25th Anniversary

A Quarter-Century of Service to Children


thumbnail of Lenroot

Of the three component bureaus of the Social Security Administration, two are concerned completely with administration of programs under the Social Security Act. The Children's Bureau, however, had already been in existence for 23 years. The Act extended the bureau's services by the addition of three grant-in-aid programs to the states. At that time, Miss Lenroot was Chief of the Children's Bureau.

Incorporation of provisions for children in the 1935 Social Security Act came at a time when their needs had been the subject of unprecedented concern throughout the nation. In part this was due to the studies and reports of the Children's Bureau and many public and voluntary agencies, and conferences highlighting the obstacles preventing the attainment of the democratic idea of a fair chance for every child. In part it reflected the bitter experience of the depression years, when about eight million children under 16 years of age were in families receiving unemployment relief; undernourishment, lack of medical and health care, and other conditions were impairing child health; and existing services for children, both public and private, in many areas were being sharply curtailed.


In its report to the President, transmitted by him to the Congress on January 17, 1935, the Committee on Economic Security said: "The core of any social plan must be the child." The Act as passed by Congress provided grants to states for maternal and child health services, $3,800,000; for services for crippled children, $2,850,000; and for child welfare services, $1,500,000. The main emphasis was to be placed on rural areas and areas suffering from severe economic distress or in special need. Unusual features of the maternal and child health provisions were that part of the federal funds authorized did not have to be matched by state funds; and that state plans must show provision for extension and improvement of local services, and for demonstration services in needy areas and among groups in special need. Funds authorized for crippled children's services were for the purpose of extending and improving a broad range of services and care for "children who are crippled or who are suffering from conditions which lead to crippling." Under these provisions, broad definitions of "crippling" could be used, and great impetus was given to comprehensive programs focused on the total needs of the child, and to work that would obviate or minimize permanently handicapping conditions.

The language pertaining to child welfare services was broad and flexible, providing for funds to be used by cooperating state public welfare agencies, on the basis of plans to be developed jointly by the state agency and the Children's Bureau, to pay for part of the cost of local child welfare services in areas predominantly rural, and "for developing State services for the encouragement and assistance of adequate methods of community child-welfare organization in areas predominantly rural and other areas of special need."


On the basis of these legislative provisions, the Children's Bureau, with the counsel of advisory committees and conferences with state administrators, proceeded to develop broad policies and to work with the states in helping them to establish structures and programs suitable to carry out the purposes of the Act. Work had to be done in some states in building a state organization "from scratch", and in all states in setting up staffing plans and personnel practices which would assure the appointment and retention of qualified personnel; in providing for training programs, through stipends or educational leave for study in professional schools, and through staff development programs, to compensate for extreme shortages of professionally trained personnel; and in assuring, in the health programs, opportunities for advanced specialized study in various fields.

The importance of widespread sharing of technical information was recognized, and was supplied in part by the Bureau's regional consultants, supplemented by specialized personnel, and strengthened by the Bureau's primary function of research and dissemination of information. Great stress was placed on inter-professional team work. Many problems of relationship between the different specialized services, and between general and specialized health and welfare programs presented themselves, and were dealt with differently, and with varying results, in different states.

The basic principle followed in planning programs, especially in child welfare, was that of taking each state where it was, and encouraging initiative and flexibility, with great emphasis on local responsibility. At the same time, emphasis was placed in all three programs on broad scope, comprehensive and well-rounded programs, and the development of high standards of care and service. Especially significant work was done in establishing standards and fiscal policies for medical and hospital care. The term "child welfare service" was seen for the first time, in many states, as extending far beyond institutional care, or foster home care, or protective services, or cooperation with juvenile courts, to include a variety of measures, such as casework service, homemaker service, and day care, to strengthen and supplement the child's own home so that he could remain in it.


In these early years, unemployment and widespread poverty still prevailed, for the United States was climbing only slowly from the depths of the depression. With the onset of war the whole background changed. Shortage, rather than surplus, of manpower characterized many industries. As defense and war work mushroomed families were uprooted, fathers were taken into military service, mothers were incorporated rapidly into the labor force, jobs opened up for older children. Building on foundations laid in the maternal and child health program, provision was made for emergency maternity and infant care for wires and babies of men in the armed services, financed by appropriations to the Children's Bureau for grants to state health agencies. Problems of day care of children, protection of children and young people in army camp or ever industry areas, juvenile unrest and delinquency, required and received attention. It was a constant struggle to maintain standards of service and to hold personnel in the face of wartime pressures.

In order that the fullest possible cooperation of professional and citizens' groups could be obtained, the Children's Bureau took the initiative in establishing the National Commission on Children in War-time, a broadly representative body, under the Chairmanship of Leonard W. Mayo. Later, under the title "National Commission on Children and Youth," this body laid the groundwork for the Mid-century White House Conference on Children and Youth.

Children's services on all levels of government and under both public and voluntary auspices were called upon for assistance in planning for protection of families and children under possible military attack. Health and welfare personnel were drawn into service overseas. Numbers of European children were brought to this country from war-torn areas, and cared for in foster homes or group care, with the cooperation of national, state and local public and voluntary agencies. The foundations of international cooperation in child health and welfare were laid, especially in the western hemisphere, and in planning for these aspects of the projected United Nations Organization.

In the later stages of the war, and after the cessation of hostilities, stress was laid on post-war planning for children. This involved preparation and consideration of legislative proposals in the federal government and the states, as part of the programs conceived for the purpose of providing more fully for the health and welfare needs of our people.


Between 1935 and 1949, authorizations for grants to states for children's services were increased twice, and in 1950 substantial increases were made, as a result of consideration by Congressional committees of various proposals for strengthening the Social Security Act. In the course of working with the states on policies for the expanded programs, the scope of work was broadened and intensified. In later years still more money was authorized. Federal participation in child welfare programs was broadened in 1958 to include urban areas as well as rural areas and areas of special need. This change reflected the rapid transformation of American society to a highly urban and industrial civilization.

In the last decade, renewed emphasis was given by the Children's Bureau to its original function of research. The results of new scientific knowledge, particularly in immunology, medical care, and surgical procedures, were applied in state programs receiving federal aid. Significant work was done in such fields as adoption and juvenile delinquency, and in service to some of the most deprived groups in American life, such as the children of migrant agricultural workers. Inter-agency cooperation through the Inter-departmental Committee on Children and Youth was intensified. The broad scope and the constituent elements of a child welfare program were outlined and presented in the 1959 report of the Advisory Council on Child Welfare Services.

Perhaps the two most significant developments in the last decade have been (1) increasing emphasis on the components of healthy personality in children-- highlighted by the Mid-century Conference on Children and Youth--and (2) concern with the impact of our massive, highly organized and complex social life and social forces on children and young people, as they struggle to achieve a sense of belonging and an opportunity to realize their own identity and find purpose and meaning in life--reflected in the vast scope of the 1960 Conference.


As we look forward to another 25 years, whose characteristics we can identify only as those related to still more accelerated and almost unimaginable change, we are faced with many challenges, among them the following:

1. To advance still further in our understanding of mental health and the emotional problems of children, and their need for a sense of purpose and direction; and to apply this knowledge in all areas of family and community service.

2. To direct our services to families and individuals, and our community programs, toward strengthening the initiative, resourcefulness, variety, and richness of family and community life.

To determine the means by which we as a people, in our family, economic, governmental, and social life, and in our voluntary associations and services, can advance toward these ends, calls for the highest statesmanship, the most elevated moral purpose, and the greatest insight into the glorious possibilities and the grave dangers of the present age.