doomed to failure.” 30 It is not my purpose to revisit the debate over the role or purpose of a child’s
lawyer in child welfare proceedings. I mention this history because the child-as-victim framing by
NACC’s founders has had deep implications for the organization entirely apart from the debate
over the role of counsel for individual children in child welfare proceedings. 31
The modern juvenile justice system’s lawyers for children saw the state, and the
progressives behind it, as dangerous foes of children. But NACC’s founders were themselves
modern progressives, calling for a legal system committed to saving children. Bross and the
Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, of which he was the
legal director, saw children in child welfare proceedings primarily as victims who needed
protection by state officials that had long been unavailable to them. For the founders of NACC,
the distinctions between delinquency and child protective proceedings were considerably more
straightforward than I have suggested. The child welfare case was brought not because the child
did anything wrong, but because the child’s caretaker did. This made all the difference to them.
NACC’s founders helped advance the reach of child welfare interventions to ensure that children
would be protected from harm inflicted by their family members. 32
The Kempe Center, which, as we have seen, brought NACC into existence, was founded
on the principle that American society needed to change its attitude toward children who were
abused and to stop ignoring the abuse. NACC was an active voice seeking new, robust child
protection laws calculated to find more abused children and ensure that states bring abused
children into the judicial system so that they could be protected from harm. 33 Like the progressives,
NACC’s founders’ instincts were entirely government friendly. They encouraged state officials,
including judges, caseworkers, mandated reporters, children’s lawyers, and advocates such as
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA), to pay greater attention to children who are victims
of abuse and to protect them more aggressively than they had been before NACC started.
III. CHILD WELFARE SINCE NACC WAS FOUNDED
I write as a fierce advocate for children and their rights. It is from that vantage that I am
displeased with most of what goes on in the field of child welfare in the United States. I begin with
this important disclosure because my purpose in this article is to evaluate NACC’s contributions
30 Marvin Ventrell, Foster Care & Adoption Reform Legislation: Implementing the Adoption and Safe Families Act
of 1997, 14 ST. JOHN’S J. LEGAL COMMENT. 433, 435 (2000).
31 At the same time, the perception of the child in these different proceedings surely has some impact on the
performance of lawyers representing children. I know few children’s lawyer who accept with equanimity a dismissal
of a child welfare proceeding when a parent committed an act of maltreatment on the child and a dismissal of a juvenile
delinquency proceeding when the child committed a serious crime. At the same time, most juvenile defenders I know
lack even the slightest interest in ensuring that children who commit crimes be brought into juvenile court so that the
state will be able to help them.
32 To be clear, Bross was also a progressive in his desire for government to be a proactive force ensuring that children
will thrive without the need for protecting them from their parents’ misdeeds. In his words, government financial
support for poor families “has been among the most important contributors to a financial safety net for children.
Governmental funding of Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) helps ensure nutrition for thousands, and Early
Periodic Screening and Diagnostic Testing (EPSDT) continues to identify medical and developmental problems early
enough to mean better outcomes for many thousands more.” Bross, supra note 19, at 13.
33 As the website for the Kempe Center expressed it, when the Center was founded in the 1970s, it had “one vision: to
recognize that children were being abused, the threat was real, and we must do something about it.” See THE KEMPE
CTR. FOR THE PREVENTION & TREATMENT OF CHILD ABUSE & NEGLECT, http://www.kempe.org/about/history/ (last
visited Sept. 21, 2018).