Child Welfare League of America

Originally located in New York, the CWLA moved to Washington, DC in 1985.
Source: Child Welfare League of America Papers, Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota



The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) has been, along with the U.S. Children’s Bureau, one of the most important players in the history of adoption regulation. It was founded in 1921 as a federation of approximately 70 service-providing organizations. Its first Director, C. C. Cars tens, was a well established national child welfare leader and opponent of institutional care for children.

In the vanguard of social work professionalism, the founders of the CWLA involved themselves in child-placing policy from the outset because they believed child welfare required definite standards in record keeping, personnel training, and financial management as well as placement practice. The new organization was dismayed by the absence of coordination in family-making and by the fact that just about anyone was allowed to do it. Work done on behalf of children outside their own homes, the CWLA charged in the 1920s, “ranges all the way from excellence to such a degree of inefficiency and malpractice as almost to justify legal prosecution.”

In 1938, the CWLA issued its first set of minimum standards that distinguished between temporary and permanent placements. By the 1950s, several hundred CWLA members ranked adoptive and foster placements as a primary activity. The CWLA produced the most important empirical survey of adoption agency practice at mid century, including a landmark study of special needs adoptions. It organized a national conference on adoption in 1955 that brought together rank-and-file social workers, leading figures in many scientific fields, and the small but growing body of investigators whose research focused on adoption itself.

After 1955, the CWLA initiated a far more ambitious program of standardization, resulting in Standards for Adoption Service (1958). This publication was intended to guide social work practice and legal procedure on issues ranging from matching to confidentiality and sealed records, while simultaneously raising public consciousness. Today, the CWLA counts more than 1100 organizational members and has recently revised its adoption standards bible for the fifth time.


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Child Welfare League of America website

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