own home, thus preventing the necessity of placing the children in institutions.” 36 Back then,
federal policy was based on the “recogni[tion] by everyone” that giving money to poor families to
help them raise their children at home is “the least expensive and altogether the most desirable
method for meeting the needs of these families that has yet been devised.” 37
This federal policy began to unravel with the coming of the Nixon Administration in 1968.
That administration was the first to undermine the safety net structures of the New Deal, placing
new restrictions on public assistance and public health programs, and ending President Johnson’s
War on Poverty practically as soon as it began. 38 By the early 1970s, progressives in Congress
needed a new way to continue supporting vulnerable families. Walter Mondale helped shepherd
the enactment of CAPTA in 1974 as a way to maintain federal support for vulnerable families. 39
Undeniably, Kempe’s work was a pivotal catalyst for this legislation. 40
The key strategy Mondale employed was to avoid any suggestion that broader social
causes needed to be considered when addressing child well-being. 41 In contrast, taking advantage
of the then recent concern that children were too often seriously abused by their parents, Mondale
confidently assured lawmakers on both sides of the aisle that child abuse knew no class boundaries
and that CAPTA was designed to protect all children, including those raised in wealthy homes. 42
Thus, when NACC began, the child welfare system was based on a flawed premise – a
baseless denial that the leading danger children in the United States risked (and the most
straightforward for government to address) was poverty. 43 The myth of classlessness that
undergirded CAPTA led to a new ideology: removing children from homes in which they were
maltreated was an important solution to the newly discovered Battered Child Syndrome. Never
36 Jessica E. Marcus, The Neglectful Parens Patriae: Using Child Protective Laws to Defend the Safety Net, 30 N. Y.U.
REV. L. & SOC. CHANGE 255, 261 (2006) (quoting S. Rep. No. 74-628, at 17 (1935)).
38 See generally, NINA BERNSTEIN, THE LOST CHILDREN OF WILDER: THE EPIC STRUGGLE TO CHANGE FOSTER CARE
(2001). In 1978, researchers David Fanshel and Eugene Shinn observed that “[c]cutting public assistance budgets,
ending support for public housing, terminating mental health after-care clinics--all grim phenomena of this recent
period--are sure ways to increase the number of families where parental breakdown will occur and children will require
foster care.” DAVID FANSHEL & EUGENE B. SHINN, CHILDREN IN FOS TER CARE: A LONGITUDINAL INVES TIGATION 507
39 See BARBARA J. NELSON, MAKING AN ISSUE OF CHILD ABUSE: POLITICAL AGENDA SETTING FOR SOCIAL PROBLEMS
15, 97–103 (1984).
40 See Kurt Mundorff, Advocating for Change: The Status & Future of America’s Child Welfare System 30 Years After
CAPTA, CARDOZO PUB. L. POL'Y & ETHICS J. 353, 354 (2005) (“The groundswell of public attention to child abuse
that finally resulted in CAPTA can be traced to a 1962 article by Dr. Henry Kempe on the battered child syndrome.”).
41 Mondale emphasized that child abuse was a “national” problem, not a “poverty problem.” NELSON, supra note 39,
at 107 (quoting Hearings Before the Subcomm. on Children and Youth of the Senate Comm. on Labor and Public
Welfare, 93rd Cong. 17-18 (1973) (internal quotation marks omitted) (statement of Sen. Mondale)).
43 See PETER J. PECORA, JAMES K. WHITTAKER & ANTHONY N. MALUCCIO WITH RICHARD P. BARTH & ROBERT D.
PLOTNICK, THE CHILD WELFARE CHALLENGE: POLICY, PRACTICE, AND RESEARCH 66, 67 (1992) (tracing the
correlation between poverty and child maltreatment); Leroy H. Pelton, Child Abuse and Neglect: The Myth of
Classlessness, 48 AM. J. ORTHOPSYCHIATRY 608, 609 (1978) (“Every national survey of officially reported child abuse
and neglect incidents has indicated that the preponderance of the reports involves families from the lowest social
economic levels.”); Leroy H. Pelton, Resolving the Crisis in Child Welfare: Simply Expanding the Present System Is
Not Enough, 48 PUB. WELFARE 1, 23 (1990) (noting the “abundant evidence that child abuse and neglect are strongly
related to poverty”).