Children's Bureau

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CHILDREN'S BUREAU. Signed into law by President William Howard Taft in 1912, during the Progressive Era, the U.S. Children's Bureau (CB) is the oldest federal agency for children and is currently one of six bureaus within the United States Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families. The Children's Bureau was the brainchild of Lillian D. Wald and Florence Kelley, pioneers in children's rights advocacy. After nine years of efforts and a White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children, this federal agency was created to investigate and promote the best means for protecting a right to childhood; the first director was Julia Clifford Lathrop, a woman credited with helping to define the role of women in public policy development.

For its first thirty-four years of existence, the bureau was the only agency focused solely on the needs of children. Lathrop and her successors were the primary authors of child welfare policy through 1946, during this time they made significant contributions in raising awareness about the needs of children and families in both urban and rural settings. Their efforts were most evident in the reduction of the nation's maternal and infant mortality rate. The maternal mortality rate dropped from 60.8 deaths per 10,000 live births in 1915 to 15.7 in 1946. The infant mortality rate dropped from 132 deaths per 1,000 live births in 1912 to 33.8 in 1946. The agency was also notable in this time for its studies that recognized race, ethnicity, class, and region as factors in the experiences of children. In 1946, government reorganization transferred the agency to the newly formed Federal Security Agency, and shifted several of its administrative responsibilities to other agencies, thus decreasing the agency's power and status within the federal government.

The bureau did fall short during these first three decades in advocating for children from non-traditional households, including children of working mothers. The agency also failed to recognize and advocate the needs of children who did not come from middle class families, equating a normal home life with middle class ideals. The agency's solution for many struggling families was to place their children in foster homes where they could experience a "normal home life."

Today the bureau is headed by an associate commissioner who advises the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families on matters related to child welfare, including child abuse and neglect, child protective services, family preservation and support, adoption, foster care and independent living. It recommends legislative and budgetary proposals, operational planning system objectives and initiatives, and projects and issue areas for evaluation, research and demonstration activities. With a budget of over four billion dollars, the agency provides grants to states, tribes and communities to operate such services as child protective services, family preservation and support, foster care, adoption, and independent living.

The Children's Bureau has five branches: the Office of Child Abuse and Neglect; the Division of Policy; the Division of Program Implementation; the Division of Data, Research, and Innovation; and the Division of Child Welfare Capacity Building. Through these five branches, the agency works toward the enforcement of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), the Children's Justice Act, the Indian Child Welfare Act, and directs the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect Information Clearinghouse and the National Adoption Information Clearing house.


Children's Bureau, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Administration for Children and Families. On-line,, accessed February 23, 2002.

Levine, Murray, and Adeline Levine. A Social History of Helping Services: Clinic, Court, School and Community. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1970.

Lindenmeyer, Kriste. "A Right to Childhood": The U.S. Children's Bureau and Child Welfare, 1912–46. Urbana: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Mary AnneHansen

See alsoHealth and Human Services, Department of ; Progressive Movement .

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Children's Bureau

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