Children's Bureau Centennial

Department of Health & Human Services

Children's Bureau Centennial
April 9, 2012

Thanks for that introduction, Joe.  And thanks for your dedication to the Children’s Bureau. 

What a great occasion!  It’s fantastic to see so many former leaders, staff members and partners of the Bureau.

Thank you for your years of hard work and congratulations on your many accomplishments on behalf of children and families.

Fifty years ago today, President John F. Kennedy stood before a crowd like this one to commemorate the golden anniversary of the Children’s Bureau.

While some of what he talked about seems far away and of another time, it’s uncanny that so much of what he mentioned still seems fresh today.

For example, in 1962 President Kennedy stressed that we needed to improve the physical fitness of young people—a goal the First Lady is spearheading through the “Let’s Move” initiative.

He decried the dropout rate, noting with foresight that the jobs of the future will require skilled labor—these days, we continue to devote ourselves to creating high quality educational opportunities for all children from cradle through college.

And he noted that there were still too many children living in institutions rather than in foster or adoptive homes—an issue that 50 years later, we are still grappling with.

This is not to say we haven’t made progress—in fact, the Children’s Bureau has been in the vanguard of countless successful efforts to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of children for the last century.

The Bureau has played a critical role in everything from reducing infant mortality to eradicating child labor to preventing child maltreatment and promoting permanent homes.

The Bureau has sponsored groundbreaking research.  It’s led the way in collecting the data we need to make smart policy.  And it’s been a strong partner with everyone from state and local governments to the grass roots groups that are closest to our clients.

First, we must recognize that the picture of children in the system is changing.

Here’s the good news: in the last 14 years, the foster care caseload has shrunk by 25%--from 559,000 to a little over 400,000.

We achieved this victory by working on multiple fronts: preventing the maltreatment that leads to foster care with intensive supportive services for at-risk families and going all out to find more permanent homes for those kids who can’t be with their parents.

At this juncture, then,  100 years from the Children’s Bureau creation, having secured a great measure of success in many areas, we are moving into a new phase—one that recognizes the devastating effects of trauma and focusses on healing and recovery for those whose welfare we are charged to protect.

We are in the midst of a significant effort to address the use of psychotropic medications among kids in foster care. 

We’re investing in approaches that will help children heal and recover from abuse or neglect, exposure to violence in their homes or on the streets, and the complicated trauma that results.

We want to assure that children find stability in school.

To do this, we’ve targeted funding to programs that help children in foster care stay in their school and decrease the number of times they change schools, as well as projects that more efficiently enroll very young children in early education programs.

We’re also focusing on youth who are aging out of foster care

We hope to help them build relationship skills needed to become healthy, productive adults.

We’re supporting innovative approaches designed to find permanent placements for groups of foster children who tend to stay in care longer than their peers.

We’re becoming more and more aware of the problems of children born in the U.S. to immigrant parents. Last January in Miami, I met a mother of a 2 ½ year old boy.

The boy needed an urgent medical procedure, but his mother was being detained, so the child could not be treated.

The story has a happy ending—upon review, ICE decided to give the mother a stay of detention so she could return home to her family. 

This story highlights the new challenges the Children’s Bureau faces—new populations, new variations on the age-old problems of how to preserve family life and make certain that every child has every opportunity to flourish.

And it illustrates how the Children’s Bureau, the first government agency to concentrate on the young,  is changing with the times, remaining a vibrant, indispensable part of the governmental structure that has grown up around it to support vulnerable children and families.

As President Kennedy said, “the purpose of any anniversary or any birthday is to recommit ourselves to the unfinished business.”

We certainly still have unfinished business, but we are not tired and we are certainly committed, in fact, reinvigorated by the challenges ahead.

We look forward to a time when every child, regardless of family income or any other limiting factor, can express his innate talents and fulfill her dreams.  Because, in the words of Frederic Douglass, “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”


Now, it is my distinct honor and pleasure to introduce, Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services.  Secretary Sebelius took the helm of the Department almost 3 years ago, on April 28 2009.  She’s led historic efforts to improve the health of all Americans and to enhance human services delivery for those most in need.

Secretary Sebelius has long been interested in the well-being of the youngest Americans.  As Governor of Kansas, she championed the causes of strong family and high quality education for every child.  At HHS, she has worked to give every child the best possible opportunity for success in life, through increasing health care coverage, improving early learning and access to good child care and supporting innovative approaches like home visiting programs for new mothers.

Secretary Sebelius is a remarkable leader and an effective advocate for our country’s children and families.  I am proud to be a member of her team.

Madam Secretary? 

Read Secretary Kathleen Sebelius' entire Children’s Bureau Centennial Commemoration speech.


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