Committee on Economic Security (CES)

"Social Security In America"

Part III




Chapter XIV



THERE are many conditions requiring special social service for children--situations of extreme neglect in homes, feeblemindedness in parents and children, cruel and abusive parents, illegitimate children without competent guardians, children who are delinquent, truant, or wayward, or who suffer from mental disturbances or physical handicaps. The basic service necessary to deal with these situations is child-welfare service, which should be very closely related to, and an integral part of, public-welfare service. This child-welfare service is designed to furnish skilled investigation of the individual needs of the child and to make available the services of any agencies in the community or the State that may be adapted to the particular situation.

Great progress has been made in the past 20 years in providing resources for social investigations to determine the needs of children for whom care away from home is sought, assistance to parents in furnishing proper care for their children at home, and care in foster-family homes for children who should have the benefit of life in an individual family unit. Nevertheless, as was pointed out by the White House Conference Committee on Dependency and Neglect, large numbers of children still suffer, unrelieved, in their own homes, or are separated from their homes because of poverty alone; and many child-caring agencies lack responsible organization, do not receive adequate inspection to see that certain standards of care are maintained, and have inferior, inadequate staffs.{1} Almshouses, condemned a hundred years ago as unsuitable for children, are still used for institutional care of children in some localities, and the practice has increased during the depression period. Gross forms of child exploitation, such as the virtual sale of illegitimate babies by unscrupulous persons conducting baby farms for profit, are still reported.

The Conference on Present Emergencies in the Care of Dependent and Neglected Children called by the Children's Bureau, following a

{1} White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, Dependent and Neglected Children (D. Appleton-Century Co., New York, 1933), p.6.


suggestion made by the Child Welfare League of America, in December 1933, reported that the welfare of destitute and neglected children has been seriously affected by several factors arising from the long financial depression, among them a reduction in State and local appropriations in many areas for the support of needy children by public and private agencies; a general reduction in private contributions, which heretofore have played a large part in the support of needy children; lower returns from endowment funds; lessened ability of needy parents to pay toward the support of their children; and lack of employment for needy children reaching the age of 16 or 17 years. By reason of these facts, the conference found, many children were already suffering and the welfare of many more was seriously endangered. In some communities social agencies had lists of children living in their own homes under conditions of serious neglect for whom foster care was not available.{2}

Much variation is to be found among the States in the extent to which State resources for children have been curtailed because of reduced appropriations during the period of economic depression. Comparison of appropriations for 1932 and 1934 for the work of the State departments or of divisions or bureaus of such departments serving children show that in 11 States appropriations during these 2 years increased or remained the same, that only slight decreases in funds available were found in 4 States, but that in 26 States reductions in 1934 were serious, ranging from 10 to 52 percent of the amount available in 1932. Undoubtedly a certain proportion of this cut has been met in most States by salary reduction. When this has proved insufficient to meet the lowered income, travel allowances essential to a supervisory program have been reduced and special services of various kinds have been eliminated.

State funds for institutional services for children also have been reduced during these 2 years. These reductions in institutional programs result in increased need for local provision for safeguarding children in their own homes and for careful selection of children for whom institutional care is to be provided and return of the children to the community at the earliest possible moment. Local public child-welfare services constitute the most important part of a Statewide program of child care and protection.


According to the most reliable estimate available in January 1935, approximately 250,000 dependent and neglected children in the United States were receiving care away from their own homes, of

{2} See mimeographed report, 458 Children Recommended for Placement, by Six Social Agencies, by Helen Walker (School of Applied Social Sciences, Western Reserve University, Cleveland, 1931).


whom about three-fifths were in institutions and the remainder in foster homes. These children were cared for by approximately 1,600 institutions and 400 child-placing agencies. The ratios of dependent children per 10,000 population cared for away from their homes in 32 States in 1930 ranged from 7 in South Dakota to 41 in New Hampshire, the average being 23. Approximately one-fourth of the whole number of children under care were provided for by institutions or agencies conducted by State or local governments and about three fourths by organizations under private auspices. Many institutions and agencies under private auspices receive tax funds. A survey of children under care of institutions and agencies in 1930 showed that 31 States were conducting institutions or child-placing activities for dependent children and that more than 36,000 children were receiving such care.{3}

The general trend of institutional care, on the basis of statistics of city areas reporting to the Children's Bureau, has been downward during the period of the depression, though public institutional care increased somewhat in 1933 over 1932. Foster-home care rapidly expanded to meet emergency needs, but in 1933 the trend was downward in private agencies, upward in public. Information collected by the Child Welfare League and by the Children's Bureau has portrayed the great curtailment of the resources of agencies for the protection of children deprived of normal family support and care. Federal Emergency Relief funds have not been available for the care of children away from their homes, although homeless young people have been included in the transient program.

