In October 1975, Henry Kempe invited 20 key people to participate in a conference at Bellagio, Italy. He brought together a mix of disciplines from a number of geographic locations. The plenary sessions focused on one of the following themes:

  • Prediction and prevention;
  • Inter-disciplinary concept of family diagnosis and development of treatment plans;
  • New treatment modalities;
  • Rights of children and the law.

As Jaap Doek notes, a major topic of discussion was prevention, as well as the need for a multidisciplinary approach. There were also discussions about a new method for treating families – in a residential setting – and on the rights of children. Particular focus was made on the prohibition of corporal punishment and mandatory reporting.

Pierre Ferrier (Switzerland) was invited to organize the first International Congress of child abuse and neglect in Geneva, Switzerland in September 1976. All participants played active roles in preparing for, and running, the Geneva Congress. This Congress marked the beginning of ISPCAN and the founding of the Child Abuse and Neglect: The International Journal in 1977 – intended to disseminate work and facilitate communication between professionals.

On July 7, 1977, the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN) was established. Its purpose being, “to promote opportunities, facilities and organizations which will enable the children of all nations to develop physically, mentally and socially and in a normal manner …and in particular, to promote the protection of every child, in every country against all forms of cruelty and exploitation.” Thus, from its inception (which predates the CRC), ISPCAN has taken a child’s rights approach to child abuse and neglect.

Henry Kempe (US) was the first president of ISPCAN and his vision led to ISPCAN’s international focus. Henry is described by all who knew him as a remarkable person. He was renowned for having the uncanny ability to get people “to do,” and “do well,” what they thought was undo-able. Henry held the position for five years and “almost single-handedly managed the organization’s affairs” before handing it over to Alfred White Franklin (UK) at the 1980 Congress in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Alfred, a participant at the original Bellagio meeting, saw one of his challenges was to more actively engage the council in the organization. He was particularly interested in engaging developing countries by promoting local and regional meetings. This vision was taken forward by the third president Jaap Doek (the Netherlands). Jaap, along with his colleague, Sjef Teuns, was also keen to broaden the definition of “child abuse” to include child labor, child sexual exploitation and other issues of concern in developing countries.

As a result of various initiatives, the Developing Countries Committee was born in October 1983. Regional Conferences were held (Jakarta in 1983 and a workshop in Nairobi in 1985). The latter resulted in the establishment of the African Network for the Promotion and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect. It was decided a separate workshop would be held immediately. before the next Congresses for participants from developing countries. The first workshop in Montreal, Canada, focused on urban slums and squatters’ environments as a form of child abuse and neglect.

The fourth president, Pierre Ferrier (Switzerland), whose primary goal was to provide leadership and ensure American and European members bridged the differences apparent at the previous Parisian council meeting. The challenge of being truly international is still with us today.

Margaret Lynch’s fifth presidency was dominated by the 1988 Congress in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; a significant event in ISPCAN’s history, because it was the first Congress to be held in a developing country. Margaret (UK) had many challenges to overcome before the Congress, one of which was a UK postal strike. Nevertheless, the Congress was a huge success and two decades later, participants still refer to it as one of the highlights in their professional careers. Not only was the Congress successful in raising the profile of child protection within South America, but it also made a substantial profit that helped fund Brazilian and regional activities.

At this time, under the previous Secretary, Anne Cohn Donnelly’s, guidance, ISPCAN began to think about its mission statements, objective, long-range plans and work plans. In 1987, in Rhodes, Greece, first-time participants from socialist countries of Eastern Europe were able to attend. Kim Oates (Australia) took over the presidency following the 1988 Congress. A number of major issues were facing ISPCAN, one of which was the increase in members’ involvement. The notion of having a regular newsletter for members was discussed and subsequently the LINK was established. Helen Agathonas-Georgopoulou considers herself the LINK’s “godmother,” having proposed the name during her presidency.

