About Us
DHS History
The City of Philadelphia first established the Department of Public Welfare in 1919, and, in 1920, it created a bureau within that department to care for dependent children who were wards of the City. Since that time case law, city ordinances, and state laws have expanded and defined the functions of what is now called the Department of Human Services, Children and Youth Division.

In 1955, the County Code elaborated upon the duties of the county toward children and youth. This Act gave the counties the responsibility to provide child welfare services designated to help children in their own homes; to prevent neglect, abuse, and exploitation; to help overcome problems that result in dependency, neglect, or delinquency; to provide, in foster family homes and child caring institutions, adequate out-of-home care for any child in need of such services, and to care for children and youth who have been adjudicated dependent, abused, neglected, or delinquent.

The first child abuse law in Pennsylvania, Act 91, was passed in August 1967. This Act gave all Pennsylvania public county child welfare agencies the powers and duties of investigating reports of child abuse made by physicians. In 1970, Act 299 amended Act 91 to include school nurses and teachers as mandated reporters and to encourage other adults to make reports of child abuse to the county public child welfare agencies. Prior to 1968, all child abuse investigations in Philadelphia were conducted by a private agency.

The Pennsylvania Juvenile Act (42 [PA. C.S.A. section 6301 et seq.] was passed in 1972 and amended in 1977, providing the legal basis for intervention in all situations involving abused and dependent children. The Act requires a judicial determination of dependency before the state, through its courts, can acquire jurisdiction and enter an order providing for the disposition of a dependent child.

In 1976 the Legislature of the Commonwealth passed Act 148 which provided a financial incentive for counties to choose community-based programs for children rather than institutional settings. Through revisions of the reimbursement system and payment procedures, Act 148 changed the setting for service delivery and called for better coordination between the child welfare and juvenile court systems.

The Child Protective Services Law (CPSL) (11 [P.S. section 2201 et seq.] was enacted in 1975 with Act 124 and amended by Act 1365 in 1982. This law established the statewide Child Abuse Hotline and the Central Registry. The explicit purpose of the law was to "encourage more complete reporting of suspected child abuse and to establish in each county a Child Protective Service capable of investigating such reports swiftly and competently." The law was intended to protect children from further abuse and to provide rehabilitative services for children and parents "to ensure the child's well-being and to preserve and stabilize family life wherever appropriate." During the first two years after Act 124 passed, the number of child abuse reports in Philadelphia more than doubled.

The Child Protective Services Law (23 PA. C.S.A. § 6301 et seq.) was again amended by the Legislature on December 16, 1994. It significantly changed the way Pennsylvania protects its children. The new law went into effect progressively, ending in July 1997. Additional purposes of the law now include, to the extent permitted by the CPSL, involving law enforcement agencies in responding to child abuse, and protecting the integrity of family life wherever appropriate. Another added purpose was to ensure that each county established a program of protective services with procedures to assess risk of harm to a child and to respond adequately to meet the needs of the family and child. Agencies were mandated to prioritize their response and services to children most at risk.

Guidelines for investigating and making a determination of allegations of student abuse by a school employee were added.

The definition of child abuse was broadened to include any recent act (committed within two years of the date of the report), failure to act, or series of such acts or failures to act by a perpetrator which creates an imminent risk of serious physical injury to, or sexual abuse or sexual exploitation of, a child under 18 years of age.

The definition of sexual abuse was broadened to include the obscene or pornographic photographing, filming, or depiction of children for commercial purposes or exploitation. It includes the employment, use, persuasion, inducement, enticement, or coercion of any child to engage in or assist any other person to engage in any sexually explicit conduct, or any simulation of any sexually explicit conduct, for the purpose of producing any visual depiction of any sexually explicit conduct, or the rape, molestation, incest, prostitution, or other forms of sexual exploitation of children.

In 1994, Congress passed the Multiethnic Placement Act (MEPA). This law provided new safeguards in prohibiting the delay or denial of placement in adoption and foster care homes based solely on the race of the child or the race of the prospective foster or adoptive parent. One section of MEPA, Section 553, "Permissible Considerations," did allow for the consideration of race in certain circumstances. Specifically, an agency could consider the cultural, ethnic, or racial background of a child and the capacity of the prospective foster or adoptive parents to meet the needs of a child with such a background as one of a number of factors used to determine the best interest of a child.

In 1996, the Small Business Job Protection Act was signed into Law. Section 1808 of this Act is titled "Removal of Barriers to Interethnic Adoption." It affirms and strengthens the MEPA prohibition against discrimination in adoption and foster care placements. More significantly, this Act repealed the "Permissible Considerations: clause of MEPA. With this revision, Congress has completely eliminated delays or denials in placement decisions based on the race, culture, or ethnicity of either the child or the potential caregiver. The operative standard for any placement decision is the best interest of the child. Any consideration of race, color, or national origin must be narrowly tailored to advance the child's best interest and may be made only as an individualized determination of the particular child's needs.

In November 1997, the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) was signed into law amending Title IV-B and IV-E of the Social Security Act. ASFA established that the safety of children is the "paramount concern that must guide all child welfare services." The passage of the new law gives child welfare agencies the opportunity to build on those reforms currently underway and become more responsive to the complex needs of children and their families. The law also gives renewed impetus to dismantle the barriers that may exist between children waiting in foster care and establishing a permanent home.