Howard Davidson Leaving ABA After 37 Years

Howard Davidson, who started the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law in 1978 and has led it ever since, will retire from the D.C.-based organization this summer.

“After over forty years of child law work, I have decided…to retire from the ABA at the end of this June or in early July,” Davidson wrote in a statement sent to colleagues. The ABA is currently searching for a successor for the center.

Davidson attended Boston College in the late 1960s, where he said he was inspired by a slate of child and juvenile law professors. His legal career began in the U.S. Army, where he served as a judge advocate general for four years. 

Davidson then became director of the Children’s Law Project for Greater Boston Legal Services.

In his message to colleagues, Davidson cited a number of areas of law and policy where he believes the center has had an impact, including:

  • Enhancing child, parent and government agency legal representation
  • Leading in child welfare court improvement
  • Addressing health and trauma issues affecting abused and neglected children and adolescents
  • Strengthening legal supports for kinship care providers
  • Expanding active involvement of older foster youth in their court hearings and transition planning
  • Assuring laws and court practices better address the link between foster care placement and school access
  • Reducing the length of time kids spend in foster care through expedited permanency
  • Giving attention to important emerging issues in the child law field, such as LGBTQ youth in care and undocumented children and families involved with the child welfare system.

He said he plans to travel more, but will remain “involved in the field of child welfare law and policy in meaningful ways.”

Indeed, at a late February conference, Davidson did not give the impression of a man intent on walking away from the field. During his presentation about the evolution of federal child welfare law and policy, he expressed particular interest in the ongoing crisis with immigrant children crossing into the United States from Central America.

He noted a symmetry he saw between those unaccompanied minors and the “orphan train movement” that began in the mid-1800s, moving east coast city kids to foster homes in the Midwest.

Said Davidson:

The influx of immigrant children by the mid-1800’s, as today, posed both social and political challenges, straining public resources and resulting in arch-conservative oratory. As New York City’s first Chief of Police was quoted as saying, there were on the streets a “constantly increasing number of vagrants, idle and vicious children…who infest our public thoroughfares.” I recall hearing similar rhetoric last year.

Click here to read Davidson’s full presentation.

John Kelly is an editor for The Chronicle of Social Change. 

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