ISPCAN’s influence on supporting developing countries continued to increase, with an emphasis on hosting Regional Conferences. During Kim Oates’ presidency, ISPCAN began funding training institutes, the first being in Latin America. Holding a masterclass at International Congresses was also introduced for the first time. ISPCAN developed connections with other national organizations such as UNICEF, WHO and ILO.

Helen Agathonas-Georgopoulou (Greece), described the seventh presidency as characterized by the question of “how political should ISPCAN be?” In 1991, wars with Yugoslavia, and also in the Persian Gulf, were ongoing and large populations of people had moved across borders to a safer place. Following lengthy discussions, the Executive Council resolved that “we should be concerned with acts and a phenomena that may have political implications on the well-being of children rather than in taking political sides.” For Helen, whose term began at the Hamburg, Germany Congress in 1990, one of her greatest challenges was introducing the subject of child abuse and neglect in Eastern Europe. The third European Conference held in Prague, Czech Republic, proved to be a breakthrough in East European countries.

ISPCAN also needed to progress its own internal development. A year after signing the European Convention on the Rights of the Child, many countries wanted guidance on how to move forward on its own implementation. This stimulated the Executive Council to reorganize its functions by introducing committee work, structuring and formalizing its internal work and a developing collaborations with other organizations. During 1990 and 1992, the following main issues were addressed:

  • Requests for training courses and conferences in countries just entering the field, mostly from developing countries;
  • The need for an electronic network was identified and nine years later, the ISPCAN membership Listserv was implemented;
  • The ability for members to communicate regularly became possible in 1991 when the LINK was
    launched in response to feedback for updates and access to information about ISPCAN’s projects and
  • The publication of the Child Abuse and Neglect: the International Journal increased in 1991 when
    Elsevier bought out Pergamon Press. The publication expanded from six to 12 issues annually.

Richard “Dick” Krugman (USA) assumed the eighth presidency in 1992 having been Editor-in-Chief of the Journal since 1987. The first major issue was the forthcoming Malaysian Congress. This venue presented significant problems for Israeli ISPCAN members because at that time, Malaysia did not have diplomatic relations with Israel.

The discussions about whether to hold the meeting in Malaysia demonstrates the complexity of being involved in an international organization such as ISPCAN, which not only maintains a high ethical standard but is also is committed to reaching all those working to prevent child abuse and neglect. During the event, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) reached a peace accord, and Israeli citizens were allowed to travel to Malaysia. The 1994 Congress in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia was organized by Mohammed Sham Kasim and was regarded as a magnificent success by its 1,400 participants.

Another major milestone in ISPCAN’s history was the decision to hire an Executive Director—Nancy Peddle being the first. Dick Krugman regards this new appointment as “moving ISPCAN from an organization run by volunteer officers and a council, to one where paid staff could help with the considerable workload.” During Kari Killén’s (Norway) ninth presidency, the Executive Council recognized the need for a Secretariat, beginning a period of change that moved ISPCAN into a professionally run organization. Kari reports that “with the help of Robert’s Rules of Order (which ISPCAN still works to) and our excellent parliamentarian, Henry Plum, we navigated through these early turbulent passages.”

In 1995, Kim Svevo assumed responsibility as Executive Director and assisted ISPCAN in restructuring its work to be effective with paid staff and an engaged volunteer leadership. A membership campaign was successfully launched in 1996 and a Fundraising Committee was created to improve ISPCAN’s financial position. A number of Conferences were held in Kuala Lumpur/Calcutta, Malaysia; Ankara, Turkey; Cape Town, South Africa; and Oslo, Norway.

In Oslo, the idea for a Post-Communist Countries Conference was born: the first Eastern European Conference was held in Romania under the auspices of ISPCAN in 1996. Professionals from a variety of disciplines met with politicians at local and national levels and for the first time debated openly, and officially, the subject of child abuse and neglect, its consequences, as well as prevention and treatment possibilities. Participants at this conference followed-up with multidisciplinary professional training activities all over Eastern Europe and at the University of Timisoara in Romania. This conference also contributed to raising awareness of the need for training in different parts of the world.

