The timeline of young peoples' rights in the United States, including children and youth rights, includes a variety of events ranging from youth activism to mass demonstrations. There is no "golden age" in the American children's rights movement.
The history of youth rights in the United States ranges from the earliest years of European settlements on North America. Poor children were routinely and legally indentured in colonial New England by the "poor laws." In 1676 Nathan Knight, an eight-year-old boy, was apprenticed to a mason, "bound... to serve and abide the full space and term of twelve years and five months." Provided food, shelter and clothes in exchange for his labor, the boy was not allowed to leave his master until he was 21 years old.
By the end of the 19th century, American children worked in large numbers in mines, glass factories, textiles, agriculture, canneries, home industries, and as newsboys, messengers, bootblacks and peddlers.
|Timeline of 19th century events related to Children's Rights in the U.S. in chronological order|
|1800||Organizations||There are eight institutions for abused and neglected children in the U.S.|
|1832||New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen||The New England Association of Farmers, Mechanics and Other Workingmen condemn child labor.|
|1836||Massachusetts||Massachusetts creates the first state child labor law where children under 15 working in factories have to attend school for at least 3 months per year.|
|1836||Trade unions||Early trade unions at the National Trades' Union Convention propose state minimum age laws for factory work.|
|1840s||Day nurseries||Day nurseries began in Boston for low-income working wives and widows of merchant seamen. Day care "was founded as a social service to alleviate the child care problems of parents who had to work, and to prevent young children from suicidal acts from thinking of being unloved ."|
|1842||Massachusetts||Massachusetts limits children to working 10 hours per day. Several states follow suit, but do not consistently enforce their laws.|
|1850||Organizations||There are ninety institutions for abused and neglected children in the U.S.|
|1851||Massachusetts||The first modern adoption law (1851 Adoption of Children Act) in the U.S. was passed in Massachusetts. It recognized adoption as a social and legal operation based on child welfare rather than adult interests and directed judges to ensure that adoption decrees were "fit and proper."|
|1853||Children's Aid Society||Charles Loring Brace founded the Children's Aid Society to take in children living on the street.|
|1854||Orphan Trains||In 1854 Charles Loring Brace led the Children's Aid Society to start the Orphan Train with stops across the West, where they were adopted and often given work.|
|1869||Samuel Fletcher, Jr.||In one of the first such court rulings, the parents of Samuel Fletcher, Jr. are found guilty of child abuse. Fletcher, who was born blind, was locked into the cellar of his family's house for several days by his parents. Upon escaping he notified authorities and his parents were arrested. They were fined $300 in one of the first court rulings that recognized children's right to be protected by law against abuse and cruelty.|
|1874||Mary Ellen Wilson||Mary Ellen Wilson was not allowed to go outside, except at night in her own yard, and was regularly beaten by her adopted parents. Police rescue the eight-year-old after the head of the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals calls them on Mary Ellen's behalf. Mrs. Connelly was sentenced to jail for one year. That year the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was founded, the first organization of its kind.|
|1876||Workingmen's Party of the United States||Workingmen's Party proposes banning the employment of children under the age of 14.|
|1877||American Humane Association||The New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and several Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals across the U.S. joined together to form the American Humane Association.|
|1881||American Federation of Labor||The first National Convention of the American Federation of Labor passes a resolution calling on states to ban children under 14 from all gainful employment.|
|1883||Samuel Gompers||Samuel Gompers leads the New York Labor Movement targets the end of child labor in cigar making by successfully sponsoring legislation that bans the practice in tenements, where thousands of young children work in the trade.|
|1889||Hull House||Hull House became one of the first organizations in the United States to provide after school programs for children and youth.|
|1892||Democratic Party||The Democratic Party adopts platform plank with recommendations to ban factory employment for children under 15.|
|1898||New York School of Applied Philanthropy||The New York School of Philanthropy was the first higher education program to train people who wanted to work in the field of charity, including child development and youth work, in the United States. It was established with a six-week summer program in 1898, and expanded to a full-year program in 1904.|
|1899||John Dewey||John Dewey becomes president of the American Psychological Association, openly advocates for children's rights, and later writes several books about progressive education that emphasize the necessity for children's rights in education and throughout democratic society. He is acknowledged as one of the heroes of the children's rights movement in the United States.|
Before the 1930s children were routinely exploited in a variety of settings throughout American society. Frequently beginning their working lives before their tenth birthday, children worked in hazardous jobs at mines, mills, factories, sweatshops, and on farms, with little or no wages. Labor laws did not exist, and the common perception of the ease with which children were manipulated made them targets for a variety of rights violations.
