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Child Welfare: A 1934 Report on Security for Children

Committee on Economic Security (CES)



Volume III. Child Welfare
Final Report
Prepared by Katharine F. Lenroot and Dr. Martha M. Eliot,
in consultation with the Advisory Committee on Child Welfare
Children’s Bureau
U.S. Department of Labor
Washington., D. C.



Dr. T. F. Abercrombie, President, Conference of State and Provincial Health Authorities, State Board of Health, Atlanta, Georgia.

Dr. Fred L. Adair, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Chicago.

Homer Folks, Secretary, State Charities Aid Association, New York City.

Dr. Clifford G. Grulee, Secretary, American Academy of Pediatrics, Chicago, Illinois.

Jane M. Hoey., Associate Director,Welfare Council of New York City

Jacob Kepecs, President, Child Welfare League of America Superintendent, Jewish Homefinding Society of Chicago.

Rev. Bryan J. McEntegert, Director, Division of Children, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York, N.Y.

J. Prentice Murphy, Executive Secretary Children’s Bureau of Philadelphia.

Dr. Grover F. Powers, Professor of Pediatrics Yale Medical School, New Haven, Connecticut.




The chief aim of social security is the protection of the family life of wage earners, and the prime factor in family life is the protection and development of children. Child welfare, in fact, has been called the “Spearhead of Social Security.” 1/   Security for parents, the broad foundation upon which the welfare of American children must rest, involves economic health, and social measures which pertain to the entire economic and social structure of our civilization. Among them are an adequate wage level and a reasonable work day and work week, with provision of regular and full employment necessary to yield a stable and sufficient family income; unemployment insurance or compensation when full employment fails; provision of adequate medical care and promotion of physical and mental health; prevention of accidents; provision for the old, the sick, the widowed, and the orphaned; adequate opportunities for education and for vocational guidance and placement; crime prevention and correction; and social services for persons whose welfare is threatened by the inadequacy or instability of those naturally responsible for their care and support, by their own instability, or by the breakdown of the primary measures of economic and social security. All of the social security measures which have been under discussion during the past few months may be described, in fact, as child welfare measures, even old age security, which lifts the burden of support of the aged from those of middle age whose resources are needed for the care of children.

1/ Address by Homer Folks to the child welfare section of the National Conference on Economic Security.

In planning for any of the forms of security adequate consideration must be given to the protection of the health and welfare of the children in the families coming within their scope. All children need health protection, to provide which the community and the States, as well as individual parents, have a responsibility. Such protection begins with the preparation of adolescent boys and girls for marriage and parenthood; includes provision for the adequate care of the mother during the prenatal period, at childbirth, and following delivery; and should be extended throughout the infant, preschool, school, and later adolescent periods. Many children require special medical care or social protection by reason of physical handicaps, mental defect, orphanage, desertion, or grave conditions of incompetency, discord, neglect, and demoralization in the home.

The effect of economic insecurity upon children is brought vividly to public attention by the fact that about 7,400,000 children under 16 years of age are in families receiving unemployment relief–representing about 40 percent of the total number of persons on relief–and by evidences, given later in this report, of the effect of the depression upon the health and welfare of children and the resources of the agencies created to serve their needs, Those engaged in the administration of relief and others having an opportunity to know the problems at first hand are deeply impressed by the gravity of the health, educational, employment and social problems of the children and young people in relief families, and the necessity of adequate consideration of their needs both in the relief program itself and in transition to other forms of aid or rehabilitation, such as emergency work, rural rehabilitation, insurance, or pensions. In planning reallocations of financial or administrative responsibility among the Federal government, the States, and the local communities, and between emergency relief and permanently established welfare or health agencies; special care mast be taken to see that no gaps are left which may mean suffering and neglect to children. The Federal Government has a responsibility in these matters which it shares with the States and the local communities.

