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From “Economic Want” to “Family Pathology”: Foster Family Care, the New Deal, and the Emergence of a Public Child Welfare System

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 February 2012

Catherine E. Rymph*
Affiliation:
University of Missouri

Abstract

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Copyright © Donald Critchlow and Cambridge University Press 2012

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References

NOTES

1. Mrs. George Morris to United States Information Service, 1 October 1941, 7-3-1-4 Custody of Dependent Children, 1941 September, box 166, Central Files, 1941–44, Records of the U.S. Children’s Bureau, National Archives, College Park, Md.

2. Katherine Lenroot to Mildred Territ, 16 October 1934, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care, box 548, Central Files, 1933–36, CB records.

3. Ella Castendyck to Mrs. John Lane, 12 March 1942, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care-Placing Out, box 168, Central Files, 1941–44, CB records.

4. I base my assessment of the network’s general views on my readings of published articles, correspondence, speeches, best-practices manuals, and other writings. For a more thoroughgoing examination of this network and its ideas after World War II, see Ethan G. Sribnick, “Rehabilitating Child Welfare: Children and Public Policy, 1945–1980” (Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 2007).

5. Arnold, Mildred, “The Growth of Public Child Welfare Program,” Children (1960), in Children and Youth in America, 1933–1973, vol. 3, parts 1–4, ed. Bremner, Robert (Cambridge, Mass., 1974), 623.Google Scholar

6. Lindsey, Duncan, The Welfare of Children (New York, 2004), 26.Google ScholarPubMed

7. In 1999, more than 50 percent of children in foster care were eligible for welfare benefits. Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives, The 2000 Green Book: Background Material on Data and Programs within the Jurisdiction of the Committee on Ways and Means (6 October 2000). http://aspe.hhs.gov/2000gb/index.htm#TOC.

8. For an overview of this scholarship, see Boris, Eileen, “On the Importance of Naming: Gender, Race, and the Writing of Policy History,” Journal of Policy History 17, no. 1 (2005), esp. pages75–82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

9. Andrew Morris provides a valuable discussion of the relationship of private agencies to the development of public social services in Morris, Andrew J. F., The Limits of Volunteerism: Charity and Welfare from the New Deal Through the Great Society (New York, 2009).Google Scholar Morris’s focus is on Family Services agencies, which were different in important ways from Children’s Services agencies. Private child welfare agencies, for example, were more likely to be faith-based than were their family service counterparts, and were in a somewhat stronger financial position in the 1930s.

10. For a discussion of such practices in Brazil, see Claudia Fonseca, “The Circulation of Children in a Brazilian Working-Class Neighborhood: A Local Practice in a Globalized World,” in Cross-Cultural Approaches to Adoption, ed. Fiona Bowie (New York, 2004), 165–81.

11. U.S. Committee on Economic Security, Social Security in America, Social Security Board Pub. No. 20 (Washington, D.C., 1937), reprinted in Children and Youth in America, ed. Robert Bremner, 527.

12. On adoption, see Carp, E. Wayne, Secrecy and Disclosure in the History of Adoption (Cambridge, Mass., 2000)Google Scholar; Berebitsky, Julie, Like Our Very Own: Adoption and the Changing Culture of Motherhood, 1851–1950 (Lawrence, Kans., 2000)Google Scholar; Melosh, Barbara, Strangers and Kin: The American Way of Adoption (Cambridge, Mass., 2002)Google Scholar; Herman, Ellen, Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the United States (Chicago, 2008).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

13. See Carp, E. Wayne, “Orphanages vs. Adoption: The Triumph of Biological Kinship, 1800–1933,” in With Us Always: A History of Private Charity and Public Welfare, ed. Critchlow, Donald T. and Parker, Charles H. (New York, 1998), 123–44.Google Scholar

14. The prime example of these rural free homes is the placing-out, or “orphan train” system, developed by Charles Loring Brace and the Children’s Aid Society in the mid-nineteenth century. See Irvin Holt, Marilyn, The Orphan Trains: Placing Out in America (Lincoln, Neb., 1994).Google Scholar