In the 1980s the United States provided global leadership by acting as the "Tip of The Spear" among nations in crafting the Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC. After the United Nations adopted the CRC in 1989, the United States became a signatory nation in 1994. However, to date the country has refused to ratify the Convention, joining only one other nation in the world with that status. Among the reasons the United States has failed to ratify the Convention is the fact that the Convention clearly states that anyone under the age of 18 is a child. The U.S. government has reservations about how that would affect matters when a 16- or 17-year-old commits a crime; currently, in certain instances, such a person can be tried as an adult in the U.S. courts. Several politicians have said that many of the declarations included in the document are not issues for which the federal government is in charge. There is currently no apparent effort within the federal government to adopt the CRC.
|Timeline of 20th century events related to Children's Rights in the U.S. in chronological order|
|1900||Organizations||"The total number of societies in the United States for the protection of children, or children and animals, was 161."|
|1901||Juvenile Protective Association||Jane Addams founded the Juvenile Protective Association to advocate against racism, child labor and exploitation, drug abuse and child prostitution in Chicago and their effects on child development.|
|1903||Children's Crusade||Mary Harris "Mother" Jones organized children working in mills and mines in the "Children's Crusade," a march from Kensington, Pennsylvania to Oyster Bay, New York, the home of President Theodore Roosevelt with banners demanding "We want time to play!" and "We want to go to school!" Though the President refused to meet with the marchers, the incident brought the issue of child labor to the forefront of the public agenda.|
|1904||National Child Labor Committee||The National Child Labor Committee is formed to abolish all child labor. World-renowned photographer Lewis Hine produced much of his work for the organization.|
|1909||White House Conference on Children||On January 25, 1909 President Theodore Roosevelt hosted the first White House Conference on Children after a Washington, D.C. lawyer named James West suggested it. West had spent all of his life in institutions and was concerned about the state of affairs. The conferences were held every decade through the 1970s.|
|1909||White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children||The first White House Conference on the Care of Dependent Children declared that poverty alone should not be grounds for removing children from families.|
|1909||Ellen Key||Ellen Key publishes Century of the Child, an influential American book about children's rights.|
|1912||Children's Bureau||The Children's Bureau was formed by the U.S. Congress in response to the White House Conference on Children. For the first time child welfare focused on more than disadvantaged children, and became focused on all children.|
|1915||Child Welfare League of America||The Child Welfare League of America was founded as the Bureau for Exchange of Information Among Child-Helping Organizations.|
|1915||Abraham Flexner||Influential educator Abraham Flexner declared social work focused on children "hardly eligible" for professional status.|
|1916||United States Congress||First federal child labor law prohibits the movement of goods across state lines if minimum age laws are violated. This law was in effect until 1918 when it was declared unconstitutional in the landmark case Hammer v. Dagenhart.|
|1921||Child Welfare League of America||Founded by C. C. Carstens to act as a federation of 70 child services organizations.|
|1924||Child Labor Amendment of 1924||Congress attempted to pass a constitutional amendment that would authorize a national child labor law; however, this measure was blocked by opposition within Congress and the bill was eventually dropped.|
|1935||American Youth Congress||The American Youth Congress forms as one of the first youth-led, youth-focused organizations in the U.S. The same year the AYC issued The Declaration of the Rights of American Youth, which they were invited to read before a joint session of the U.S. Congress.|
|1938||Fair Labor Standards Act||President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which includes limits on many forms of child labor.|
|1940||Working mothers||8.6 percent of mothers with children younger than 18 were in the work force.|
|1943||Kaiser Shipyards||The Kaiser Shipyards on Swan Island in Portland, Oregon opened the first company-owned child care facilities at the entrance to each of their facilities. Hoping to reduce the rate of absenteeism among working mothers, they were the world's largest child care centers and were in operation 24 hours a day. Featuring nurses and child-centered construction, the facilities also provided pre-cooked hot meals for the mothers to take home. Costs were shared by parents and the company. They operated for two years.|
|1944||Prince v. Massachusetts||The U.S. Supreme Court held that the government has broad authority to regulate the actions and treatment of children. Parental authority is not absolute and can be permissibly restricted if doing so is in the interests of a child's welfare. While children share many of the rights of adults, they face different potential harms from similar activities.|
|1955||Pearl S. Buck||Pearl S. Buck, one of the most popular novelists and adoptive parents in the United States, accused social workers and religious institutions of sustaining a black market for adoptions and preventing the adoption of children in order to preserve their jobs.|
|1959||White House Conference on Children and Youth||The United Nations General Assembly adopted Declaration of the Rights of the Child, endorsed in 1960 by Golden Anniversary White House Conference on Children and Youth.|
|1962||Child abuse reporting statutes||The first child abuse reporting statutes were explored at a national conference sponsored by the federal Department of Health, federal Department of Education, and the Children's Bureau.|
