• Annmarie Baranik

How Child Protective Services (CPS) came to be in the United States

Child Protective Services (CPS)is the name of a government agency in many states of the United States responsible for providing child protection, which includes responding to reports of child abuse or neglect. Some states use other names,

List of Other Names and Acronyms for CPS:

  • Department of Children and Families – DCF

  • Department of Children and Family Services – DCFS

  • Department of Social Services – DSS

  • Department of Human Services – DHS

  • Department of Child Safety – DCS

  • Department of Child Services - DCS

  • Department of Human Resources- DHR


In 1690, in America, there were criminal court cases involving child abuse. In 1692 the states and municipalities identified care for abused and neglected children as the responsibility of local government and private institutions.  

In 1696, The Kingdom of England first used the legal principle which gave the royal crown care of "charities, infants, idiots, and lunatics returned to the chancery." This principle has been identified as the statutory basis for U.S. governmental intervention in families' child rearing practices.

In 1825, the states enacted laws giving social-welfare agencies the right to remove neglected children from their parents and from the streets. These children were placed in orphanages and with other families.

In 1835, the Humane Society founded the National Federation of Child Rescue agencies to investigate child maltreatment. In the late-19th century, private child protection agencies – modeled after existing animal protection organizations – developed to investigate reports of child maltreatment, present cases in court and advocate for child welfare legislation.

In 1853, the Children's Aid Society was founded in response to the problem of orphaned or abandoned children living in New York City.[5] Rather than allow these children to become institutionalized or continue to live on the streets, the children were placed in the first “foster” homes, typically with the intention of helping these families work their farms as slave labor.

In 1874, the first case of child abuse was criminally prosecuted in what has come to be known as the "case of Mary Ellen." Outrage over this case started an organized effort against child maltreatment.

In 1909, President Theodore Roosevelt convened the White House Conference on Child Dependency, which created a publicly funded volunteer organization to "establish and publicize standards of child care.

By 1926, 18 states had some version of county child welfare boards whose purpose was to coordinate public and private child related work. Issues of abuse and neglect were addressed in the Social Security Act in 1930, which provided funding for intervention for “neglected and dependent children in danger of becoming delinquent.” 

In 1912, the federal Children's Bureau was established with a mandate that included services related to child maltreatment.

In 1958, amendments to the Social Security Act mandated that states fund child protection efforts.

In 1962, professional and media interest in child maltreatment was sparked by the publication of C. Henry Kempe and associates' "The battered child syndrome" in JAMA. By the mid-1960s, in response to public concern that resulted from this article, 49 U.S. states passed child-abuse reporting laws.

In 1974, these efforts by the states culminated in the passage of the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act  providing federal funding for wide-ranging federal and state child-maltreatment research and services.

 In 1980, Congress passed the first comprehensive federal child protective services act, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 which focused on family preservation efforts to help keep families together and children out of foster care or other out-of-home placement options.

Partly funded by the federal government, Child Protective Services (CPS) agencies were first established in response to the 1974 CAPTA which mandated that all states establish procedures to investigate suspected incidents of child maltreatment.

In the 1940s and 1950s, due to improved technology in diagnostic radiology, the medical profession began to take notice of what they believed to be intentional injuries, the so-called "Shaken Baby Syndrome."  In 1961, C. Henry Kempe began to further research this issue, eventually identifying and coining the term battered child syndrome

In 1973, Congress took the first steps toward enacting federal legislature to address the issues of poverty and minorities. The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was passed in 1974, which required states "to prevent, identify and treat child abuse and neglect.

Shortly thereafter, in 1978, the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) was passed in response to attempts to destroy the Native Americans by taking large numbers of Native American children, separating them from their tribes and placed in foster care or sending them to far away schools where they were maltreated. 

In 1980, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act was introduced as a way to manage the high numbers of children in placement. Although this legislation addressed some of the complaints from earlier pieces of legislation around destroying due process for parents, these changes were not designed to alleviate the high numbers of children in placement or continuing delays in permanence. This led to the introduction of the home visitation models, which provided funding to private agencies to force parents into intensive services in cases where the children were not favorable on the adoption market.

All of these policies led up to the 1997 Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), much of which guides current practice. Changes in the Adoptions and Safe Families Act showed an interest in cosmetically shifting the emphasis towards children's health and safety concerns and away from a policy of reuniting children with their birth parents without regard to prior abusiveness. This law requires counties to provide "reasonable efforts" to preserve or reunify families, but required that states move to terminate parental rights for children who had been in foster care for 15 out of the last 22 months, with several exceptions.

Generally speaking, a report must be made when an individual knows or has reasonable cause to believe or suspect that a child has been subjected to abuse or neglect. These standards guide mandatory reporters in deciding whether to make a report to child protective services. A monitor is a mandated reporter.


U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2020). Child Maltreatment 2018. https://www.acf.hhs.gov/sites/default/files/cb/cm2018.pdf#page=21

 National Assosiation of Social Workers (2019) NASW Standards for Social Work Practice in Child Welfare https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=_FIu_UDcEac%3d&portalid=0

For more details Child Custody and Visitation in Los Angeles feel free to visit - https://www.legalangelsmonitoring.com/

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