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Keeping Children Safe is Good Business: The Enterprise of Child Safety in the Age of Reagan



This essay investigates the ways in which child safety became an enterprise during the child protection crusade of the 1980s. Americans clamored for an increased federal presence in “the battle for child safety,” but they made such calls in a climate of intense governmental distrust. The federal government did assume a larger role on the issue of missing and exploited children with the passage of the Missing Children and Missing Children’s Assistance Acts of 1982 and 1984, respectively. But, as this essay demonstrates, the state also stressed the primacy of the private sector—and specifically for-profit companies—in protecting American children. The celebration by President Ronald Reagan and others of private sector efforts to raise awareness about and “save” American youngsters laid the groundwork for a broader child safety apparatus that took hold in the final decades of the twentieth century.



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