15. Standards produced by the Child Welfare League of America in 1933 defined “free homes” as those in which no money was given to the family and no payment was made by the family to children except an allowance; in “work homes,” the child worked for the family in return for board and lodging; in “wage homes,” the child received wages in exchange for services; and in “boarding homes,” foster parents received some payment for costs associated with boarding. Child Welfare League of America, Standards for Children’s Organizations Providing Foster Family Care, May 1933, folder 4, box 13, Child Welfare League of America Records, Social Welfare History Archive, Minneapolis. Hacsi, Tim, “From Indenture to Family Foster Care: A Brief History of Child Placing,” in A History of Child Welfare, ed. Smith, Eve P. and Merkel-Holguin, Lisa A. (New Brunswick, N.J., 1996), 167.Google Scholar

16. Agnes K. Hanna to Mr. Straten, 25 February 1935, folder 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care, box 548, Central Files 1933–36, CB records.

17. Part of the mistrust directed toward foster mothers was due to class. According to the recently sentimentalized view of childhood, children were not to bring income into the family—neither by their own labor nor as payment to those who cared for them. Zelizer, Viviana A., Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children (Princeton, 1985), 124.Google Scholar

18. Agnes Hanna to Jeannette Jenson, 10 October 1936, 7-3-3-3 Boarding Homes, box 548, Central Files, 1933–36, CB records; Morris, The Limits of Volunteerism, 18.

19. U.S. Committee on Economic Security, Social Security in America, Social Security Board pub. no. 20 (Washington, D.C., 1937), reprinted in Children and Youth in America, ed. Robert Bremner, 526.

20. Cornelia Hopkins Allen et al., “An Appraisal of the Facilities for the Care of Dependent, Neglected, and Problem Children in New Haven, Connecticut,” 20 August 1939, 17; 6; viii, folder 1, box 19, CWLA records.

21. Grace Abott to Marie L. Irelan, 29 January 1934, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care, box 548, Central Files, 1933–36, CB records.

22. Judith Hyams Douglas to Children’s Bureau, 27 May 1933, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care, box 548, Central Files, 1933–36, CB records.

23. Agnes Hanna to Jeannette Jenson, 10 October 1936, 7-3-3-2 Boarding Homes, box 548, Central Files, 1933–36, CB records.

24. B. H. Robinson to Joseph P. Harris, 21 May 1935, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care, box 548, Central Files, 1933–36, CB records.

25. See Willrich, Michael, “Home Slackers: Men, the State, and Welfare in Modern America,” Journal of American History (September 2000): 460–89CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Fraser, Nancy and Gordon, Linda, “A Genealogy of Dependency: Tracing a Keyword of the U.S. Welfare State,” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society (Winter 1994): 309–36.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

26. Progressive Era maternalists advocated for “mothers’ pensions” that would enable deserving single mothers to care for their children at home, rather than leaving them poorly supervised in order to go to work or placing them in institutions. By 1935, forty-five states had some provision for mothers’ pensions. Stipends were deliberately set low, and there remained critical gaps in service, particularly in rural areas, including the Deep South. African American families were rarely included in reformers’ visions, partly because they lived primarily in the rural South, partly because they were never foremost on the minds of white reformers to begin with. On mothers’ pensions, see Nelson, Barbara J., “The Origins of the Two-Channel Welfare State: Workmen’s Compensation and Mothers’ Aid,” in Women, the State, and Welfare, ed. Gordon, Linda (Madison, Wisc., 1989), 123–51Google Scholar; Mink, Gwendolyn, The Wages of Motherhood: Inequality in the Welfare State, 1917–1942 (Ithaca, N.Y., 1995)Google Scholar; Gordon, Linda, Pitied but Not Entitled: Single Mothers and the History of Welfare (Cambridge, Mass., 1994)Google Scholar; Ladd-Taylor, Molly, Mother Work: Women, Child Welfare, and the State, 1890–1930 (Urbana, Ill., 1994).Google Scholar

