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A brief history of child abuse protection in the United States

Children are under the complete control of their parents, and if the parents wish to abuse their children, they can often get away with it. Until recently, parents actually had the right to physically beat their children and treat them in a way that would -- in modern times -- constitute abuse. This is because children were viewed as property by the courts -- specifically, the property of their fathers.

In the United States, the courts continued to view children as property until the early 1870s -- when the sad case of an 8-year-old orphan girl captured the hearts of the nation.

Children once had fewer rights than animals

Since no child protection advocacy groups existed at the time that the 8-year-old girl was suffering from abuse, lawyers from the the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) took up the case. These lawyers argued that if the law protected animals from abuse, it should protect children from abuse as well.

The court agreed with the ASPCA lawyer's position, and ruled that the foster mother caring for the girl was guilty of assault and battery. She was sentenced to one year in jail. Several years later, in 1874, concerned community members created the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children.

Furthering child abuse protections

In 1962, the American Medical Association reported guidelines for identifying the signs and symptoms of child abuse. Soon, every state had created mandatory reporting laws requiring professionals like teachers and doctors to report their suspicions of child abuse to local child protective agencies.

In 1974, lawmakers created the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). CAPTA funds programs that make it easier to find and identify child abuse. It also offers protective services and safe shelters to children who are victims.

Child advocacy and working to prevent child abuse

In spite of laws that protect children, child abuse continues to be a serious problem in the United States. However, with successful child advocacy programs, communities are working together to stop the abuse of children.

Child advocacy includes family law attorneys, professionals, individuals and advocacy groups that step forward to protect the best interests of children. If you know of a child in need of legal assistance, be sure to reach out to a child advocacy group as soon as possible.

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