Imágenes de páginas

rate is inversely proportionate to family income. In Manchester, New Hampshire, for example, families with incomes of less than $450 per year lost one child out of every four, while families with incomes of over $1,050 lost but one in every sixteen. The burden of industrial accident falls heavier also upon the families least able to bear it, particularly when no accident compensation or only inadequate compensation is allotted. Irregular employment or underemployment compounds the disastrous effect of sickness, accident, and low wages.

These facts indicate the high lights in an industrial program for the benefit of the family. They point, for example, to the need for a better concept of a living or minimum wage; for a more adequate system of accident compensation, of other forms of social insurance, and the extension of the principle of vocational rehabilitation of war cripples to the industrially maimed and handicapped; for some means of controlling the factor of unemployment in industry, whether through public or private insurance or the organization of the labor market through a nation-wide development of effective labor bureaus under federal patronage and co-ordination; for a better working understanding between employer and employee which will enhance productivity and eliminate the wastage which now comes through strikes, lockouts, limitation of output, sabotage, and inefficient management. Such a program fully realized would make mothers' compensation or child labor the merest makeshift or stop gap.

Certain other specific measures will further the social utility of the family. For example, a strengthening of the laws compelling men to provide for their family obligations. This would mean that the proposal for uniform marriage and divorce laws throughout the United States should include more uniformity of treatment for desertion and non-support. The development of vocational training and habituation to helpful service through improvements in public education should go far to answering any of the specious arguments which industry has put in its claim for the services of children under fifteen or sixteen years of age. It will be necessary also in the interests of family life to insist, if necessary, through public law, upon the limitation of the hours of work in industry. This on the principle that democratic citizenship and parenthood depend equally with the fine arts upon relief from the grind of depleting toil. Anybody who has ever served as a probation officer or family welfare visitor or who has ever made a survey of industrial conditions will testify that an excessively long working day makes an absentee and inefficient parenthood, a parenthood tired, broken in spirit, worn out before time, unable to cope with children, prone to despondency, irritabliity, irresponsibility, and bestiality. It is idle to urge men to sexual self-control so long as no time or opportunity is offered for the creation of rival interests to sex and alcohol. Hence whatever the economic arguments may be the recognition of the eight-hour day and six-day week as a standard for all but extraordinary emergencies is indispensable for the upbuilding of family welfare.

Rational provision for housing and recreation must not be overlooked as aids to family welfare. America must wake up to the fact that it is at least a generation or two behind Western Europe from the standpoint of a public interest in housing. Social workers must therefore give increasing attention to the vital connection between housing and family welfare and get this relationship firmly fixed in the public mind so that that mind will no longer overlook the need for municipal housing or state loan funds for home building or a stimulation of private or co-operative or corporation home building.

These are some of the terms and conditions which we must offer to the family if we are sincere in our desire that it shall continue its evolution and its achievements. To ask it to serve society, to call it the basic social institution, to get excited when some social visionary proposes a new alignment of social institutions which seems to disturb our present code of marriage and parenthood, and to do no more, is merely to sentimentalize, to render lip devotion. Family welfare is justly regarded as one of the most important concerns of social workers. They must realize, however, that social life is a complex fabric and that every fiber is enmeshed with every other. Hence family welfare work must not try to run its course alone but must link up with every branch of social welfare endeavor, with social legislation, public health work, recreation, mental hygiene, and, lastly, but of constantly growing import, with every move for peace, order, and prosperity in industry.


Grace Abbott, Chief, Children's Bureau, United States
Department of Labor, Washington

I am sure that all of you recognize in the subject just announced the hand of the program maker. I hope I can, without doing violence to his plans, take advantage of this opportunity to present to you what I think are not necessarily neglected fundamentals, but fundamentals which are before the social workers of the country for decision this year; questions in which the Children's Bureau is particularly interested at this time and is eager for your help and co-operation.

In the first place, I am sure we shall be challenged during the coming year as to how measures clearly for the welfare of children will fit into our political system. In our first efforts at social improvement, which began with the care of the poor, the neglected, and the defective, it was assumed both in England and the United States that it was the smallest local unit that was to do the work-the parish or the county. Little by little we have grown away from the separate, expensive, and inadequate care involved in complete local control and have been developing slowly standards of state supervision and state co-operation with the local units. At a time when "home rule" has seemed the way out to reformers interested in traction and in control of gas and electricity, the social reformer and the educator have been pressing for a modified form of local control so that certain standards of care and of opportunity would be assured by the state to all its children and the dependent classes. We are still far from accomplishing this end, but we have proceeded from precedent to precedent with no uncertainty as to the benefits of a modification of extreme decentralization.