In addition to the children being cared for away from home, many thousands of children in their own homes are receiving special protection and supervision from child-welfare agencies, public or private, or from juvenile courts. The total number of delinquent children coming before the courts each year is estimated to be over 200,000, many of them requiring probationary supervision for considerable periods. More than 75,000 illegitimate children are born each year, and special medical and social care for both mother and child must be provided in many of these cases. The White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, Committee on Physically and Mentally Handicapped, estimated that there were more than 10,000,000 handicapped children in the United States--the blind and partially seeing, the deaf and hard of hearing, the crippled, the mentally deficient or disordered, or those suffering from tuberculosis or cardiac or parasitic diseases. The parents of many of these children must be assisted by social-service as well as by medical agencies in making plans for the specialized care their needs require.

{3} Lundberg, Emma O., Child Dependency in the United States (Child Welfare League of America, New York, 1933), pp. 55-70.


In cities of 100,000 or more population throughout the United States services for the protection and care of dependent, neglected, delinquent, and physically and mentally handicapped children are usually available through both private and public agencies. Although in many cities these agencies operate only within the city limits, in others they serve the county in which the city is located. In counties having no large cities and in the towns which are the units of welfare administration in the New England States, protective services for children are seldom available unless a definite program has been developed in the State for employing county or district social workers responsible for services to children.

Up to January 1935, 12 States had recognized the need for local public services for children throughout the State and had undertaken to further such services through legislation establishing county welfare boards or departments, which were given responsibility for services to children. In addition to these States a few others had created county agencies responsible for services to dependent children, or the State department had furthered the development of local public service for children without special legislation. All these State programs place responsibility for services for children upon the county agency, and in about half of the States the agency is designated as a child-welfare board. It is desirable to develop these local welfare agencies on a broad basis of service to both children and families, including the administration of relief, and to consolidate small counties into larger welfare districts so that adequate services can be provided at reasonable overhead cost.

Even in the States having a county-welfare program progress has been extremely slow in employing social workers for services to children and to families in which there are children's problems. In many States only the counties with large populations have employed such workers, and as a result the needs of a large proportion of the children throughout the State are not met. It was estimated in 1932 that only about 5 percent of all counties in the United States with less than 30,000 population had public social workers for services to children and families.

Emergency relief brought fully into focus the needs of isolated, scattered, and financially impoverished populations. In a few States which had developed county child-welfare programs the time of the child-welfare workers was fully or partly transferred to relief administration. In many rural areas the relief workers were the first to make available any of the methods or resources of social work, and their time, of necessity, was absorbed in the overwhelming relief problems with which they were confronted.


Many kinds of services to children are needed which are not provided by an emergency relief program, including, for example, investigations of children in almshouses and the development of plans for caring for them elsewhere; investigations of cases in which applications for institutional or foster-home care have been made; protection of children against neglect and abuse; development of plans for caring for children in institutions who have reached an age when they should be discharged and supervision of these children after discharge; investigation and supervision of delinquency cases coming before the courts; plans for securing needed medical attention for physically handicapped children and custodial care or supervision for children who are mentally defective. For effective operation local child-welfare programs should be closely related to family-welfare and relief programs and where possible should be part of a unified public-welfare service.


The standards for the development of local public social services for children have been described by the White House Conference Committee on Organization for the Care of Handicapped Children as including (1) field service to discover the children who need care and protection, to inquire into their circumstances, and to devise and carry through individualized treatment; (2) various types of care, within the local unit or available to it, including provision for family adjustments, with home relief when necessary, care and support (away from home), and medical, diagnostic, and remedial services; and (3) public funds appropriated to pay the salaries of persons qualified by training and experience to deal with the intricate problems of child care, and also to pay for the support of children who need it, in their own homes or elsewhere.{4}

Standards for number of workers needed and cost of services of the kinds that have been described are still indefinite. The experience of two States where county children's workers have been provided for most of the counties gives some indication of the size of the rural and town population that has been served by one worker. In Alabama special children's workers have been made available to all but a few counties through State funds for this purpose. (This service was largely discontinued during 1933 but is now being reinstated.) The population of counties employing one worker varied from 12,000 to 59,000, but the general average for the State, includ-

{4} White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, Organization for the Care of Handicapped Children, National, State, and Local (Century Co., New York, 1933), pp. 14-15.


ing counties employing two or more persons, was one worker for 30,000 population. In New York children's workers have been employed by county superintendents of public welfare. In the smaller counties the average population served per worker is 36,000.