|1965||Abe Fortas||Abe Fortas, a longtime proponent of children's and student rights, is appointed to the Supreme Court. Among many statements on behalf of children's rights, he wrote the majority opinion in Tinker v. Des Moines on behalf of children's right to free expression, along with In re Gault in support of children's right to due process. The Supreme Court took a distinctly different stance towards children's rights after he left in 1970.|
|1967||In re Gault||In re Gault was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision which established that juveniles accused of crimes in a delinquency proceeding must be accorded many of the same due process rights as adults such as the right to timely notification of charges, the right to confront witnesses, the right against self-incrimination, and the right to counsel.|
|1970||In re Winship||In re Winship was a U.S. Supreme Court decision that held when a juvenile is charged with an act which would be a crime if committed by an adult, every element of the offense must be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.|
|1970||National Commission on Resources for Youth||The Ford Foundation works with the federal government to develop the National Commission on Resources for Youth, which produces reports, holds conferences and conducts an array of activities focused on promoting youth participation, youth voice, youth empowerment and community youth development across the United States.|
|1973||Children's Defense Fund||Marian Wright Edelman founds the Children's Defense Fund, a leading national organization that lobbies for children's rights and welfare.|
|1973||Hillary Clinton||In a report examining the status of children's rights in the United States, Hillary Clinton, then a lawyer, wrote that "children's rights" was a "slogan in need of a definition."|
|1973||Indiana||The first joint custody statute in the U.S. goes into effect in Indiana, allowing children the right to both parents after a divorce.|
|1974||Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act||The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act is passed by the U.S. Congress, creating the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect and other steps designed to increase children's rights and reduce child neglect and abuse.|
|1975||National Network for Youth||Founded as the only national membership organization focused solely on the needs of homeless, runaway and disconnected youth.|
|1978||Indian Child Welfare Act||The Indian Child Welfare Act was passed by the U.S. Congress and gives tribal governments a strong voice concerning child custody proceedings which involve Indian children, by allocating tribes exclusive jurisdiction over the case when the child resides on, or is domiciled on, the reservation, or when the child is a ward of the tribe; and concurrent, but presumptive, jurisdiction over non-reservation Native Americans’ foster care placement proceedings.|
|1980||Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act||To establish a program of adoption assistance; strengthen the program of foster care assistance for needy and dependent children; and improve the child welfare, social services, and aid to families with dependent children programs. This act amended titles IV-B and XX of the Social Security Act.|
|1985||Working mothers||50 percent of women with children younger than three years of age were working.|
|1985||Student privacy||New Jersey v. T.L.O. (U.S. Supreme Court case on the privacy rights of public school students)|
|1989||Convention on the Rights of the Child||The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, codifies a range of children's rights into international law, with 189 countries eventually ratifying it. The United States has signed but not ratified the CRC.|
|1992||Child Labor Deterrence Act||Senator Tom Harkin first proposed the Child Labor Deterrence Act in Congress, with subsequent propositions in 1993, 1995, 1997 and 1999. "This bill would prohibit the importation of products that have been produced by child labor, and included civil and criminal penalties for violators."|
|1994||Convention on the Rights of the Child||The United States becomes a signatory country to the CRC after then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright signs on behalf of the country. However, the United States Congress does not ratify the agreement.|
|1994||Patrick Leahy||Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont made one of the last attempts to pass the CRC through to the Senate. In a speech to the Senate in 1994, he explained that "The administration’s resistance to ratifying the CRC is due to misunderstandings about the Convention. Opponents claim that it is anti-family or infringes upon states’ rights. The CRC does none of these things."|
|1997||Immigration and Naturalization Service||2,375 unaccompanied children were detained by the INS.|
|1997||Flores, et al. v. Janet Reno||Flores, et al. v. Janet Reno was a class action lawsuit filed in 1985 that challenged federal policy dealing with unaccompanied children held in detention by the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. The Flores agreement, which became effective in 1997, set out a national policy for the detention, release and treatment of children in immigration custody based on the premise that authorities must treat children in their custody with "dignity, respect and special concern for their vulnerability as minors."|
|1997||Adoption and Safe Families Act||The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA, Public Law 105-89) was a Federal Act championed by Hillary Clinton and signed into law by her husband President Bill Clinton on November 19, 1997.|
|1999||Worst Forms of Child Labour Convention, 1999||The U.S. ratified this convention on December 2, 1999.|
Modern children's rights issues in the United States include child labor laws, including many agricultural settings where young people between the ages of 14 and 18 routinely work full time jobs and receive half of the minimum wage.Another common issue is child custody. Laws that make it extremely difficult for non-custodial parents to spend quality time with their children. After two hearings in Congress, children's rights during treatment became a focus.