In the establishment of a national minimum we have taken only a few cautious steps. The Pure Food and Drug Act, the White Slave Act, the Home Demonstration Work of the Department of Agriculture, and national prohibition were federal undertakings of real social significance and importance to the welfare of children. The first federal measure extending special protection to children was the first federal child labor act, and the turn of events has brought this whole question definitely before us today. It was about sixteen years ago that agitation for a federal measure to reduce

child labor reached Congress. In December of 1906 Senator Lodge and Senator Beveridge introduced their first child labor bills into the United States Senate. It was not until September 1, 1916, that the first federal child labor act became a law. You will remember the reasons why this federal legislation was sought: first, because in some states a single industry was so powerful as to prevent the passage of a reasonable child labor law or the enforcement of one after it was passed; second, because consumers had come to feel a moral repugnance to the use of the products of child labor; third, because manufacturers objected to the competition of those who relied upon the low wages of children as the basis of their profits; and finally, because states found themselves unable to protect not only their consumers and their manufacturers, but their citizenship. For after all, children who suffered from the educational, physical, and spiritual losses which premature child labor brings could migrate to any state, so that the citizenship of no state was secure against the neglect of another state. To meet this situation, then, the first federal child labor act was passed. Relying upon its power to regulate interstate and foreign commerce, Congress sought to close the channels of interstate commerce to the products of child labor. The constitutionality of the measure was promptly tested by the Southern Textile Association, and the decision of a United States District Court of North Carolina rendered before the act took effect that this was not a valid exercise of the constitutional power of Congress was sustained by the United States Supreme Court after the act had been in effect about nine months.

Congress then sought to take advantage of another power, that of laying and collecting taxes, and levied a tax upon the products of child labor. This too has just been declared unconstitutional. In the case of the first law the Court was divided five to four; the second was an eight to one decision. The position of the Court makes the issue clear; either we give up the plan of a federal law and rely solely upon the states, or we undertake to secure a federal amendment definitely giving to Congress the power which the Supreme Court says it does not now have. If it is to be a federal amendment, we shall probably be asked whether, if we advocate an amendment, it should stop with child labor. If we advocate an amendment giving to Congress the authority to establish a minimum child labor standard for the United States, we are asking for constitutional recognition that the employment of children rests upon a different basis from the employment of men and women. There are other important questions in this connection.

Both the first and second federal child labor laws, wisely it seemed to me, set up only a minimum national standard. State laws that were higher were still operative and were enforced by state machinery. Only in a relatively few communities was federal enforcing machinery necessary. In this respect the law and the relation of the federal to state enforcing agencies was identical with the Pure Food and Drug Act.

If we embark upon federal legislation by amendment, we must determine whether we are to follow this precedent or not. It seems to me that all we can hope for or desire is not a federal maximum but a federal minimum. In other words, if Congress is given authority to legislate in this field, its jurisdiction should not be exclusive but concurrent with the states.

I hope, then, that all of you realize that there is before you the necessity of making a decision with reference to what is a fundamental problem in the protection of children and in the relation of state and federal government. The returns from the 1920 census will undoubtedly show fewer children under fourteen gainfully employed than did the

census of 1910; but the decline will be much less than it should be. In the meantime our standards have moved forward. When the first federal child labor law was passed it established a new standard among the nations of the world. At that time no nation had adopted the fourteen-year age minimum. Now nearly all of the civilized Western nations have it. According to the most recent information available, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czecho-Slovakia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Great Britain, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Roumania, and Switzerland have a fourteen-year age minimum. American states below that limit must compare themselves with China and India and Japan in the protection which they give to working children.

Next I want to call your attention to another federal activity quite different in its political significance, the federal and state co-operative undertaking to reduce maternal and infant mortality, known as the Sheppard-Towner Act. By its provisions the federal government gives a subsidy to the states which accept the Act, to be expended in the promotion of the welfare and hygiene of mothers and infants through maternity and infant centers, public health nurses, and other educational measures. The state makes the plans and then, after they have been approved by the Federal Board, carries out the plans it has made.