27. The director of the Social Security Board’s Bureau of Public Assistance concluded in 1939 that only “a fraction” of needy children was being reached by new federal programs, although it was impossible to determine precisely how many. Hoey, Jane M., “Aid to Families with Dependent Children,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (March 1939), 74–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

28. Mittelstadt, Jennifer, From Welfare to Workfare: The Unintended Consequences of Liberal Reform, 1945–1965 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 2005), 46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

29. Mink, Wages of Motherhood, 135–36.

30. Agnes K. Hanna to Mr. L. H. Atwell, 7 August 1935, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care, box 548, Central File, 1933–60; “Extent of Child Placing in the United States of America” [draft section of League of Nations report], undated, ca. 1938, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care–Placing Out, January 1937–April 1938, box 820, Central File, 1937–40, CB records.

31. Child Welfare League of America, Standards for Children’s Organizations Providing Foster Family Care (New York, March 1941), 8.Google Scholar

32. George D. Young to Agnes K. Hanna, 14 July 1940; Olive O’Brien to Agnes Hanna, 19 August 1940; 7-3-1-4, Custody of Dependent Children, July, box 814, Central File, 1937–40, CB records.

33. Olive O’Brien to Agnes Hanna, 19 August 1940; 7-3-1-4, Custody of Dependent Children, July, box 814, Central File, 1937–40, CB records.

34. Case 1283, Folder 41627, box 20, Minneapolis Family and Children Services records. All names from this case record have been changed.

35. Charles J. Borneman to Katherine Lenroot, 21 April 1937, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care–Placing Out, January 1937, box 820, Central File, 1937–40, CB records.

36. U.S. Committee on Economic Security, Social Security in America, Social Security Board pub. no. 20 (Washington, D.C., 1937), reprinted in Children and Youth in America, ed. Robert Bremner, 613.

37. Atkinson, Mary Irene, “Child Welfare Service,” Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences (1939), 82.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

38. Social Security Act of 1935, Title IV—Grants to States for Aid to Dependent Children, section 401.

39. Bremner, Robert, “Aid to Dependent Children and Child Welfare Services,” in Children and Youth in America, ed. Bremner, Robert, 521Google Scholar ; Lenroot, Katherine F., “Origins of the Social Welfare Provision,” Children (July–August 1960): 130–31Google Scholar ; U.S. Children’s Bureau, Public Social Services to Children, Child Welfare Reports no. 1 (Washington, D.C., 1946), 12.Google Scholar

40. For example, see Martin Wolins, “Research Proposal,” 6 September 1957, folder 4, box 20, CWLA records: “The growth of social insurances and public assistance coverage has resulted in a marked reduction of the number of children who come under care of an agency due to economic inadequacy of their homes.”

41. Child Welfare League of America, “The Haunted Child,” ud. Ca. 1959, CWLA brochures, 1951–64, box 83, CWLA records. See also Martin Wolins, “Research Proposal,” 6 September 1957, folder 4, box 20, CWLA records.

42. Louis Shudde and Lenore Epstein, “Orphanhood: A Diminishing Problem,” Social Security Bulletin (March 1955), reprinted in Children and Youth in America, ed. Robert Bremner, 638.

43. For example, see Agnes K. Hanna to L. H. Atwell, 7 August 1935, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care, box 548, Central Files, 1933–36, CB records; Rev. Wm. T. Swaim Jr., “The Care of Dependent Children in Pennsylvania,” ca. early 1945, folder 7-3-3-2, box 156, Central Files, 1945–48, CB records; Martin Wolins, “Research Proposal,” 6 September 1957, folder 4, box 20, CWLA records.

44. In 1965, there were only about 79,000 dependent children living in institutions, a marked decrease since the 140,000 living in institutions in 1933. In 1965, 78 percent of children in foster family care were under the care of publicly funded agencies. Seth Low, “Foster Care of Children, Major National Trends and Prospects,” Welfare in Review (October 1966): 12–13; Children and Youth in America, ed. Robert Bremner, 634.

