The Role of CWLA in Standards Development
From its earliest days, setting standards for child welfare services has been considered a major purpose of the League. This was, in fact, one of the main reasons for the creation in 1915 of the Bureau for Exchange of Information, a voluntary union of 37 agencies that, in 1920, became incorporated as the Child Welfare League of America. In 1921, C.C. Carstens, the League’s first Executive, commented in a field report:

(I) spent the last week…for purpose of interpreting progressive standards in child welfare to the various children’s agencies of the community…The fields of these various children’s agencies and their standards are very diverse. To point out the need for a standardizing agency, one need cite the situation in one of the fields visited. First, this society has no family records; secondly, ministers of the Gospel who were in most instances no longer considered suitable for their work, have been chosen to be district superintendents. There are no real social workers in the group. These district superintendents spend at least half their time collecting funds. They visit children of a community when they happen to be there for collecting money unless a great emergency has arisen in regard to a specific child…There is very little appreciation as yet of their lack of good standards. 1

In 1930, Carstens explained why it’s necessary for a national voluntary agency to perform the standard-setting function:

There is opportunity for an educational and standardizing service on the part of a private agency working with organizations, bringing no implication of control but interpreting and assisting an agency to do its own work more effectively…The great diversity of children’s agencies in all our cities and states makes such a national agency particularly exigent. 2
Standards as a way of determining quality had top priority with the very beginnings of the League. The early standards were written by various staff members, approved by the Board, and given in full in the minutes of the Board meeting. 3

In 1939, when the need for a national voluntary child welfare organization was being reviewed, its standard-setting function was considered one of the cogent reasons for continuing the League. 4

In 1955, the development of standards as they are known today became a regular program of the League with a three-year grant from the Ittleson Family Foundation. When receiving the grant, the Board agreed to fund the standards program after the first three years.

In 1960, the Board of Directors formally approved a proposal that “formulating, bringing up to date, and implementing standards of practice should be continued and an ongoing program activity of the League.” 5

The 1970s saw a proliferation of standards among “self-interest organizations.” The CWLA Standards continued to be viewed as unique because of the way they are developed, their emphasis on service and quality, and the emphasis on substantiation of the value of good practice. 6

In 1986, CWLA’s Board of Directors determined:

The League

[has] the obligation to keep in the forefront, to review constantly changing conditions, to be informed of newly developing knowledge, to evaluate the effectiveness of current practice, so as to know when it is appropriate to redefine the frame of reference by setting new goals for practice through standard revisions. 7

Making Children a National Priority, CWLA’s strategic plan for 2000-2010, includes standards as one of six organizational goals:

A primary goal of the Child Welfare League of America is to develop and disseminate practice standards as benchmarks for high quality services that protect children and youth and strengthen families and neighborhoods. 8

1. Turitz, Z.R. (1967). Development and Use of National Standards for Child Welfare Services, Child Welfare, 46: p. 245.
2. Ibid, p. 246.
3. Swan, C.J. (1980). History of the Child Welfare League of America and Its Accomplishments. New York: CWLA, p. 11.
4. Turitz, op. cit., p. 246.
5. Turitz, op. cit., p. 246.
6. Swan, C.J., op. cit.
7. CWLA. (1986). Concept Paper for the Development of National Standards for Child Welfare Services. Washington, DC: Author, p. 2.
8. CWLA. (2000). Making Children a National Priority: CWLA Strategic Plan for 2000-2010. Washington, DC: Author, p. 5.