(L to R) Charlie Stuart, CWD San Joaquin County, Ron Born, CWD San Francisco, C. A. Herbage, Deputy Director SDSW, and Sam Thompson, CWD Alameda County, attended the American Public Welfare Association nationwide meeting in Chicago, December 8, 1945.

CWDA’s rich 97-year history cements its place as one of the most important social and political organizations in the landscape of local, state, and national human services policy.

Est. 1926 and First Constitution

The association was established at the 1926 annual meeting of the California Conference of Social Work. This unofficial group of public welfare organizations, with a membership of 20 people, was first dubbed the Association of California’s Executives of Public Welfare. The name was changed to the County Welfare Directors Association in 1943.

According to the first Constitution, the association’s purposes included:

  • Stimulating “cordial relationships and helpful cooperation” between county welfare departments.
  • Endeavoring to improve the social work carried out by county welfare departments.
  • Developing a mutual understanding and interpretation of California welfare laws.
  • In cooperation with the State Public Welfare Department (today the Department of Social Services), endeavoring to establish well-organized departments of public welfare in each county to handle social service and relief programs.
  • Working out agreements for handling inter-county matters such as transportation and establishment of residency.

The association quickly became active in politics and decision-making at the local, state and federal levels. As early as 1928, members worked with representatives from Washington and Oregon to analyze the problem of residency determinations for migrant families and individuals. In 1935, President William H. Leach of Monterey County traveled to Washington, D.C., to attend the first annual meeting of the American Public Welfare Association  - today called the American Public Human Services Association.

Association Expands, World War II Involvement

In February 1939, the association expanded, with the hiring of its first executive secretary. The secretary was to be employed “for the period of the Legislative session and for such additional time as the Executive Committee might find advisable.” A major part of the job was issuing regular bulletins during the legislative session, with edited versions sent to non-members for $1 per month for individuals, $2 for agencies. By December 1944, every county welfare director was a member of CWDA and every county in the state was subscribing to the legislative bulletin.

During World War II, the association and its members became highly involved in the war effort. Several directors joined the armed services or went to work for support agencies such as the Red Cross, and county departments lost many staff to the war. Many of those vacant positions were not immediately filled, as public relief caseloads were also on the decline. Price controls in effect during wartime made it possible for the association to continue meeting regularly. Lodging, meals, and entertainment cost just $5 a day at a 1944 meeting held at a resort in Lake County.

State Collaboration Always an Integral Part of Association Purpose

The association has always worked closely with the state social services department, from informal, irregular meetings in the early days to formal quarterly meetings beginning in 1944 and to the monthly meetings with state staff participation held today. Various committees were created to review and make recommendations on proposed policies and regulations. These committees have changed somewhat over the years, but still exist today in some form.

Welfare Reform & the Association’s Role in Other Major Policies

CWDA has also played a role in issues such as welfare reform, issuing position papers and policy recommendations on the issue as early as 1966. A 1970 publication published by CWDA and the California State Association of Counties, “Time for Change,” found its way to the desks of the President and Vice President of the United States, the Chairmen of the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committees, the Governor of California, and every legislator in the state.

In 1984, CWDA hired a full-time, Sacramento-based executive secretary, who was subsequently named the association’s first executive director. Today, CWDA employs 10 full-time staff and contracts for federal representation with a Washington, D.C.-based legislative advocate. 

Over the years, CWDA has played a leading role in the creation of several milestone policies and programs in California, including:

  • In 1997, the creation of the CalWORKs program, a successful example of a bi-partisan agreement that meets the goals of getting people to work and helping poor children that was developed in response to federal welfare reform.
  • In 1998, the creation of the statewide Adult Protective Services Program, which now operates in all 58 counties and helps elder adults (65 years and older) and dependent adults (18-64 who are disabled), when these adults are unable to meet their own needs, or are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation.
  • In 1998, working with state and local partners on the SB 2030 in Child Welfare Services that required a rigorous workload study for child welfare services workers and resulted in understanding that the staff ratios were not adequately funded to meet basic mandates.
  • In 2010, co-sponsoring legislation that extended foster care supports to youth beyond age 18, making California among the first states in the nation to provide this type of support to foster youth.
  • In 2013, CWDA and counties were heavily involved in legislative efforts to bring the Affordable Care Act to California. Counties were also responsible for the successful implementation of the expansion of the Medi-Cal program and enrollment of millions of new clients into expanded health care coverage options under the Affordable Care Act.

Undoubtedly, CWDA will continue to play an invaluable role in shaping human services policies and programs on the state and federal levels for years to come. CWDA: Advancing Human Services for the Welfare of All Californians.