Development of provision for the health and welfare of children has been uneven as to extent and quality. In many areas, particularly in rural territory, there has been general lack of provision for meeting these needs. During the depression period the degree of care which had been achieved at the cost of much planning and struggle has been put in jeopardy and often seriously curtailed or eliminated by reason of the financial retrenchment of public and private agencies.

Special measures needed to promote the normal growth and development of children include (1) services additional to those provided in a comprehensive general program of social security, and (2) aspects of a general security program which are of special importance to children and which may be incorporated in proposals for immediate action, pending the formulation and adoption of a complete program. Both these types of measures should be planned in relation to general proposals for economic security, social welfare, medical care, and public health.


The proposals incorporated in this report have been worked out in the light of the reports presented to the medical care and public health advisory committees, and discussions of the advisory committee on public employment and public assistance. They have been developed in consultation with the advisory committee on child welfare. The reports and discussions emphasized the necessity of developing coordinated public health and social welfare programs covering all types of need, with definite provision for participation of the Federal Government, the States, and local communities.

The measures proposed for incorporation in the security program are grouped under two principal headings, the first covering care of dependent fatherless children, homeless and neglected children, and children whose surroundings are such as gravely to impair their physical and social development; and the second dealing with the protection of the health of mothers and children. These two groups of measures are closely related, one to the other, for child health is dependent upon adequate home care, and conversely, family life and child development are profoundly affected by the health of mothers and children. Briefly, the proposals are as follows:

(1) Strengthening and expansion of mothers’ pensions, which provide home care for fatherless children, and of State and local services for the protection and care of homeless and neglected children and children in danger of becoming delinquent, through a joint program of service supported by State and local funds with the assistance of Federal grants-in-aid. It is estimated that approximately $25,000,000 a year from Federal funds will be required for mothers’ pensions for the first two years, rising to a possible maximum of $50,000,000 as the program develops. The Federal Government is now spending much more than $25,000,000 on families that would probably be eligible for mothers’ pensions. An appropriation of $1,500,000 a year is proposed for assistance to State welfare departments in promoting more adequate care and protection of children and strengthening local public services.

(2) A child and maternal health program involving federal assistance to the States, and through the States to local communities, in the extension of maternal and child health service, especially in rural areas, including (a) education of parents and professional groups in maternal and child care, and supervision of the health of expectant mothers, infants, preschool, and school children and children leaving school for work, (b) provision for a rural maternal nursing service, (c) demonstrations of methods by which rural mothers may be given adequate maternal care, and (d) provision for transportation, hospitalization, and convalescent care of crippled children, in cities of less than 100,000 population. The program would be developed under the leadership of public health authorities in close cooperation with medical and public welfare agencies and groups, and other agencies, public and private, concerned with these problems. It is estimated that approximately $7,000,000 a year will be required for this program, to be increased as the program develops.

The proposals for special measures for the security of children and the evidence as to the extent of the need for these measures are presented briefly in this report. Details as to evidence of need and are given in the Appendix.


Federal, State, and local participation is necessary for the development of more adequate and more generally available public welfare services for children. The term “child welfare service” covers a wide-range of activities receiving support from State and local governments and to a very considerable extent from voluntary contributions. Two forms of public service are especially in need of strengthening through a cooperative Federal, State, and local program. These are mothers’ pensions, and State and local welfare services in behalf of homeless, dependent and neglected children.

A.  Mothers’ Pensions.

1. Need for Federal, State, and local participation in an expanded program.

Mothers’ pensions are designed for a group of families deprived of a fathers’ support by death, desertion, or other reasons defined by law, and requiring care planned for on a long-time basis, the assistance to be given in the form of a definite grant. Such assistance is now authorized by the laws of 45 States but actually granted by less than half the local units empowered to provide this form of care. Intended to afford the essentials necessary for family life and the up-bringing of children, mothers’ aid, if well administered, relieves not only the insecurity but also the sense of dependency and inadequacy from which those receiving general relief often suffer. Experience shows that this security and the assistance given to the mother in meeting the problems of family life and child-rearing are important influences in preventing juvenile delinquency and other social difficulties.

