Purpose of Inquiry.—There are several reasons
why the investigation of the child’s history must be thorough.
We need complete knowledge of the child’s circumstances and
personality to place him successfully. Moreover, we need it to inform
foster parents, who more and more frequently are demanding full
and detailed histories for the children whom they think of adopting.
For the child himself, when he is grown, we must have the facts
about his own family. If he knows that he is an adopted child, as
most adopted children do nowadays, he will have a natural curiosity,
which he has a right to satisfy, about his parentage. Last of all,
but of increasing importance, is the interest of science, both social
and psychological, in these records, so rich in human significance
and in facts which need only to be assembled to have genuine scientific
value. Scientific research may seem a remote affair to the harassed
case worker, but her records may some day contribute invaluable
material to the scientific student, and it is to research that we
owe many of the methods which we daily use—the intelligence
test, the Wassermann test, and the complete physical examination. . . .
Legal status.—How did the agency secure
the custody of the child? By poor law commitment, by court commitment,
by abandonment by the parents?
Family History.—This involves gathering
every scrap of significant information about his family, including
his grandparents, aunts and uncles; their health, intelligence,
schooling, occupations, habits, character, religion. Where and how
have they lived? Why did they move? What did the neighbors think
of them? Were they “queer”? What was their reputation
in the community? What did they look like? Could they hold jobs?
What kind? Did they keep a clean house? Were they quarrelsome? How
did they treat the children? Have they records in a police office
or in a social service office?
Personal History.—How old was the child
when conditions in his home became bad? How old when he was removed?
Where has he lived since—in boarding homes or institutions
or in visiting homes? How long in each? How long has he been in
school? His grade? His school record? His personal appearance, coloring,
Health.—Was he breast fed? When did he begin
to walk and talk? What illnesses has he had? What kind of feeding,
cleanliness, hygiene has he had? A thorough examination of his present
condition will usually include a Wasserman test, and in the case
of girls smears are made, whenever possible, for determination of
possible venereal infection.
Intelligence.—The child’s intelligence
is usually tested by a psychologist, using one of the standard tests.
Children whose parents or relatives show a marked degree of mental
inferiority should always be tested, and also children who show
serious retardation. The results of the test, taken with the observation
of people who see the child constantly, give some indication of
the child’s mental capacity and help to determine whether
he should be placed with a family who will be ambitious for his
progress in an educational way, or with a family whose work and
interests are of a simpler sort.
Personality.—Information about the child’s
personality is as important as any of the more tangible facts which
we need. It is possible to have on record a full statement of the
child’s background, his physique, and the circumstances of
his removal from his own home, and yet to know nothing of the child
himself. When it comes to the test, that of setting a frightened,
neglected child in the midst of strangers, such knowledge may prove
futile. What we really need to know is what the child feels about
his own father and mother, about his separation from them, what
memories he has brought with him, and what he hopes and fears from
a new home. If a little girl has been brutally treated by her drunken
father, will she be terrified by her new father? Often such memories
lie buried in the child’s mind, unknown to the foster parent
or to the visitor, causing him worry and fear and making it nearly
impossible to trust the strangers with whom he is living. Such a
child can be hardly anything but unresponsive, disobedient, or dishonest.
In addition to knowing the child’s feeling about his situation
we need to know his tastes, the things that he enjoys doing, his
temper, his demonstrativeness, his honesty, his ability to get on
with other children. If he is a robust, boisterous child, strong
willed and aggressive, he will never get on with the Browns, who
want a sensitive, responsive child, but he may just suit the Greens,
who don’t on any account want a “sissy.” It is
vital to know these things in advance so that one may choose the
right home for him.