IDEA: A Child Welfare Historical Perspective


From Independence to Civil War

1789 - 1860

Children without parents were separated into orphanages. The disabled were viewed as an inconvenience and the mentally disabled specifically were seen as morally lacking. The mentally ill within institutions were treated inhumanely.

The American School for the Deaf

1817 - 1818

The founding of the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Conn., in 1817 was a crucial milestone in the way society related to people with disabilities. The time and place are significant because it was a unique conjunction of different currents which led to the school's establishment.

The experiment aroused great interest. Governor Oliver Wolcott, in an 1818 proclamation, asked the public, "to aid . . . in elevating the condition of a class of mankind, who have been heretofore considered as incapable of mental improvement, but who are now found to be susceptible of instruction in the various arts and sciences, and of extensive attainments in moral and religious truth." His words express the great change in attitude toward deaf people which had only just occurred.

Dorthea Dix - Reform

1840 - 1860

In 1837 Dix discovers the treatment of those within mental institutions and begins to advocate on behalf of the population

In 1854 President Franklin Pierce vetoed proposed bill for funding to states for mental health reform due to economic feasibility and an ideology that the federal government should not be responsible for this type of funding.


1883 - 1884

Eugenics: a science that deals with the improvement (as by control of human mating) of hereditary qualities of a race or breed.

Supporters of this view point led to laws that forced the sterilization of of many Americans with disabilities.

Education Becomes Manditiory

1918 - 1919

It is now mandatory in all states for all children up until age 14 to attend school.

Fair Labor Standards Act 1938

1938 - 1939

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Fair Labor Standards Act, which includes limits on many forms of child labor allowing more children, especially of vulnerable populations the time to attend school.

Brown vs. Board of Education

1954 - 1955

In December, 1952, the U.S. Supreme Court had on its docket cases from Kansas, Delaware, the District of Columbia, South Carolina, and Virginia, all of which challenged the constitutionality of racial segregation in public schools. The U.S. Supreme Court had consolidated these five cases under one name, Oliver Brown et al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka. It was found that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students unconstitutional

Civil Rights Act 1964

1964 - 1965

The provisions of this civil rights act forbade discrimination on the basis of sex as well as race in hiring, promoting, and firing, the word "sex" was added at the last moment, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions or privileges or employment, because of such individual's race, color, religion, sex, or national origin." The final bill also allowed sex to be a consideration when sex is a bona fide occupational qualification for the job.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)

1965 - 1966

As part of President Johnson's "War on Poverty" education is now officially federally funded with emphasis on "closing the gaps."

Title VI to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965

1965 - 1966

Congress creates a Bureau of Education for the Handicapped (this bureau today is called the Office of Special Education Programs or OSEP).

Rehabilitation Act 1973

1973 - 1974

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is enacted into statute. This national law protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability.

Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act 1974

1974 - 1975

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. Schools and centers of education are now responsible to prevent child abuse.

Shortly after within a Juvenile law it becomes federal law for ALL PERSONS that suspect child abuse whether professional or not, to report it.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) 1974

1974 - 1975

Parents are allowed to have access to all personally identifiable information collected, maintained, or used by a school district regarding their child.

Education for Handicapped Children's Act of 1975

1975 - 1976

Federal law that supports special education and related service programming for children and youth with disabilities. It was originally known as the Education of Handicapped Children Act, passed in 1975. In 1990, amendments to the law were passed, effectively changing the name to IDEA. In 1997 and again in 2004, additional amendments were passed to ensure equal access to education.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 1990

1990 - 1991

The EAHCA is amended and is now called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). School Districts were now required to look at outcomes and assisting students with disabilities in transitioning from high school to post secondary life.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) 1990

1990 - 1991

ADA adopts the Section 504 regulations as part of the ADA statute. In turn, numerous “504 Plans” for individual students start to become more common place in school districts.

IDEA reauthorized 1997

1997 - 1998

This amendment calls for students with disabilities to be included in on state and district-wide assessments. Also, Regular Education Teachers are now required to be a member of the IEP team.

No Child Left Behind is enacted 2001

2001 - 2002

This law, enacted by President George W. Bush, called for all students, including students with disabilities, to be proficient in math and reading by the year 2014. Largely unfunded mandate.

IDEA reauthorized 2004

2004 - 2005

There are several changes from the 1997 reauthorization. The biggest changes call for more accountability at the state and local levels, as more data on outcomes is required. Another notable change involves school districts providing adequate instruction and intervention for students to help keep them out of special education.