Cooperation with international organizations increased, and in 1995, UNICEF and ISPCAN met to discuss common strategies to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). An outcome of this meeting was UNICEF’s commitment to support ISPCAN through its main offices in New York and regional offices around the world.

Meetings took place with the Soros Foundation in relation to training assistance in Eastern Europe and with organizations wanting to collaborate worldwide such as WHO, Children’s Rights Information Network, End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children. Tourism and child prostitution were other important issues during Kari’s presidency. ISPCAN and the Defence for Children International founded an international working group on child-labor to focus on stopping exploitative child-work.

The tenth president, Howard Levy (USA), comments on the way in which ISPCAN’s training, research, fundraising and overall business activities had been accelerating at a dizzying pace. Therefore, ISPCAN hired a consultant and began to update its strategic plan. The business of the Council changed to reflect its growing importance and diversity. Council members were assisted so they could work more efficiently and become more accountable; the roles and responsibilities of Committee Chairs were defined with a number of detailed policies put in place. The processes were intended to make ISPCAN and the Council more democratic and open, building on the philosophy of Howard’s predecessor, Kari.

The National Partners Project was initiated in Howard’s presidency and led to major restructuring of membership guidelines and philosophy. Howard comments that this program was key to ISPCAN’s expansion in both developed and developing countries. As part of the revised committee structure, a separate training and education committee was developed along with the creation of clinical and research teaching faculty. The result of this strategic planning and subsequent restructuring was that ISPCAN became a much stronger multidisciplinary professional organization.

The accumulated skills of members allowed ISPCAN to expand its training opportunities worldwide and to partner with organizations such as UNICEF and WHO. There was also an emphasis on enabling Councillors to participate actively in meetings, bearing in mind that for many, English is not their first language. Another significant change was the introduction of e-mail as the main communication method rather than spending money and time on conference and telephone calls, etc.

The eleventh president, Mohammad Shan Kasim (Malaysia), felt that during his presidency, ISPCAN changed. Particularly in the strategic planning exercise led by Tilman Furniss, which changed the way the Council functioned. The assignment of specific functions to each Council member was very effective for enabling the Council to increase the amount of work that could be undertaken. He also commented on the number of regional conferences that were held in addition to the 2000 Congress in Durban, South Africa. Several national training events also took place throughout Europe, South America, Asia and Africa, and also plans were taken forward to work with UNICEF and WHO among others.

For Mohammad, the challenge was for ISPCAN to support professional members without dictating policy and practice since the problems and appropriate responses vary so much from one place to another and from one culture to another. He saw part of his presidential role was enabling and encouraging local professionals in how to best be effective in their respective responsibilities to children.

During the twelfth presidency, Franklin Farinati (Brazil) continued to expand ISPCAN’s scope, becoming more global than before with expanded activity through the efforts of volunteer members. Franklin’s goal had been to further the concept of putting children first in all matters related to their well-being, and that the best interests of the child should always be the primary consideration. Councillors continued to implement the strategic plan with particular emphasis on increased communication with people from different cultures and the membership through the Listserv. The number of national partners expanded and ISPCAN obtained consultation status with the UN. ISPCAN’s work expanded in Eastern Europe and Asia.

Franklin saw it as part of his responsibilities to encourage professionals from developing nations to form national societies and to hold conferences at national and regional levels for professionals to increase their awareness about child abuse and neglect. During Franklin’s presidency, the Kempe Children’s Foundation in Denver hosted the 2002 Congress that was timed to coincide with the 25th anniversary of ISPCAN’s incorporation in the State of Colorado. Dick Krugman was Congress Chair for this event, which also coincided with him stepping down as Editor of the Journal and handing this role to John Levanthal.

Marcellina Mian (Canada) was ISPCAN’s thirteenth president during a time of continued growth and the forging of closer ties with international organizations such as WHO. Preventing child maltreatment: a guide to taking action and generating evidence, launched at the ISPCAN York, England Congress in 2006. Organizations which are larger and better known, turned to ISPCAN professionals for expert consultation on child abuse and neglect, which reflects how significant ISPCAN’s contribution had become on the world scene. Increasingly, at various gatherings, and whenever an action related to child maltreatment was contemplated, ISPCAN’s input was sought.