|Timeline of 21st century events related to children's rights in the U.S. in chronological order|
|2001||Immigration and Naturalization Service||5,385 unaccompanied children were detained by the INS.|
|2002||Convention of the Rights of the Child||The U.S. Senate unanimously consents to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Optional Protocol on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict. Both Protocols, separate treaties from the CRC, were enacted by the United Nations in 2000.|
|2007||Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act||The Unaccompanied Alien Child Protection Act is introduced by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein for the ninth time since the 106th Congress. The act would establish an Office of Children's Service at the United States Department of Justice.|
|2008||Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008||Stop Child Abuse in Residential Programs for Teens Act of 2008 was introduced by representative George Miller. The act, supported by organizations such as Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth, would require certain standards and enforcement provisions to prevent child abuse and neglect in residential programs, and for other purposes. It passed the House on June 28, 2008.|
|2011||United States Supreme Court||The Supreme Court held in Brown v. The EMA that rights protected under the first amendment were extended to children.|
|2013||Voting Age of 16||Takoma Park, Maryland became the first city in the United States to extend voting rights to residents after they turn 16 in city elections.|
|2023||Loosening child labor restrictions||States such as New Jersey have loosened child labor restrictions, with violations increasing nationwide as a tight labor market increases worker demand.|
Today, the American Academy of Pediatrics advocates for children's rights to appropriate medical care, and states that in cases of "an imminent threat to a child's life," physicians in some cases may provide treatments to children, even if these treatments are opposed by the parents because of their religious beliefs.
Pediatrics is the branch of medicine that involves the medical care of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults. In the United Kingdom, paediatrics covers many of their youth until the age of 18. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends people seek pediatric care through the age of 21, but some pediatric subspecialists continue to care for adults up to 25. Worldwide age limits of pediatrics have been trending upward year after year. A medical doctor who specializes in this area is known as a pediatrician, or paediatrician. The word pediatrics and its cognates mean "healer of children," derived from the two Greek words: παῖς and ἰατρός. Pediatricians work in clinics, research centers, universities, general hospitals and children's hospitals, including those who practice pediatric subspecialties.
Adoption is a process whereby a person assumes the parenting of another, usually a child, from that person's biological or legal parent or parents. Legal adoptions permanently transfer all rights and responsibilities, along with filiation, from the biological parents to the adoptive parents.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international human rights treaty which sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. The convention defines a child as any human being under the age of eighteen, unless the age of majority is attained earlier under national legislation.
Foster care is a system in which a minor has been placed into a ward, group home, or private home of a state-certified caregiver, referred to as a "foster parent", or with a family member approved by the state. The placement of a "foster child" is normally arranged through the government or a social service agency. The institution, group home, or foster parent is compensated for expenses unless with a family member. In some states, relative or "Kinship" caregivers of children who are wards of the state are provided with a financial stipend.
The Children's Rights Movement is a historical and modern movement committed to the acknowledgment, expansion, and/or regression of the rights of children around the world. This act laid several constitutional laws for the growth of a child's mental and physical health.. It began in the early part of the last century and has been an effort by government organizations, advocacy groups, academics, lawyers, lawmakers, and judges to construct a system of laws and policies that enhance and protect the lives of children. While the historical definition of child has varied, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child asserts that "A child is any human being below the age of eighteen years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." There are no definitions of other terms used to describe young people such as "adolescents", "teenagers" or "youth" in international law.
