was the most articulate early advocate of therapeutic adoption.
The outlines of that approach appear in this excerpt. Temporary
and permanents placements, Taft believed, should reflect careful
investigation and individualized diagnosis of children’s emotional
problems and needs. In Rebecca’s story, Taft’s sensitivity
to Freudian themes, such
as childhood sexuality and unconscious fears, was evident. So too
was her commitment to a vision of social
work deeply influenced by psychiatry. Foster placements mattered
not only because they were opportunities to interpret and shape
individual lives, but because they symbolized an even more ambitious
goal: to direct the social future on the basis of a systematic,
even “scientific,” understanding of human development
There is very little opportunity in this world
for radical experimentation with human beings. The necessity for
taking children of all ages who are thrown out of their homes by
some unfortunate circumstance and attempting to place them suitably
in foster homes, not only permits, but forces such experimentation.
It remains to make this process conscious, scientific and a matter
of accurate record. It is obvious that theoretically, every child
who is thus torn loose from his natural setting and robbed temporarily
or possibly permanently of his fundamental sense of security, to
be placed in a substitute family environment with the prospect of
yet another change always an ever present possibility, constitutes
a psychiatric problem. . . .
Already the best child placing agencies have recognized the implications
of their work in their attempt to make the diagnostic study of each
child accepted for care as thorough as possible.
Like psychiatry, social work has found adequate diagnosis more
easy of accomplishment than treatment. Theoretically, it may be
possible to describe the kind of home a given child should have.
Practically it is very difficult to be sure just what will be the
result of the interaction between the child and the home actually
chosen. The subtleties of unconscious attitudes and inter-relationships
among the members of a foster family are difficult of detection
and interpretation. . . . Much of the combining of
homes and children at present must be done more or less intuitively
but a few of the best child placing agencies are struggling through
careful study of the foster home, a detailed record of the child’s
experience there and the assistance of psychologist or psychiatrist,
to analyze and interpret the effect of a given environment upon
the behavior and personality of the child and to exercise some degree
of conscious control over the process.
The case history which is here presented illustrates the attempt
of a Jewish child placing agency to cooperate with a psychologist
over a period of four and a half years in the attempt to restore
to a reasonable degree of social adjustment a very difficult girl
of fourteen. It would have been better, of course, had she been
reached in early childhood before her behavior patterns had become
so well established, but even so she has repaid the time and effort
spent upon her through a steady growth in poise, insight and ability
to adjust to reality.
Rebecca H. aged fourteen years, the daughter of foreign born Roumanian
Jewish parents, the third child in a family of five, was brought
to the Juvenile Court by her mother in August 1919 because she would
not go to school, would not get up in the morning, would not help
at home, was given to outbursts of temper and was sullen, unhappy
and disobedient. She was very much retarded in school having repeated
the fifth grade three times and her attempts to work for money had
been brief and futile. Her family were convinced that there must
be something wrong with her mind and asked the court to assist them.
The children’s agencies had at that time a small laboratory
school under the direction of a psychologist and to this school
Rebecca was sent for observation.
The picture she presented was far from lovely, nor was it of a
kind to call out a friendly sympathetic response. She was a large
girl at the awkward selfconscious age. All of the muscles of her
body drooped. . . .
The physical examination revealed undernourishment, eye and ear
conditions which were corrected and an enlarged thyroid. The psychiatric
examination attached the label, psychoneurotic.
The girl was in the laboratory school a full month before a psychometric
test was given. . . . Her intelligence quotient placed
her in the lower limit of the normal group according to Terman’s
classification. . . . The girl was given over to
a child placing agency in April.
The observation period brought out the fact of Rebecca’s
belief or fear that she might be feebleminded. . . .
These first months also brought out two other important factors
in her behavior, first conflicting attitudes of hatred and loyalty
with regard to her family and second extreme shame and fear and
avowed ignorance regarding everything even remotely connected with
sex. The efforts of the psychologist to reach the roots of these
two factors have extended over the entire period the girl has been
in care, and the attempt has been made to free her sufficiently
to enable her to express her real feelings. . . .
