CWLA celebrates its 90th anniversary. Even before its official 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 of the 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 Village Family Service Center.

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 of the 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.

Children's Home Society of Florida, 1960s.

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 ServiceAmerica (now called the Alliance for Children and Families) founded the Council on Accreditation for Child-ren 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. In 1985, CWLA moved from New York to Washington, DC, to be even more involved in advocating for public policies and legislature promoting the wellbeing of children and families. Some of CWLA's successes in Washington include the Family Unifi-cation Program in 1990, the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, and the State Child Health Insurance Program in 1997.

Besides CWLA's breakthrough legislative efforts, the organization has also been a major publisher of child welfare materials since 1922. CWLA's publications were expanded in 1996 with the launch of Child and Family Press. In addition to Children's Voice, CWLA publishes an academic journal, Child Welfare, an online advocacy newsletter, Children's Monitor, and several books each year. By maintaining Standards of Excellence for 13 service areas, CWLA continues to promote awareness about child welfare issues, as well as enrich the field it serves.

A mother and her foster daughter from Children & Families of Iowa

Over the years, CWLA expanded its services to accommodate new units and more consultation services through the establishment of the Managed Care Institute, the AAPSC Child Mental Health Division, the National Center for Field Consultation, and the Walker Trieschman Center. In 1998, CWLA initiated the Children's Memorial Day Flag project in remembrance of the thousands of children who are killed by violence each year, and in 2001 Congress named every fourth Friday in April as Children's Memorial Flag Day.

CWLA spent 2007 and 2008 deeply immersed in reviewing the vision and mission of the organization, and how it translates into the current climate of the child welfare field. CWLA has been very involved with public policy on Capitol Hill during the past decade, with children in foster care now having higher chances of having safe and permanent homes through adoption and kinship guardianship, along with an ensured quality of educational services and health care. As we begin our 90th year, CWLA continues to call for a White House Conference on Children and Youth in the coming years. Building on the support of a strong network of members and a legacy of achievements in practice and public policy, CWLA will continue to forge strategic partnerships to best serve America's children. With the help of these partners, CWLA will strive to improve the lives of children, youth, and their families in the decades to come.

To comment on this article, e-mail voice@cwla.org.

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