Children's rights or the rights of children are a subset of human rights with particular attention to the rights of special protection and care afforded to minors. The 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) defines a child as "any human being below the age of eighteen years, unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." Children's rights includes their right to association with both parents, human identity as well as the basic needs for physical protection, food, universal state-paid education, health care, and criminal laws appropriate for the age and development of the child, equal protection of the child's civil rights, and freedom from discrimination on the basis of the child's race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, disability, color, ethnicity, or other characteristics.
Trafficking of children is a form of human trafficking and is defined by the United Nations as the "recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, and/or receipt" kidnapping of a child of slavery, forced labour, and exploitation. This definition is substantially wider than the same document's definition of "trafficking in persons". Children may also be trafficked for adoption.
In clinical diagnostic and functional development, special needs refers to individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological. Guidelines for clinical diagnosis are given in both the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the International Classification of Diseases 9th edition. Special needs can range from people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia, dysgraphia, blindness, deafness, ADHD, and cystic fibrosis. They can also include cleft lips and missing limbs. The types of special needs vary in severity, and a student with a special need is classified as being a severe case when the student's IQ is between 20 and 35. These students typically need assistance in school, and have different services provided for them to succeed in a different setting.
Child protective services (CPS) is the name of an agency in many states of the United States responsible for providing child protection, which includes responding to reports of child abuse or neglect. Some states use other names, often attempting to reflect more family-centered practices, such as department of children and family services (DCFS). CPS is also sometimes known by the name of department of social services, though these terms more often have a broader meaning.
The following is a list of youth topics.
Family preservation was the movement to help keep children at home with their families rather than in foster homes or institutions. This movement was a reaction to the earlier policy of family breakup, which pulled children out of unfit homes. Extreme poverty alone was seen as a justified reason to remove children. This new movement began in the 1890s, and in the 1909 White House Conference on Children it was the top ranked issue. In order to keep families together, the family would be given enough money so that the mother would not have to work a full-time job. The families that were given this assistance were usually headed by widows.
Articles related to children's rights include:
The timeline of children's rights in the United Kingdom includes a variety of events that are both political and grassroots in nature.
The Community Alliance For the Ethical Treatment of Youth (CAFETY) is an advocacy group for people enrolled in residential treatment programs for at-risk teenagers. The group's mission includes advocating for access to advocates, due process, alternatives to aversive behavioral interventions, and alternatives to restraints and seclusion for young people in treatment programs. They have also called for the routine reporting of abuse in residential treatment programs, as well as federal government oversight and regulation of residential treatment programs.
The Child Welfare League of America (CWLA) is a 501(c)(3) charitable organization that coordinates efforts for child welfare in the United States, and provides direct support to agencies that serve children and families. The organization's vision is "that every child will grow up in a safe, loving, and stable family," and its primary objective is to "Make Children a National Priority". The CWLA is run by professionals in the children's services field. As a national organization it lobbies for both child protection, and delivery of services to children. It is the oldest child welfare organization in the United States.
The Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is an international convention dealing with international adoption, child laundering, and child trafficking in an effort to protect those involved from the corruption, abuses, and exploitation which sometimes accompanies international adoption. The convention has been considered crucial because it provides a formal international and intergovernmental recognition of intercountry adoption to ensure that adoptions under the convention will generally be recognized and given effect in other party countries.
The United States has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC); however, it remains the only United Nations member state to have not ratified it.
Until 2017, laws related to LGBTQ+ couples adopting children varied by state. Some states granted full adoption rights to same-sex couples, while others banned same-sex adoption or only allowed one partner in a same-sex relationship to adopt the biological child of the other. Despite these rulings, same-sex couples and members of the LGBTQ+ community still face discrimination when attempting to foster children.
Intersex people in the United States have some of the same rights as other people, but with significant gaps, particularly in protection from non-consensual cosmetic medical interventions and violence, and protection from discrimination. Actions by intersex civil society organizations aim to eliminate harmful practices, promote social acceptance, and equality. In recent years, intersex activists have also secured some forms of legal recognition. Since April 11, 2022 US Passports give the sex/gender options of male, female and X by self determination.