Monday, May 01, 2006

A very short history of child protection

Pop quiz: Which group had legal protection from abuse first: animals or children?

Even if you did not know, you probably guessed based upon the fact that I asked the question.

In 1866 Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The ASPCA successfully lobbied the state of New York to enact the nations first laws forbidding cruelty to animals. Other societies sprung up in other states where more anti-cruelty laws were passed. (Often the laws were primarily concerned with the treatment of draft animals, not pets).

In 1874 a woman named Etta Wheeler came to the society to ask for help in rescuing Mary Ellen. The society successfully obtained custody and placed her in a new home. In New York a second society was quickly founded, The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. You can read accounts of Mary Ellen's story here.

This was the beginning of legal child protection in America. In other states single organizations (e.g. The American Humane Society) were formed. Different states had different laws, virtually none of which were enforced. Families were private matters.

The first federal law criminalizing child abuse did not come into being until 100 years after Mary Ellen's day in court.

There are so many failures in our child protection system. So many things it does wrong. Perhaps we should not be surprised, here in the states at least we have only been at it for 32 years. (I know nothing about the history of child protection in other countries.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be open for a little while, then I will be shutting them off. The blog will stay, but I do not want either to moderate comments or leave the blog available to spammers.