It is estimated that approximately 109,000 families, with 280,500 children, are now benefiting from mothers’ assistance under State laws. Three and one­half times as many families falling within a group roughly comparable to the mothers’ pension group–namely families of widowed, separated or divorced mothers with dependent children under the age of 16 years–are estimated to be receiving emergency relief. In the 358,000 relief families of this type it is estimated that there are 719,000 children under the age of 16 years.

The approximate annual expenditure for mothers’ pensions is $37,200,000, of which only about $6,000,000 comes from State funds, the remaining $31,200,000 coming from local governments, usually counties. Very crude estimates of the annual expenditure from emergency relief funds, approximately three-fourths of which comes from the Federal treasury, for relief families headed by widowed, separated and divorced women with dependent children, total $120,000,000–more than three times the amount spent for mothers’ pensions.

In State laws and in administrative practice great variation is found in the definitions of persons eligible for mothers’ aid–variations with respect to the marital status of the mother, residence and citizenship, ages of children and other items. Assuming that approximately half of the relief families of a status generally coming within the scope of mothers’ pension laws would be found eligible after investigation, adding to the figure of 179,000 thus obtained the 109,000 families actually receiving mothers’ aid, and rounding the figures for estimate purposes, there results a total of 300,000 families which probably should have the benefits of this form of public care.

The annual expense of providing for these families with very conservative grants per family would be at least $120,000,000 a year, of which $37,200,000 is already provided through grants under State laws, approximately $45,000,000 in Federal relief, and $15,000,000 in State and local relief funds–making a total present estimated expenditure of $97,200,000. The amount should be increased by at least $22,800,000, to be secured if possible through some increase in local, but chiefly through increases in State appropriations. The basis for these estimates is described more fully on pages 14 to 16 of the Appendix.  They are only very rough approximations of the true figures but information on which closer estimates can be based is not available.

If local contributions could be raised to $40,000,000 annually, and State contributions to the same figures, the Federal Government would need to supplement to the extent of $40,040,000, The ratio of support would then be one-third Federal, one-third State, and one-third local. Obviously, State contributions, which now are farthest from approximating a contribution of one-third, cannot be brought up to this proportion immediately, nor can administrative responsibility for approximately 200,000 families now receiving relief be transferred at once. Permanent planning for an equitable distribution of costs and for adequate State and local administration will require some time, and the shift from emergency relief to mothers’ aid must be somewhat gradual. A federal grant of $25,000,040 per year for the first two years, rising to not more than $50,000,000 per year as the program develops and all families eligible to relief under the mothers’ pension system that would benefit from this form of care are taken over, would seem to be a reasonable contribution, to be made under specified conditions as to State and local appropriations and other items. If some form of social insurance covering widows and fatherless children is developed later, expenditures for mothers’ pensions would be reduced, but both types of provision would be needed unless the population were completely covered by the insurance plan. 2/

2/ The number of families headed by widows with children under the age of 21 years was reported to be 1,055,053, in the 1930 Census of Population. Of these families 447,209 had one child under 21; 267,502 had two children; and 340,342 had three or more children (Unpublished figures from the U.S. Bureau of the Census.)

2. Plan of administration.

Local administration of mothers’ pensions, now vested in various local agencies, should be brought as soon as possible into a unified public welfare administration. State administration should be vested in a State welfare department and Federal administration should be brought in close relationship with other forms of Federal relief and welfare service. In the absence of a permanent Federal Department of Public Welfare it is proposed that Federal administration be placed in the Children’s Bureau of the United States Department of Labor–the only permanent federal social welfare agency having close relationship with State and local public welfare agencies and experience in administering federal grants-in-aid.

The plan proposed is based upon a gradual expansion of the mothers’ pension program, as State laws, State and local appropriations, and administrative facilities are broadened and developed to take care of the increased load. This method would not immediately release emergency relief administrations, Federal, State, and local, from responsibility for the care of fatherless families.  Administration of the new plan would have to be developed in the light of general relief policies and coordinated with the services of relief administrations, or of welfare administrations taking over responsibility for general relief.

