Helen Boardman

1906 – 1994

Pioneer in child abuse identification and intervention

Times changed. The Depression years generated more interest in social work and the pay had increased to a living wage. In 1941, she moved to Southern California with her husband and accepted a social work position at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where she was to remain for the rest of her social work career until 1972. It was here that her passion for the protection of children from abuse took root and grew to ardent advocacy.

Boardman was one of the first to recognize the scope and depth of child abuse and a pioneer in bringing it to the forefront of medicine and the legal system. She was one of a group of social workers who pressured Henry Kempe to write the Battered Child Syndrome. She became a crusader raising awareness of child abuse as a social problem and pressing the National Children’s Bureau for mandatory child abuse reporting regulations. Ahead of her time, Boardman understood the complexity of the problem and the need for a comprehensive multidisciplinary response. In 1962, she wrote an article for the Social Work Journal identifying the need for social work collaboration with law enforcement, district attorneys, medical professionals and court personnel to address child abuse. In response, she was criticized by social workers who suggested that work with children was the purview of social work and that there was no place for other disciplines in that arena.

Boardman was instrumental in establishing the Multidisciplinary Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) team at Children’s Hospital, one of the first such teams in the country, and was influential in the development of the Los Angeles Police Department Child Abuse Unit, in which specifically trained detectives were to respond to suspected cases of abuse and neglect. Her concerns about intervention and treatment of abused children led her to partner with Jolly K. as a founding member of Parents Anonymous. During her term as board president, Parents Anonymous expanded from a local Southern California group to a national organization.

She was a founding member of the Social Workers Association of Los Angeles (SWALA), which played a significant role in the development of NASW. She promoted public awareness of child abuse in interviews on television and radio. Her book, Hope for the Children, was published in 1979.

Those who knew Helen reflect on her remarkable balance of strong convictions and profound compassion. She was smart, tireless in her advocacy and kind to her colleagues. A true pioneer, she recognized the problem, advocated for children and created new approaches to responding to child physical abuse.

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