Child welfare policies and initiatives target the care, health, and well-being of children, with the goal of improving child health with the public health sector. These policies and initiatives aim to protect children from the harmful effects of poverty, family and parenting problems, child abuse and neglect, and inadequate resources.
Reducing poverty among children has been a major concern of child welfare. According to the Children's Defense Fund, one in five American children lived in poverty in 2000. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 changed the emphasis of American welfare policy from subsidizing poor families with children to promoting the employment of adult family members through a variety of programs. The possible long-term impact of this legislation on American children has raised concerns among child advocates, who have recommended a "safety net" of special services for children. The availability of food stamps, Medicaid, health insurance, housing, transportation, and child care through state and federal programs has been viewed as essential to the support of poor families with children.
Child welfare policies and initiatives have also addressed the prevention, identification, and treatment of child abuse and neglect. In 1997, almost 3 million American children were reported to have been abused or neglected. Of those cases reported, almost 1 million were substantiated. Child protective services are available in most American communities for investigating reports of child abuse and neglect and developing plans to address these concerns. Home visitor programs, parenting programs, community counseling and social services, and other forms of family support are intended to prevent or reduce the potential for abuse and neglect of children. However, many children (over 520,000 in 1998) end up being placed outside their homes in foster care, kinship care, or residential care, each year. Tragically, many children suffer severe emotional and physical trauma as a result of child abuse and neglect, and several children die each day from abuse or neglect.
Child advocates stress the need to improve child welfare policies and the welfare system. Improving the welfare of children requires a concerted effort from parents, extended family, neighbors, community services, health professionals and educators, and the faith community, as well as local, state, and federal government.
Deborah G. Goulish
(see also: Child Care, Daycare; Child Health Services; Domestic Violence; Women, Infants, and Children Program [WIC] )
—— (2000). The State of America's Children Yearbook 2000. Washington, DC: CDF.
Child Welfare League of America (2000). Children 2000: Faces of the Future National Fact Sheet. Available at http://www.cwla.org/advocacy/nationalfactsheet00.html.
Hutchidson. E. D., and Charlesworth, L. (2000). "Securing the Welfare of Children: Policies Past, Present, and Future." Families in Society: the Journal of Contemporary Human Services 81:576–585.
Smith, L. A.; Wise, B.; Chavkin, W.; Romero, D.; and Zuckerman, B. (2000). "Implications of Welfare Reform for Child Health: Emerging Challenges for Clinical Practice and Policy." Pediatrics 1117–1125.