The Smallest Victims
A History of Child Maltreatment and Child Protection in America
by Herbert C. Covey
July 2018, 291pp, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
1 volume, Praeger

Hardcover: 978-1-4408-6071-3
$55, £43, 48€, A76
eBook Available: 978-1-4408-6072-0
Please contact your preferred eBook vendor for pricing.

In 2015, there were 6 million reports of child maltreatment in America.

This book provides a review of how child maltreatment has been socially constructed, ignored, and formally responded to as it tells the story of how America's system of child protection has evolved. Additionally, it identifies key questions and related issues.

When child maltreatment occurs, it strikes chords in our hearts because we sense the terrible injustice inherent in the matter: children are innocent and not able to protect themselves. This book provides readers with an overview of how perceptions of child maltreatment have changed over the years and how the American child protection system has evolved to keep pace with them, revealing the historical origins of current child protection issues and surveying efforts to find solutions.

The Smallest Victims is unique in stressing the subjective and relative nature of the social construction of child maltreatment as it includes abuse and neglect. It identifies historical social factors and links them to perceptions of child maltreatment and responses to it. How maltreatment was once perceived in pre-American and American societies, for example, has had significant implications on the reactions it elicited, from tolerance to outrage.

The book devotes a chapter to the exploitation of children in the labor market and as sexual victims, timely subjects given the national interest in human trafficking. Other chapters explore state intervention in family affairs and when children are removed from their homes. The book also includes a detailed timeline that denotes critical milestones since antiquity.


  • Assumes a multidisciplinary approach to the complex topics of child maltreatment and child protection
  • Grounds an emotionally provocative social issue in history so that child abuse, exploitation, and fatalities due to maltreatment may be efficiently addressed and/or prevented
  • Analyzes the history child trafficking and sex abuse in America, prominent contemporary problems
  • Features images, case examples, and a timeline to help guide readers through the evolution of child maltreatment and protection in America
Herbert C. Covey, PhD, is Deputy Director of Human Services in Adams County Colorado. He has been professionally involved in child welfare for almost 30 years. He taught at the University of Colorado Continuing Education Program for over two decades and served on the Colorado State Juvenile Parole Board for 13 years. He has authored or coauthored 15 books and has authored or coauthored 50 academic journal articles, including recent research on the long-term effects of children’s exposure to violence.


“An important and comprehensive treatise on an issue that has permeated humanity for millennia, The Smallest Victims is detailed and rich in information that is vital to an in-depth understanding of child maltreatment in America.”—Robert J. Franzese, PhD, Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, Retired, The University of Oklahoma (Norman)

“Dr. Covey’s previous work has dealt with the social and historical contexts underlying our perceptions of disadvantaged populations, including those with disabilities and the elderly. In The Smallest Victims, with his customary thoroughness and attention to detail, Covey applies that historical and social contextual awareness to the study of child maltreatment as a social issue, and the ways in which its historical context has shaped our societal responses to child maltreatment. Readers of this book should come away with a deeper and broader understanding of child maltreatment, laws and treatment programs aimed at reducing child maltreatment, and how our efforts to combat this major social problem have evolved into their present form."—Scott Menard, PhD, Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado, Boulder and Coauthor of Good Kids from Bad Neighborhoods: Successful Development in Social Context

“With decades of experience as a sociologist researching juvenile delinquency and the performance of child protection systems, Dr. Covey has framed the sociological history of child protection as centuries of changing awareness, beliefs and responses to child maltreatment. Researchers will find in The Smallest Victims a comprehensive chronology of events, persons, legislation and controversies. Rather than exploring the social psychology of neglecting or abusing children, Covey broadly defines the assumptions and institutional arrangements that define the limits of modern child protection. Case workers will recognize the factors that have created modern child protection bureaucracies and the inherent conflicts that make their work so difficult.”—Donald C. Bross, PhD, JD, Professor Emeritus, Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, University of Colorado School of Medicine
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