ACF History

The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) was created on April 15, 1991, under the authority of section 6 of the Reorganization Plan No. 1 of 1953. The plan allowed the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to merge the Office of Human Development Services with the Family Support Administration, along with the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant Program. The newly-formed organization was called the Administration for Children and Families. ACF is the United States’ largest human services administration. The reorganization placed greater emphasis and focus on the needs of America's children and families.  View the April 15, 1991 press release for the HHS reorganization.

The Administration for Children and Families promotes the economic and social well-being of families, children, individuals and communities through a range of educational and supportive programs in partnership with states, tribes, and community organizations. ACF also advises Secretary of Health and Human Services on issues pertaining to children, youth, and families. These issues include child support enforcement, child welfare, child care, family assistance, Native American assistance, refugee resettlement, and more.

Today, ACF is one of 11 operating divisions in HHS. The agency has the second largest budget within HHS — $53 billion in FY2017. To put that in perspective, ACF’s budget is larger than whole cabinet agencies like the Department of Justice, Department of Interior, and the Treasury Department.

The agency employs approximately 1,700 staff, including 1,200 federal employees and 500 contractors. Sixty percent of ACF staff work at central office in the Mary E. Switzer Building in Washington, D.C. The remaining 40 percent are based in regional offices located in Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Kansas City, Mo., New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle. There is also a satellite office in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Julia Clifford Lathrop, first chief of the U.S. Children's BureauSeveral of the programs ACF administers existed before the agency was created. The most senior program, the Children’s Bureau, was established in 1912. The bureau was the first agency in the world dedicated to child welfare. This new government office also made history when President William Howard Taft appointed its first leader, Julia Clifford Lathrop. Miss Lathrop became the first woman to ever lead a government agency. She was an American social reformer in the area of education, social policy, and children's welfare. She served as the agency’s director from 1912 to 1922.

Throughout the 20th Century, more anti-poverty programs were created, which eventually found a home at ACF. Today, ACF is home to the following programs:

Since its inception, the following individuals have served as Assistant Secretary for Children and Families (* indicates Acting):

  • Jo Anne B. Barnhart (1991-1992)
  • Laurence J. Love* (1993)
  • Mary Jo Bane (1993-1996)
  • Olivia Golden (1997-2000)
  • Diann Dawson* (2001)
  • Wade Horn (2001-2006)
  • Daniel Schneider* (2006-2008)
  • Curtis Coy* (2009)
  • David Hansell* (2009)
  • Carmen Nazario (2009-2010)
  • David Hansell* (2010-2011)
  • George Sheldon* (2011-2013)
  • Mark Greenberg* (2014-2017)
  • Naomi Goldstein* (2017)
  • Amanda Barlow* (2017)
  • Steven Wagner* ( 2017- Present)

Celebrating 25 Years

In April 2016, the Administration for Children and Families celebrated its silver anniversary. The theme for the celebration – Impacting People, Affecting Change, Empowering Families – simultaneously embodied ACF’s mission while paving the way for the future. ACF has done a considerable amount of work for families and children in the United States over the last 25 years, and it looking forward to addressing tomorrow’s challenges.

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