New York State Charities Aid Association, Records of Foster Home Investigations, 1910s

The development of child-placement manuals was an important part of the campaign to standardize the work of child welfare and establish minimum standards. The following examples are drawn from one early manual based on cases from the New York State Charities Aid Association, one of the first agencies in the country to professionalize its child-placement and adoption activities. The authors offered numerous examples, not only of good and bad homes, but of good and bad home studies. The first report excerpted below, about Mr. and Mrs. Hasbrouck, was presented as a thorough report on an excellent adoptive home. The second report was considered inadequate because “the investigation had failed to penetrate far enough to get at the real situation.” The child placed with the Peters was eventually removed because of the cruelty of the mother. If the agent had asked more questions about the period during which the couple cared for the children of Mr. Peter’s sister, the authors argued, this unfortunate situation might have been anticipated and the placement would never have been made. Investigators needed to guard against “accepting the superficial instead of getting down further into the facts to see what underlies the promising surface.”

When we place a child in a free foster home we feel that if everything goes well he will be a member of that family for life. . . . It is true that until he is of age or legally adopted the foster child is actually a ward of the agency. Nevertheless, the agency prefers not to stress that fact, except in certain crises of supervision. It tries to give both child and family the sense that the child belongs, first and last, to the family. . . .

There are certain generalizations which one can make about when to risk and when not to risk a placement about which one is uncertain. There are so many more homes available for all young children of fair history than there are children available that there is no reason for using a home which may turn out badly. In fact, for almost all the normal and fairly attractive children there are enough reasonably safe and good homes. . . . But for some types of children, for example, those of unpromising history, the doubtful home may be the only alternative to an institution. . . .

An Approved Home.— The home which is described as follows is a good example of the best type of foster home—not wealthy, but substantial and sound:

Application of Mr. And Mrs. Robert Hasbrouck.

Home.— The apartment is on one of the main streets, nearly opposite the public library. . . . The apartment is on the third floor, and well planned and convenient in every way. There are six rooms and bath; it is heated by steam and lighted by electricity. It is light and well ventilated. It has hardwood floors, but is furnished in an inexpensive way, in simple and good taste. They have a piano and a victrola. It is well kept up in every particular. . . .

Occupations.— Mr. Hasbrouck has always been in the hardware business. He worked his way up from the time he was a boy and for the last five years has been a member of the firm of _____ and _____, _____ Main Street, _____. This is a first class firm and has a good trade. . . . He estimates his net income at about $5000 a year, and says the stock in the business is worth about $2500. He has no other investments. He caries about $11,000 in life insurance. They do not own any real estate. Mrs. Hasbrouck has never been in business.

History and Family.— Mrs. Hasbrouck is an American, thirty-four years of age. She would be good looking only she is too stout. She has regular features, brown hair which is waved, and gray eyes. She wore a simple embroidered blouse and plaid skirt. She is not well educated, but has refinement and uses good English. She has a good deal of poise, and is naturally reserved and quiet so that one does not feel acquainted with her in one visit. She seems intelligent and impresses one as a capable, practical person. She is positive and has depth of feeling. It was hard for her to mention her baby who died. She is not at all temperamental or emotional, and has a pleasing personality. She seems sincere and natural. . . .

Mr. and Mrs. Hasbrouck had one son, born two years ago, who only lived twenty-four hours. Mrs. Hasbrouck had a hard time when the baby was born, and the child was not strong enough to live. She says she has recently had an examination, and her physician knows of no reason why she should not have more children. . . .

Mr. and Mrs. Hasbrouck were married February 1, 1907, at _____, by the Rev. _____. Mrs. Hasbrouck’s maiden name was Margaret Davis, and it is the only marriage for both. After marriage they lived at _____, where Mr. Hasbrouck had a hardware business. They have lived in their present town for the last eight years. . . .

The atmosphere of their home is most harmonious. . . . Mr. and Mrs. Hasbrouck have musical tastes, and it seems to be rather a complete family circle, except for the absence of children.

They are members of the Episcopal Church. Mr. Hasbrouck is a tenor soloist in St. John’s Church, and Mrs. Hasbrouck is organist. Mr. Hasbrouck is a member of the _____ Lodge and the _____ Club. They are both athletic and enjoy outdoor sports. . . .

