Twenty-five cases selected from
those whose social history is known are given here in some detail
in order to furnish an idea of the quality of much of the stock
which was transplanted from its natural to its artificial environment
by adoption. While one would hesitate to call them typical, it can
be said that they are not unusual. Several of these cases show also
something of the kind of home into which the children were permanently
received. Opinions will differ as to the propriety of some of these
(1) A little girl of fourteen months was the first illegitimate
child of a mother who had had at least three. This mother herself
was probably the illegitimate daughter of a woman of bad reputation
and of a man said to have had colored blood. She had already made
arrangements to allow the adoption of the child of the study by
a woman with whom she was boarding her, when an agency was asked
to put through the legal papers. An investigation showed that the
middle-aged foster parents, although respectable, were financially
unable to assume the permanent support of this child. The foster
mother, in need of a surgical operation, could get about only with
difficulty. The foster father was earning but $16 a week at the
same job he had held for many years. The agency, therefore, considered
it unwise to put through the adoption. A private attorney, however,
transacted this piece of legal business. Not long after, another
organization was asked to assist the adoptive parents who were giving
the child good care but could not carry the burden of its support.
(2) Three illegitimate children were found by a court to be neglected
and removed from their parents. This family had been known to several
agencies for years because of conditions of neglect in the home
due to the mother’s mental condition. She was finally committed
to a hospital as epileptic and insane and continued to deteriorate
mentally. The boy of the study, who in spite of his heredity seemed
normal, was adopted at nine years of age by a family with whom he
had lived some time.
(3) An agency put through the adoption of a two months old illegitimate
baby whose mother was also illegitimate and had been in care of
an organization during the first two years of her life. Then she
had been returned to the maternal grandmother, who at once placed
her with a fine woman who gave her an excellent bringing up. In
spite of this opportunity the girl had a child just after she had
begun to work.
(4) A little boy of two years was admitted to the care of an agency
on application of his mother who was fatally ill with tuberculosis.
She had struggled in vain to support him and his older sister and
had been obliged to accept assistance from more than one agency.
Her husband was a chronic non-supporter and finally found his way
to a correctional institution. After the mother’s death the
little boy was discharged by the agency to the maternal relatives
who adopted him when four year years old. The older child was taken
by relatives on the father’s side. . . .
The adoption law in Massachusetts is on the whole good. It was
framed to protect all the parties at interest but in its intent
exists primarily for the welfare of the child. The judges of the
probate courts are men of integrity and worthy of the pride that
the citizens of Massachusetts have always felt in its judiciary.
Yet the children of Massachusetts are not adequately protected under
the present adoption practice. Adoptions which for the welfare of
the child, of the adoptive parents, and of society, should never
be permitted, are being decreed almost daily.
It has been shown that at the present time it is possible in Massachusetts’
court procedure for inaccuracies or even untruths concerning social
facts bearing upon adoptions to pass undetected. No oath is required
as to the truth of any of the facts contained in the petition. No
penalty is prescribed for misstatements. There is no requirement
for going behind any plausible statements, nor any as to what parties
to the process shall be seen by the judge.
The difficulty seems to lie in lack of appreciation of the fact
that adoption is a most complicated child-welfare problem and not
merely a small part of the business of crowded courts whose primary
concern is far removed from this problem. Once it is recognized
that there is a social problem behind each adoption petition and
that therefore it is not the occasional, but every case, concerning
which the court needs full information, the number of unsuitable
adoptions will decrease. A way will be found to secure the facts
for the courts.
The outstanding conclusion from this study is the great need of
thorough investigation of the social facts which bear upon every
adoption petition filed.