Kim Svevo’s skills at forging alliances combined with the larger ISPCAN membership around the globe; expertise and dedication of ISPCAN councillors; regional leaders and trainers; the strengthening of ties between members through Listserv communication; and the growth in services offered by the Secretariat created this higher profile.

Barbara L. Bonner (USA) served as president from 2004-2006. Following on the studies made under Marcellina Mian, ISPCAN increased its presence and collaboration at the international level. Under the leadership of Kim Svevo, ISPCAN was a major partner in the first UN study on Violence Against Children, a study that went on to have a substantial impact on policies throughout the world.

With funding from the Oak Foundation, ISPCAN conducted extended training programs in Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Estonia, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Poland, South Africa, and Thailand. Countries in the Arab Region continued to break new ground in implementing training programs for professionals. Jordan and Syria, under the leadership of Hana Jashan, MD, and Adib Essali, MD, made significant progress in “breaking the silence” in their countries. The training programs had a strong commitment from their respective governments, as evidenced by the sponsorship and presence of Queen Raina of Jordan and the first lady of Syria, Mrs. Asma Al-Asad.

In May 2005, a major event occurred when the recognition and commitment to address child maltreatment took place in Beijing, China under the sponsorship of the All-China Women’s Federation, UNICEF, WHO, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and ISPCAN. These were pivotal years as ISPCAN became increasingly recognized internationally for its expertise, leadership and commitment to protecting children worldwide.

Danya Glaser (UK), president from 2006-2008 writes:

With expansion of activities and staff, ISPCAN has undergone an Organizational Capacity Development process. We are experiencing further significant developments in ISPCAN’s interface and in interaction with major international organizations and NGOs concerned with child welfare. During the Society’s 30th Anniversary year, a successful Global Summit on Protecting Children from Violence, Abuse and Neglect was held recently in Chicago with 50 invited participants.

There was also a growing recognition for the importance of the context within which members and other professionals in the field are working. Moreover, the results of training of professionals can only be sustained by the existence of child protective systems. In order to further the development of invited participants. There was also a growing recognition for the importance of the context within which members and other professionals in the field are working.

Moreover, the results of training of professionals can only be sustained by the existence of child protective systems. In order to further the development of these systems, ISPCAN is initiating a Technical Assistance and Consultation program (TAC) in countries where training is being offered and in countries reporting to the CRC. Data on child maltreatment and protection play a vital role in indicating the magnitude of the problem in different countries, as well as enabling the planning of services and monitoring trends. The paucity of data and data collection systems has led to the formation of an important collaboration between ISPCAN and American Humane Association. ISPCAN has also assumed a stronger leadership in determining the scientific programs of Congresses and some of the Regional Conferences.

In reviewing ISPCAN’s history, a number of themes emerge: the ongoing development and maintenance of a constitution has helped ISPCAN immensely through the role of its lawyer/parliamentarian (initially, Donald Broth [USA], then Richard White [UK] and currently Henry Plum [USA]); the need to ensure ISPCAN is financially viable; the ongoing discussions about the nature and scope of the work to be undertaken by ISPCAN; how to best ensure that members are kept up-to-date with information and research findings (In this endeavour, Editors, Henry Kempe, Ray Helfer, Dick Krugman, John Levanthal and currently David Wolfe have all done admirable work to ensure that our Journal remains so highly rated in its field); and how best to recognize the selfless contributions that are made internationally by those working on behalf of ISPCAN and working to protect children around the world.

ISPCAN has grown greatly since its early meeting of professionals in Bellagio, Italy, and a 1976 Congress in Geneva, Switzerland. In reviewing its development, one is struck by the vast amount of work and dedication undertaken voluntarily by all those who established ISPCAN and who continue to support it today. ISPCAN’s work embodies Henry Kempe’s desire that “all of us working in the field never cease to ask difficult questions, to challenge ourselves to reach beyond what is possible and to strive for what is needed to protect children.”