Compare and Contrast Child Welfare in the USA and Colombia

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Updated: May 16, 2022
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This paper discusses child welfare systems in the USA and Colombia. The child welfare system is a cluster of services which is aimed to improve children’s well-being by ensuring they are safe, achieve permanency, and strengthen families to care for them successfully (Adamowicz, 2019). In most cases, many people are intricated in the child welfare system because of reports suspecting them for child neglect/abuse, which is also referred to as child maltreatment. According to the Federal Law, child maltreatment is serious harm to children, which may be as a result of neglect, bodily/sexual or emotional mistreatment caused by blood relatives or basic caregivers like babysitters and extended members of the family.

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In 2016, it was estimated that 4.1 million claims of child maltreatment and abandonment were reported to agencies dealing with child protection services representing 7.4 million children. Notably, 2.3 million claims were presented to a CPS investigation. Colombia and Puerto Rico Districts among the 50 states were determined to be sufferers of child abuse and neglect, where approximately 676,000 children were involved. Out of this 74.8 %, children were abandoned, 18.2% of children were bodily harmed, while 8.5%, were sexually harmed (Children’s Bureau, 2016). There is a need for all stakeholders that are involved in coming up with relevant approaches that will address the problem of child maltreatment. Therefore, this paper will compare and contrast the child welfare in the USA and Colombia.

History and Development of the Child Welfare System

The child welfare system started in the 19th century from child saving efforts which were voluntary. It later changed into a government-funded intervention system with the aim of identifying and shielding children from mistreatment and abandonment as well as preserving family integrity. This brought the attention of authorities dealing with child welfare and getting stable homes for children who are unsafe staying with their families (Courtney, 2013). The federal government has since 1970 played a significant role in financing and making policy frameworks for the practice of child welfare. However, the services offered by child welfare are excessively focused towards members of tribal and ethnic subgroups have been a lasting worry. Nevertheless, voluntary societies on the child rescue had started examining grievances of mistreatment, abuse, and brutality on children. This later brought extensive responsiveness from the media and public worry over the predicament of children who were maltreated.

The development of the child welfare system originated from a young girl’s incident in New York, Mary Ellen Wilson, who was rescued from her abusive caregivers in 1874. Mary Ellen’s case was handled after the intervention of Henry Bergh, a leader of the New York chapter of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NYSPCA) (Courtney, 2013). After Bergh’s intervention on Mary Ellen’s case, he joined forces with others and was able to institute the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC). Since then many large cities have formed related organizations, where they were given quasi-judicial authority by the courts to rescue children from unfit homes and taken to adoptive homes or institutions for children.

Child Welfare in Colombia

Colombia represents a rich mixture of Spanish, African and Native cultures, though racism is not much as there is an economic class distinction. Colombia’s income inequality is among the worst in the globe, where approximately one-third of the populace lives below the poverty line. However, Colombia’s adoption program is considered well, though it has been going through changes over the last five years (Schoborg, 2019). Inter-country adoptions were first done by the USA and Colombia in 1968, making the Colombian government taking active moves in advocating for children who were waiting to be adopted or taken to foster homes. In 2012, Dillon International was certified and permitted to enable adoptions from Colombia. Colombia then signed and approved the Hague Convention in 1997, though it was not implemented in the United States until 2008. From that time any Colombia’s adoptions are cases based in The Hague and must meet the Hague Convention requirements.

Since its establishment in 1968, its central authority has been the Instituto Colombiano de Beinestar Familiar (ICBF) or Colombia’s Institute of Family Welfare. The ICBF’s main office is in Bogota, with other 33 regional offices in Colombia and 8 private institutions (Casa Privadas), which act as ICBF delegated authorities. The Casa Privada are enabled to offer adoption services, though initially, their mandate was to provide shelter, counseling, and education to mothers who had given birth since they were more knowledgeable with the adoption of infants. Nonetheless, in 2006 Casa Privadas were unable to accept aid from organizations, leading to some ceasing their services, while others moved to care provision and adoption facilitation for older children and those with specific needs (Schoborg, 2019). The ICBF’a mandate is to protect minors and guarantee their rights and that of their families. Therefore, the ICBF and other delegated authorities have the sole mandate of matching children with prospective families.

The child welfare system is well established in Colombia, and it does not allow private adoption, but rely heavily on foster care. However, these children live in various institutions, many of which are private Catholic institutions or ICBF operated orphanages, though their conditions widely vary. The children, on the other hand, whether in private institutions or orphanages attend public schools. The adoption law in Colombia requires the physical presence of both adopting parents with no exceptions. Another requirement is the Article 5 letter, a letter from the US embassy in Bogota, which deals with insurance of immigrant visa when all requirements of US immigrant are met. The family judge then issues an adoption decree where the child can be given a new birth certificate with the names of the adoptive parents and their Colombian passport (Schoborg, 2019). Children up to 16 years may be adopted and those from 8 years and over are eligible to give consent for adoption, and if they do not want to be adopted, they stay with ICBF, where they create a life project which basically sets their education and future vocational goals.

