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The Kempe Center Marks 50 Years of Protecting the World’s Children

Founder C. Henry Kempe’s legacy includes cultural reform, groundbreaking child-protective laws

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What You Need To Know

The Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, celebrating its 50th anniversary, helped change the culture of children’s rights in the United States and worldwide.

Over the past 50 years, The Kempe Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect has changed the culture of children’s rights worldwide. Established in 1972, The Kempe Center became the first of its kind, providing research, training, education and innovative program development for all forms of child abuse, neglect and trauma.

German-born C. Henry Kempe, MD, fled to the United States during the rise of the Nazi Party in the 1930s. In his new home, he learned to speak English and excelled in school, eventually earning a medical degree, and becoming the youngest chairman of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. As a young physician, Kempe became the first in the U.S. medical community to identify and recognize child abuse.

‘My father was like a steam engine at work – pushing ahead all the time and

allowing no obstacle to stand in his way.’ – Allison Kempe, MD

Kempe founded the center, originally known as the National Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Child Abuse and Neglect, with his wife, Ruth Kempe, MD. In 1962, he and his colleagues, including former CU medical pioneers Brandt F. Steele, MD, and Henry Silver, MD, published the paper “The Battered-Child Syndrome,” a groundbreaking study that shined light on a societal scourge that had long lurked in the shadows.

‘Driven in his desire to help children’

Through Kempe’s efforts, child abuse reporting laws now exist in all 50 U.S. states. Kempe’s work led to the passage of the 1972 Colorado law requiring legal counsel for the child in all cases of suspected abuse. In 1976, The Kempe Foundation was established to lead fundraising, awareness, and advocacy efforts for children.

KempeCenterINS_PortraitC. Henry Kempe, MD

“My father was like a steam engine at work – pushing ahead all the time and allowing no obstacle to stand in his way,” said Allison Kempe, MD, MPH/MSPH, professor of pediatrics at the CU School of Medicine and director of Adult & Child Center for Outcomes Research & Delivery Science (ACCORDS).

“He accomplished so much more than most people in a day and was extremely driven in his desire to help children,” added Allison Kempe, one of five daughters. “I was lucky enough to see him in both a professional realm and where he was awe-inspiring and in a personal realm where he was loving and gentle.”

Now at the CU School of Medicine, The Kempe Center mission remains unchanged: help children heal, grow and learn, and support their families, while offering hope for a brighter future.

‘They are all our children’

“The Kempe Center helped to change the culture of children’s rights in our country and worldwide,” said Annie Kempe, another of Kempe’s daughters, a retired occupational therapist in Santa Barbara, Calif. The center inspired widespread acknowledgement that children have basic rights to safety, health and security as well as education, nutrition and medical care, she said.

Her father felt a personal responsibility to all children and encouraged all citizens to share in that responsibility, said Annie Kempe, who wrote a book about her father’s legacy. “He would say, ‘They are all our children.’”

Today the Kempe Center provides opportunities for CU Anschutz students to conduct research, and acquire the skills necessary to diagnose, treat and prevent child abuse and neglect. Programs include the Child Protection Team and The CARE Network (Kempe serves as the Resource Center providing training and mentoring), a group of physicians, physicians, psychologists, physician assistants, nurse practitioners, nurses and licensed behavioral health providers who provide support and care to children who are suspected victims of abuse or neglect.

Laura Schwab Reese receives

50th Anniversary Kempe Lecture Award


In mid-June, Laura Schwab Reese, PhD, The Kempe Center’s Berger Postdoctoral Fellow from 2015 to 2017, was honored with the 50th Anniversary Kempe Lecture Award for her accomplishments on behalf of the center.


At a ceremony in Tallinn, Estonia, she received the award from the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse & Neglect (ISPCAN), which, for 45 years, has created and disseminated knowledge about child maltreatment throughout the world. ISPCAN and The Kempe Center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine share C. Henry Kempe’s vision of creating a global community to prevent children from harm.

Richard Krugman, MD, a distinguished professor in the CU Department of Pediatrics and former dean of the CU School of Medicine, said he wants his former mentor remembered as a pioneer who created a multidisciplinary approach to the recognition, treatment and prevention of child abuse and neglect through the center.

“The Kempe Center tested programs and exported them if they worked and reported on them if they didn’t work, so others would not need to try and repeat the failure,” said Krugman, a former director of the center.

‘Our children’s future and the world’s future are one’

The center’s leadership in advocacy, research, education and clinical work drives innovative strategies that transform the field and strengthens families and communities and the systems that serve them, Annie Kempe said.

“Among professionals working in the field of child abuse and neglect, The Kempe Center has long been regarded as a touchstone and resource for teaching, educating, idea-sharing, cultural awareness and distinctions, journal publication and worldwide gatherings and meetings,” she said.

“In our society, the Kempe Center serves to remind us of our responsibilities to protect the vulnerable – our children – as well as their needs and rights here in Colorado and everywhere,” she said. At its 50-year mark, the center’s vision remains aligned with C. Henry Kempe’s overarching passion: “Our children’s future and the world’s future are one.”

Guest contributor: Lasy Phanthalangsy-Johnson is a communications and marketing coordinator at The Kempe Center.