Family’s Plan for Child.— Mr. and Mrs. Hasbrouck want to take a boy between the ages of three and eight for adoption. They do not object to the child being a foundling or illegitimate. They would like to know as much as they can of the history, but feel that with a child as old as that they can tell pretty well how he is going to develop, and except for hereditary diseases or mental deficiency or insanity, would probably consider one of average history. They do not care particularly for the student type, but want a happy-natured, responsive, intelligent boy who would be refined enough to take into their home. Mr. Hasbrouck would like to take him into his business, but would want the boy to develop along his own lines. He would not force him to do anything that was not interesting to him. They would want to give him a High School education. They would like him to join the church choir. . . .

Agent’s Opinion.— Agent recommends the home very highly. It seems to be a rather unusual choice for a little boy where he will be brought up well and have a most happy childhood. Agent thinks Mr. and Mrs. Hasbrouck are just the right type of people to make good parents.

* * *

Application of Mr. and Mrs. Peters.

Family.— Mr. Peters is an American, thirty-nine years old. He is a little below the average height, and is rather slender and dark. He seems to be a fairly sensible and intelligent person, but is not well educated. He went to grammar school, but never attended high school. He seems to be quite an industrious man, and is evidently thrifty and temperate. He told the agent he had been wanting to take a child for some time, but had been hoping that he could find one whose history he would know. He has decided that he is willing to take a foundling if he can get an attractive one. He is evidently in good health.

Mrs. Peters is also thirty-nine, an American. She is stout and rather motherly looking. She is not at all well-educated, but seems quite intelligent and sensible. She has good ideas about child training. They are plain people, of the rather ordinary village type. They belong to the Methodist Church and are quite religious. They would expect a child to attend Sunday school regularly, and would send one through high school.

They have never had any children of their own. At one time they took two of Mr. Peter’s sister’s children. Her husband was alcoholic, and she left him and finally obtained a divorce; recently she married again and took the children back without a word of thanks to the Peters, who had kept them for five or six years and had grown very much attached to them. They are very lonely since the children left, and for this reason are doubly anxious to obtain a child.

History.— Mrs. Peters’ father died when she was a baby, and since her mother was unable to care for her she was adopted by a family friend. She has always gone by the name of Jones, which was the name of her foster parents. . . . Mr. Peters has lived in _____ all his life. He went to public school and afterward worked at various kinds of employment. They were married sixteen years ago in _____. Agent noticed their marriage certificate in a broad gold frame hanging on the parlor wall. . . .

Home.— The town is a very ordinary village of possibly 2000 inhabitants. In the summer there are a good many boarders. The house is in a good neighborhood in the central part of the town, two blocks from the Methodist Church, and very near the public school. They have a frame cottage of six rooms, which was exquisitely neat and clean and furnished in very plain country style, and portraits, gorgeously framed, on the walls; carpets on the floors, and very shiny, varnished furniture. The place was in very spick and span condition throughout. . . .

Finances.— Mr. Peters earns an average of $18.00 a week the year round. In the summer he works in the laundry and earns a good deal more than this, but in the winter he earns less, as the laundry work is very light, and he clerks in a store in town. They own their home here. Mrs. Peters has a paid-up life insurance policy. Mr. Peters is insured and he belongs to _____ Lodge, with which he has life insurance. The house and furniture are also insured. The people are evidently very thrifty and industrious.

Child Desired.— They want a girl twenty months to two years old. They are willing to take a foundling, but would rather know the parents of the child. Agent thinks a rather ordinary child would fit into this family very well, but she would not be likely to get many advantages. . . .

Agent’s Opinion.— Agent thinks this home will probably prove a satisfactory place for a rather ordinary child.

 

Source: Sophie van Senden Theis and Constance Goodrich, The Child in the Foster Home, Part I, The Placement and Supervision of Children in Free Foster Homes, A Study Based on the Work of the Child-Placing Agency of the New York State Charities Aid Association (New York: School of Social Work, 1921), 31, 40, 41, 42, 44, 50, 51.

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