Her first longtime placement was in the country in a non-Jewish
home with two elderly sisters, women of some education, refinement
and understanding. It was not until July 1920, after three months
in this setting, that Rebecca, whose social poise, voice and manners
had taken on the general coloring of her environment and who was
revelling in the absence of dirt, noise and confusion, held her
first comparatively free and spontaneous interview with the psychologist.
She spoke of her belief that her mother was not really her own mother
but a stepmother because this would account for the fact that she
was treated differently from the rest of the family. She had always,
she felt, been disliked and discriminated against. Yet, she argued,
surely no stepmother would take you around to clinics as my mother
did, to try to get you well. She knew, intellectually, that there
was no basis in fact for this belief, yet it had emotional weight. . . .
It was not until December 1920, a year after the first contact
with her that Rebecca revealed one of her greatest sources of shame.
When she was seven, her oldest sister, then about fourteen had begun
to give the mother trouble, and would not work or go to school but
ran the streets with boys and finally had an illegitimate child
whose father she later married. The mother had taken this girl to
court as she afterward took Rebecca, and always Rebecca had had
her sister’s example held up before her as a warning and her
likeness to her sister pointed out with dire prophesies as to her
future. No threat or reproach was so overwhelming as this.
Rebecca remained with the maiden ladies, who were genuinely fond
of her in spite of her trying ways over a year with much profit
and was finally removed because of sickness in the home.
All through this period the psychologist had endeavored to give
her a more open wholesome attitude toward sex. . . .
In September 1921, when in a temporary city home she. . .confessed
to the habit of masturbation, this, after two years of intimate
friendly contact, apparent confidence and many opportunities for
talking over any disturbing experience.
Her emotional reaction to this revelation was quite overwhelming
and seemed to reduce her to her original state of depression and
inferiority, but after several intervals she was able to talk about
it with some calmness and objectivity. In the fall of 1921 she was
again placed in a non-Jewish home in the country, where the woman,
a practical nurse, made a business of boarding difficult children. . . .
The contribution of this placement to Rebecca’s reeducation
is unquestioned. It put through a habit training program whose success
had a distinct effect upon the girl’s self-respect and belief
in her own normality, it restored self-confidence through school
success, the completion of the seventh grade, it introduced a new
emotional stimulus to achievement through the attachment to the
foster mother and brought about the first successful adjustment
to other children. . . .
In August 1922, an attempt was made to prepare her for the working
world, by giving her training for child’s nurse in a babies
hospital. She responded well in interest and effort but proved to
be too slow for sick babies and a day nursery was recommended. In
November 1922 she began to work in a day nursery under most favorable
conditions, as far as work was concerned but with poor adjustment
to her home placements which had to be changed frequently. . . .
That Rebecca is now a well adjusted person, cannot be maintained
nor can one be sure that her present adjustment will continue to
be equal to the strain of living, but one can surely say that she
has at the present time, a good fighting chance and that she has
improved steadily in self-confidence, control and insight. What
were the causes of her maladjustment from the psychoanalytic viewpoint
it is impossible to say as the intimate history of her earliest
childhood and the family interrelationships has never been obtained
either from her or her foreign speaking parents. . . .
The factors in treatment have been first, the relationship to the
psychologist which has supplied for four years a steady background
of belief in her ability and worth. . . . Second,
the removal from the nagging, critical, hateful family atmosphere
to homes which satisfied some of her longings for a better standard
of living and gave her actual contact with happy, satisfying, human
relationships. . . .
This give a bare outline of what has happened in the life of one
girl over a period of four years but conveys no idea of the painstaking
work of supervision, of the patience and skill which the workers
in the child placing agency have supplied in their effort to reestablish
an individual whose self-confidence had been thoroughly undermined.
Our knowledge of the homes through which we worked is inadequate,
our records are but feeble attempts to put on paper the vital processes
of which we have been a part, our knowledge of what has taken place
and our ability to interpret and direct it consciously are all too
limited, but the history of Rebecca will serve its purpose if it
conveys in some measure the complexity and subtlety of the material
in which the child placing agency works, the contribution it may
make to our knowledge of human behavior and its need for all of
the understanding which psychiatry can bring to bear.