Exclusive of the New England States, in which the cities and the towns are the administrative units, there are 2,859 counties in the United States having populations of less than 100,000. Of these, 1,720 have populations of less than 20,000 and 543 have population of 20,000 to 30,000. The service of children's workers should be available to all these counties. It is probable that for most or all of those with less than 20,000 population welfare administration should be based on a district plan, combining two or more counties in a welfare district. Some of the counties having populations between 20,000 and 30,000 also should be included in larger welfare districts, more than one worker being provided. The number of county workers needed to provide social services to children in counties of 30,000 to 100,000 population will be influenced by the facilities for such service that may be provided by the cities within the county and the need for specialization in service.

A suggested minimum budget for a broad program of service to children in a county with a population of 15,000 to 20,000, starting a program, is given below:

Service expenditures $3,700-$4,600
Salary of social worker 1,800-2,400
Salary of clerical worker 900-1,200
Automobile 500
Travel expenses 400
Office expenses 100

The development of local public services for children is one of the important functions of a State department of welfare. Without an adequate staff little can be accomplished in building up a sound program of local service in rural areas or small towns. State workers are necessary to demonstrate the need for social services to the county and to stimulate the interest of county officials. Where local workers are appointed, the State workers must develop the standards of case work, serve as consultants on special problems, and help to relate this local service to the institutional care provided by the State, so that the necessary investigations before admission, and also followup care after discharge, can be provided.

The experience of the State welfare departments that have accomplished the most in the development of local services indicates that a State supervisor of children's work should be provided for each 12 or 15 counties or districts as a maximum. Supervising a smaller


number of counties would result in more effective service. The actual number of counties or districts assigned to State supervisors must depend upon the training and experience of the local workers, the development of the local social services, and the stability of the local program. In States with services to children and families combined in the same local units the State supervisory staff should give service in both fields. Under any form of organization persons on the staff of the State department equipped to advise with reference to special problems--for example, juvenile delinquency--are needed. In addition, the State must provide adequate personnel for inspection and supervision of institutions and child-placing activities, for direct care of children by the State if that is a function of the State department, and for research and statistical service. Assistance in developing standards for the selection of personnel and promoting opportunities for training in social work are important aspects of a State welfare program.

State grants-in-aid for local child-welfare services, utilizing the equalization principle, are essential to the development of services outside the largest cities and afford a powerful impetus toward the development of improved standards of care. The White House Conference Committee on Organization for the Care of Handicapped Children stated that the vast differences in the wealth of counties and the likelihood that the poorest localities will require relatively more service and more money for support make it imperative that some plan of equalization be adopted so that State and Federal funds may help meet the costs of county child-welfare programs, as they now contribute to the cost of schools.{5} Except in the field of aid to dependent children, for the benefit of children remaining in their own homes, only Alabama, New Mexico, and North Carolina have made a beginning in State contributions to county child-welfare service.


The White House Conference Committee on Organization for the Care of Handicapped Children stated that grants-in-aid constitute "the most effective basis for national and State cooperation in promoting child welfare and in securing the establishment of that national minimum of care and protection which is the hope of every citizen."{6} Contribution by the Federal Government of part of the funds required to develop the child-welfare services of State welfare departments, including assistance in the development of the child-

{5} Ibid., p. 20.

{6} Ibid., p. 6.


welfare services of local public-welfare or child-welfare units, would help to bring the protection afforded to children in the backward and the poorer areas to a reasonably adequate level. An annual Federal appropriation of $1,500,000, for the purpose of cooperating with State public-welfare agencies in establishing, extending, and strengthening, especially in predominantly rural areas, public welfare services for the protection and care of homeless, dependent, and neglected children, and children in danger of becoming delinquent, should result in far-reaching improvement in the standards of child care and protection throughout the country.