The extent to which States would be induced to increase State appropriations for mothers’ pensions, on a basis of a Federal contribution of one-half the combined State and local expenditures, would depend upon the general policies developed as part of a comprehensive program of Federal, State, and local responsibility for relief and welfare service. The last two columns of Table III, Appendix, show for each State the estimated contribution from Federal funds on the basis of 50 percent of the State and local expenditures, and the present proportion of federal funds in the total emergency relief expenditures. It is obvious that States receiving a very high proportion of their total relief expenditures from the Federal Government would be reluctant to transfer relief cases to mothers’ pension rolls. Moreover, many States world receive comparatively little benefit from federal assistance in a Mothers’ aid program until they were in a position substantially to increase their State appropriations for this purpose. In order to stimulate the extension of mothers’ pensions to States and areas now poorly provided with this service, it is suggested that a portion of the Federal appropriation be set aside at the beginning of each year as a reserve and discretionary fund, to be available for States not able immediately to contribute through State and local funds two-thirds of the total expenditures.

The proposed plan for Federal, State, and local participation in mothers aid administration may be outlined as follows:

(1) Purpose: To enable the Federal Government to cooperate with the States and Territories, and through them, with local governments in providing home care for dependent children through pensions to widowed mothers and other mothers responsible for the support of their children.

(2) Appropriation: (a) $15,000,000 for contribution to States in the ratio of one-half the combined State and local expenditures for mothers’ pensions, to be increased as need indicates; and (b) $10,000,000 for a reserve and discretionary fund for supplementing the amount specified under (a) and for allotment in excess of the ratio prescribed to States unable, because of severe economic distress, to meet that ratio.

(3) Federal administration: To be placed in the Children’s Bureau of the United States Department of Labor, in the absence of a permanent Federal Department of Public Welfare; administration to be coordinated with other Federal welfare and relief services; not to exceed one percent of the total appropriation to be available for Federal administration and investigations and reports related thereto.

(4) State administration: To be placed in the State Department of Public Welfare, or if some other State agency is given supervisory or administrative responsibility for mothers’ pensions, in that agency, pending the development of a unified State welfare program.

(5) Application for funds and plans for administration: Plans for administering the program to be submitted to the Children’s Bureau by the authorized State agency and approved if found to be in conformity with the purposes of the program and reasonably appropriate and adequate. The plans shall include the following: (a) statement of the amount authorized or otherwise made available by the State and each of its political subdivisions; (b) numbers of mothers and children in each political subdivision receiving mothers’ assistance or on the waiting lists; (c) reasonable provision for State and local administration, in accordance with standards to be worked out cooperatively by the Children’s Bureau and the State cooperating agencies. After June 30, 1937, the plans must include substantial financial participation by the State in the mothers pension program, preferably on the equalization principle.

(6) Withholding of funds: By the Children’s Bureaus on due notices with appeal to the Secretary of Labor, whenever it shall be determined as to any State that the State has not properly expended or supervised the expenditure of the funds paid to it, in accordance with approved plans.

B. State and local public services for the of protection and care of homeless dependent and  neglected children and children in danger of becoming delinquent.

1. Need for Federal cooperation with the States in developing adequate services.

Great progress has been made in the past twenty 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 providing 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 pointed out by the committee on dependency and neglect of the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection, 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. 3/ Almshouses, condemned a hundred years ago for the care of children are still used for this purpose 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. Close to 300,000 dependent and neglected children are receiving care away from their own homes, in institutions and foster family homes, according to the best available estimates. About threefifths of these children are in institutions, and the remainder in boarding, free, works or wage homes.

3/ Dependent and Neglected Children, p: 6. Appleton-Century Co., 1933.

In addition to these 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 committee on physically and mentally handicapped of the White House Conference on Child Health and Protection 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, 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.