Similarities of the Child Welfare System in the USA and Colombia

No child welfare system is perfect, and each system has room for improvement. Also, child welfare practices vary among states to some degree, and in this case, nations need to form approaches that limit unethical practices. As a result, it is clear that states have varied approaches to funding their child welfare systems and how a government invests in child welfare services acts as a mirror of the child welfare system. In similarities;

Both the USA and Colombia finance their child welfare services more expansively, making their child welfare systems more strong and all-inclusive. Another similarity is that both Colombia and the USA are in most cases used as good examples of states whose child welfare systems are well resourced and highly developed. In addition, both the USA and Colombia finance and distribute resources according to the needs of a specific region, for example, in the USA, the federal-state spends approximately 7.8% of its budget, while Colombia spends approximately 3% of its budget from the Colombia Family Welfare Institute (Stoltzfus, 2017). All these percentages are distributed in a compensatory manner according to the needs of the state.

Another similarity is that both the USA and Colombia, have been regularly monitoring and evaluating their child welfare systems since their establishment. This ensures that their systems are effective and note the areas which need improvement based on the lessons learned. Besides, both the USA and Colombia practices transparency, which ensures that there are no unethical practices (Stoltzfus, 2017). This entails the number of children in care, how the funds are spent, and the results of each child. Like in the USA it provides rich information through the child welfare information Gateway and other sources. Colombia, on the other hand, provides abundant information through its website Colombia’s Instituto Colombiano de Bienester Familiar (Colombia Family Welfare Institute).

Lastly, both the USA and Colombia have governmental infrastructures like birth registries, and important records, which ensure that child right is provided, for example, their citizenship, and proof of their existence and makes their reunion easier. A good example is the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where they only registered a mere 30% of children, making reunion efforts complicated. The USA, on the other hand, ensure that they carry out registration and keep vital records to assist children forcibly taken away from their birth families and taken to the US adoptive care (Stoltzfus, 2017). This is because lack of government infrastructure, delays many families in tracing their children, thus opening more opportunities for child neglect and abuse like trafficking, servitude and child labor.

Differences of Child Welfare System Between USA and Colombia

There are several differences between the child welfare system in the USA and Colombia. To begin with, in Colombia there is no unified legal/administrative system, which is dedicated to child protection, but a national family welfare system, while in the USA they have a special system, the child welfare system (UNICEF, 2016). Another difference is that the system in the USA is more advanced, well-financed and well established, unlike the Colombian system which depends on agencies and other supporters to finance them due to poverty.

With the well-established child welfare system, Colombia still suffers from an insufficient budget, services, and insufficient trained human resource to meet the children’s demands, while in the USA they have sufficient and adequate resources that cater for the children’s demands (UNICEF, 2016). In addition, many children from ethnic subgroups, especially those in the countryside still have no reach to superior and proper primary services and because of geographical, sex, racial and financial differences. Unlike in the USA, services are spread all over and with little or no racial disparities in the distribution of resources.

Lastly, Colombia lacks proper coordination creating an obstacle in child rights protection because not all public servants understand or take the suitable measures to use the established strategy and regulation. Another key challenge is that Colombia the children and adolescents do not enter the education system in time making them take longer to complete the school year (UNICEF, 2016). Unlike in the USA, proper measures are in place, and all the stakeholders are aware of their roles in applying the established policies and regulations. Thus, children and adolescents enter school at the right time and are able to complete the school year on time.


The child welfare system provides four major sets of services, which include, investigation of child protection, services, and supports that are family-centered, foster care and adoption. However, due to the rising number of reports on child abuse/ neglect or maltreatment, the child welfare agencies that provide these services need to work 24 hours daily, 7 days weekly in order to respond to these reports. On the other hand, they are expected to meet the needs of the different populations despite their ethnicity, gender, needs, resources, cultures and societal backgrounds.


  1. Adamowicz, W. M & Licsw. (2019). How Does the Child Welfare System Work? Retrieved from:
  2. Courtney, E. M. (2013). Child Welfare: History and Policy Framework. Retrieved from: 10.1093/acrefore/9780199975839.013.530
  3. Children’s Bureau. (2016). Child Maltreatment 2016. Retrieved from:
  4. Stoltzfus, E. (2017). Child Welfare: An Overview of Federal Programs and Their Current Funding. Retrieved from:
  5. Schoborg, D. (2019). Colombia. Retrieved from:
  6. UNICEF. (2016). UNICEF Annual Report 2016. Colombia. Retrieved from:
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Compare and Contrast Child Welfare in the USA and Colombia. (2021, May 17). Retrieved from