Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock () or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

November 2012Vol. 13, No. 10Centennial Series: Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act

This is the seventh article in our second Centennial Series, CB Decade-by-Decade. These articles will examine highlights from each decade of the Children's Bureau's first 100 years. The first Centennial Series addressed some of the social issues, practices, and policies that laid the groundwork for the creation of the Children's Bureau.

In the early 1970s, there was growing concern about the increased rates of child abuse and neglect in the United States. Children entering foster care and in need of adoption services did so largely because of child maltreatment. States were in need of assistance to prevent and treat child abuse, and that important aid came in 1974 under provisions in the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA).

The road to CAPTA's passage was long, spanning more than a decade. In 1962, the Children's Bureau convened a meeting in Washington, DC, with lawyers, judges, social workers, doctors, and others to discuss increased reports of child abuse. The meeting was focused on strategies for providing leadership to States in addressing the problem. It was suggested that a law mandating reports of child abuse may be helpful. This culminated in the Children's Bureau's suggested legislative language for child abuse reporting laws, requiring doctors and hospitals to report suspected abuse (Children's Bureau, 1962). That same year, pediatrician Henry Kempe and his colleagues published an article in The Journal of the American Medical Association titled "The Battered Child Syndrome." Kempe was credited with drawing the attention of medical professionals to the issue of child abuse and its effects. Additionally, the article sparked national media coverage of child abuse. Magazines such as Newsweek, The Saturday Evening Post, Parents Magazine, Time, Good Housekeeping, and Life featured stories of abuse and cited Kempe's article (Myers, 2008).

The Children's Bureau began providing research and demonstration grants with an emphasis on child abuse prevention as early as 1966. Despite these efforts, the number of children entering the U.S. foster care system due to abuse or neglect was skyrocketing. Children receiving child welfare services grew by 50 percent between 1961 and 1967 in the average month (Children's Bureau, 1969). By 1974, more than 60,000 cases of child abuse had been reported (Myers, 2008). By 1967, all States had enacted some form of child abuse reporting laws, thanks in large part to leadership from the Children's Bureau.

In 1973, Caspar Weinberger, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare, assigned the Office of Child Development (OCD) as the lead agency to conduct interdepartmental child abuse and neglect prevention efforts. Two grants totaling $99,368 were administered by OCD to collect information about local child protection efforts.

CAPTA was the first piece of Federal legislation to significantly impact child protection. Signed into law by President Richard Nixon on January 31, 1974, CAPTA has been amended several times, most recently in 2010. The law established a definition for child abuse and neglect and provided Federal funding to States for prevention, assessment, investigation, prosecution, and treatment activities. In order to receive CAPTA funds, States had to meet several requirements, such as laws pertaining to reporting suspected abuse and standards for investigation of abuse. CAPTA's major provisions included the following:

  • Provided assistance to States to develop child abuse and neglect identification and prevention programs
  • Authorized research on child abuse prevention and treatment
  • Created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) within the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare
  • Created the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information
  • Established Basic State Grants and Demonstration Grants for training personnel and to support innovative programs aimed at preventing and treating child maltreatment

To support Federal research, evaluation, and technical assistance, the 1996 reauthorization of CAPTA created the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect (OCAN). OCAN currently sponsors the national conference on child abuse and neglect, supports prevention activities through the Community-Based Child Abuse Prevention (CBCAP) program, and promotes improvements to child protective service systems through CAPTA discretionary grants.


Children’s Bureau. (1962). Here and there. Children, 9(5), 200. Retrieved from;cc=hearth;idno=4761305_135_005;node=4761305_135_005%3A6.7;size=l;frm=frameset;seq=34;view=image;page=root

Children's Bureau. (1969). The Children's Bureau's Job Today. Retrieved from

Myers, J. (2008). A Short History of Child Protection in America. Retrieved from