In cities of 100,000 or more population throughout the United States services for the protection and care of dependents delinquents 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, or 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. These local organizations receive guidance and leadership, and in three States financial aid, from a State Department concerned with child welfare.

At the present time a fourth of the States have recognized the need for local public services for children throughout the State and have undertaken to further such services through legislation establishing county welfare boards or departments. 4/  In a few other States such a program has been developed through the activities of the State department of welfare, without special legislation. 5/   All of 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.

The development of local public services for children is one of the important functions of a State department of public 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 service to the county and to stimulate the interest of local officials. Where local workers are appointed they must develop the standards of case work, serve as consultants an special problems, and help to relate the local services to the institutional care provided by the States so that the necessary investigations before admission and follow-up care after discharge can be provided.

4/ Alabama, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

5/ California, Georgia, Iowa, and New Mexico.

In addition to helping to develop local units for service to children, State welfare departments have much older and very important functions, in inspecting and supervising public and private child-caring institutions and child-placing agencies to see that they come up to prescribed minimum standards of care and in regulating child-placing and child-adoption activities to see that children are not placed in care of unscrupulous or unfit persons. Many State welfare departments also have administrative responsibility for the management of institutions or the placing of children in foster homes. The resources of State and local governments and of private agencies for the care and protection of children have been depleted during the depression period, and many children have suffered from the curtailment or elimination of child welfare service. Federal assistance to the State agencies of public welfare in promoting more adequate care and protection of children is needed.

2. Plan of administration.

Federal administration should be coordinated with other features of a unified public welfare program. The Children’s bureau of the united States Department of Labor has had many years of experience in cooperating with State and local welfare agencies and should be designated as the Federal administrative agency, cooperating with the State departments of public welfare in the development of the services provided.

The proposed plan of Federal participation with the States in the development of child welfare services includes the following:

(1) Purpose: To enable the Federal Government to cooperate with the States and Territories and through them with local governments, in the protection and care of homeless, dependent, and neglected children, through supervision of childcaring institutions and agencies and assistance in the development of local public welfare services, especially in rural areas, and promotion of employment of qualified workers and of improved methods of care.

(2) Appropriations: $1,000,000 to be distributed, $10,000 to each State and the balance among the States in the proportion which their population bears to the total population of the United States, the sums to be matched dollar-for-dollar by State appropriations; $500,000 for allocation to States unable, because of severe economic distress, to match in full the amounts allocated under the previous paragraph, for their use in matching such sums, and for demonstrations of methods of community child welfare service, to be conducted by the Children’s Bureau with the cooperation of the State agencies of public welfare.

(3) Federal administration: To be placed in the Children’s Bureau of the United States Department of Labor, administration to be coordinated with other Federal welfare services; not to exceed five percent of the total appropriation to be available for Federal administration and investigations and reports related thereto.

(4) State administration: State department of public welfare, or if there be none or more than one such agency, the State agency designated by the legislature or provisionally designated by the Governor if the legislature be not in session.

(5) Application for funds and plans for administration: Plans for administering the program to be submitted to the Children’s Bureau by the authorized State agency and approved if found to be in conformity with the purposes of the program and reasonably appropriate and adequate.

The plans shall include information concerning the amounts made available by the State and if an allocation from the discretionary fund is requested, the conditions leading to such a request.

(6) Withholding of funds: By the Children’s Bureau, on due notice, with appeal to the Secretary of Labor, whenever it shall be determined as to any State that the State has not properly expended or supervised the expenditure of the funds paid to it in accordance with approved plans.

Source: Social Security Online:

There were 10 volumes of unpublished studies produced by the staff of the Committee on Economic Security (CES). This is Volume III, focused on the welfare of children.

One Reply to “Child Welfare: A 1934 Report on Security for Children”

  1. Very insightful. I am a part of many social initiatives which involve child welfare especially from broken families and this article gave me a lot of points which will be helpful. Thanks for providing the source of this post. My next visit is to the ssa website you mentioned above.

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