The law was passed last November; and at the present time forty-two states have accepted the terms of the act, eleven states by legislative action and the others by act of the governor pending the next regular session of the legislature. The legislatures of New York, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island have indicated that they can get along without assistance from the federal government, but the mothers and babies of New York and Massachusetts will reap the benefits of this national discussion of the hazards of maternity and childhood in greatly increased state appropriations for this work. During the coming sessions of the state legislatures, the final decision will be made, not only as to whether the individual state will accept the act, but whether they will avail themselves of its full benefits by matching the federal funds.

At the present time, I am happy to say, careful study is being given to plans for lowering the death-rates of mothers and babies. These plans vary greatly. In some states the work is just being initiated; in other states the federal money adds resources to those the states already have, and makes possible the extension or development of plans. But everywhere throughout all these forty-two states the work is primarily educational, so that whether there are only small beginnings or programs already well developed, the understanding co-operation of all the social agencies, private as well as public, is necessary. I am eager, then, that all of you should know your own state plans and should look forward to ways in which you may fit in with these plans your resources and opportunities for carrying to the groups of people with whom you are in contact an understanding of the means by which infant and maternal mortality may be reduced.

There is a great deal of misinformation about the provisions of the SheppardTowner Act. Sometimes this misinformation is so serious that one suspects misrepresentation. If you are not familiar with the act, I hope you are going to get a copy from the Children's Bureau and read it. The text is not long. It is, you will find, a co-operative undertaking between federal and state governments for the sole purpose of reducing the disgracefully high maternal and infant mortality rates in this country. I find that most of the people who are opposing it have not read it. I hope all of you are going to set the example in your communities of knowing the exact provisions of one of the most far-reaching measures in child conservation which has ever been enacted.

There is a third fundamental problem, a legacy from the hideous period of industrial depression out of which we are just now emerging. We all know that the problem of unemployment is in its last analysis a child welfare problem and those of us who are concerned with the care of children cannot afford to neglect it. We ought to profit by the experience we have just passed through. I do not need to tell you that during the last years, in great numbers of homes in this country, the standards built up slowly during the years of regular employment have had most discouraging setbacks. Sav. ings were reduced to nothing, the future mortgaged by money loans and credits at stores; and, even so, it has been only by reducing, seriously and dangerously, the general standard of living in the family, that many have been kept from becoming public charges. I feel sure that there are many children in practically all the communities from which you come who have suffered more during the past year than the children for whom you have been responsible and to whose care you have brought all the social resources of the community. We ought to have in view not only those whom the case worker has served, but the much larger groups whom she does not and cannot reach. In the past, and at present, a large part of the burden of this unemployment has fallen not on industry and not on the community, but on the backs of little children. These children passing through any particular stage of child life lose forever those benefits which come from having enough to eat and a happy home free from that harrowing anxiety of not knowing how food and heat and clothes and shelter are to be secured. No child should suffer this anxiety in the United States.

Some economists tell us that industrial depressions come in cycles, that they can very nearly predict when the next ordeal will be upon us. We cannot assume that these cycles are inevitable or that the period between them cannot be lengthened. But whether the interval of relief is to be long or short, we shall betray the trust given us unless we awaken the conscience of the community in which we live and work to its responsibility toward its children by insisting that some means be found of making sure that the burden shall not fall upon the children.

I do not want to close without saying how much I hope the Federal Children's Bureau is to have the same cordial interest and co-operation from all of you that it has had in the past. The bureau would never have been established except for your efforts. Its creation was an expression of the determination of many people that the problems of child care should become a national concern. I am embarrassed to succeed the brilliant leader who developed its initial policies and established the bureau in the confidence and respect of so large a part of the people of the United States. Those of you who know me sympathize with me in the difficulties I shall have as the successor of Miss Lathrop. You will understand me when I say it is at once very hard and very easy to take up the work she has begun. It is your duty to see that the Children's Bureau does not suffer too much from the change. I have a right to expect from you the frank criticism which one social worker owes to another, as well as the co-operation upon which all our work is premised. I hope that the bureau will have in the fullest measure your interest and your help.

« AnteriorContinuar »