The Child Welfare
League of America (CWLA) has been, along with the U.S.
Childrens 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
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