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
Stimulating “cordial relationships and helpful cooperation”
between county welfare departments.
Endeavoring to improve the social work carried out by county
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
State Collaboration Always an Integral Part of Association
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
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
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
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.