45. On the “rehabilitative ideal” in postwar child welfare policies, see Sribnick, “Rehabilitating Child Welfare.” Children and Public Policy, 1945–1980 (Ph.D. diss., University of Virginia, 2007).

46. “Share Your Home with a Child,” [undated, ca. 1943], 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care–Placing Out, 5 May 1943, box 168, Central Files, 1941–44, CB records.

47. Quoted in Child Welfare League of America, “Board Rates, 1949,” 11, folder 3, box 19, CWLA records.

48. Child Welfare League of America, “The Haunted Child,” ud. Ca. 1959, CWLA brochures, 1951–64, box 83, CWLA records. See also Martin Wolins, “Research Proposal,” 6 September 1957, folder 4, box 20, CWLA records.

49. Zelma J. Felten, “Report of Foster Care Study,” 6 May 1960, folder 6, box 19, CWLA records.

50. Bernice Boehm, “Children in Need of Adoption,” 5 September 1957, folder 6, box 19, CWLA records.

51. Maas, Henry S. and Engler, Richard J. in collaboration with Zelma J. Felten and Margaret Purvine, Children in Need of Parents (New York, 1959).Google Scholar

52. Zelma Felten to Mildred Arnold, 3 May 1960, 7-3-32 Foster Home Care-Placing Out, January 1961, box 886, Central File, 1958-62, CB records.

53. Zelma J. Felten, “Report on Foster Care Study,” 6 May 1960, folder 6, box 19, CWLA records.

54. See, for example, Bernice Boehm, “Children in Need of Adoption,” 5 September 1957, folder 6, box 19, CWLA records. See also Zelma J. Felten, “Report of Foster Care Study,” 6 May 1960, folder 6, box 19; Maas and Engler, Children in Need of Parents.

55. Jeter, Helen, Children, Problems, and Services in Child Welfare Programs (Washington, D.C., 1963)Google Scholar; CWLA, “Proposal for a Coordinated Research Program in Foster Care,” 18 April 1964, folder 8, box 20, CWLA records.

56. Boehm, Bernice, “The Child in Foster Care,” in Foster Care in Question: A National Reassessment by Twenty-one Experts, ed. Stone, Helen (New York, 1970), 222.Google Scholar

57. Katherine Oettinger to Fred C. Schenk, 10 February 1961, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care- Placing Out, box 886, Central Files, 1958-62, CB records.

58. Holcomb, Claire, “When Husbands Run Away,” The Rotarian, June 1952, 24–26.Google Scholar

59. Geddes, Anne E., “Children and the Assistance and Insurance Programs,” Children (July-August 1955), 156.Google Scholar

60. Like foster mothers, professional “homemakers” provided, under the auspices of child welfare agencies, physical care, guidance, and emotional support to children who were not theirs biologically. Homemaker service programs as a child welfare service emerged in the 1920s and began to expand in the 1950s, although this strategy for allowing children to remain in their homes was never adequately developed. Child Welfare League of America, Standards for Homemaker Service for Children (New York, 1959), 5-6; see Boris, Eileen and Klein, Jennifer, Caring for America: Home Health Workers in the Shadow of the Welfare State (forthcoming, Oxford, 2012), chaps. 1 and 2.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

61. Edna Hughes to Social Service Staff, 3 July 1959, folder 2, box 42, CWLA records. Mildred Arnold, “The Growth of Public Child Welfare Program,” Children (1960), reprinted in Children and Youth in America, ed. Robert Bremner, 625.

62. Joseph R. Reid, “Statement for the Sub-Committee of the Advisory Council on Public Welfare,” 18 February 1965, 2, Testimony 1965-77, box 77, CWLA records.

63. Richard J. Clendenen to Wilbur J. Cohen, 3 February 1961, 7-3-3-2 Foster Home Care-Placing Out, January 1961, box 886, Central Files, 1958-62, CB records.

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