Placing-Out

Source: W.H. Slingerland, Child-Placing in Families: A Manual for Students and Social Workers (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1919), 50b.

Placing-out could be temporary or permanent. The child above was boarded out by the Boston Children's Aid Society because her mother was ill. The child below, “a happy adopted boy,” was placed permanently by the Children's Aid Society of Pennsylvania.

Source: W.H. Slingerland, Child-Placing in Families: A Manual for Students and Social Workers (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1919), 112b.

Source: W.H. Slingerland, Child-Placing in Families: A Manual for Students and Social Workers (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1919).

The imposing facade of the New England Home for Little Wanderers in the 1910s. Placing-out in families was supposed to replace orphanage care, but residential institutions endured well into the twentieth century.

In the nineteenth century, child-caring institutions such as orphanages and infant asylums proliferated. By 1900, the ideology of institutional care was in decline. A new imperative to place children in families was signaled by the first White House Conference on Children in 1909, which championed home life as “the highest and finest product of civilization.” It was not until the 1950s, however, that the number of children living in temporary foster families exceeded the number of children living in institutions, and it was not until the 1960s that the number of adoptive placements surpassed the number of institutional placements.

Early in the twentieth century, “placing-out” was the term that designated all non-institutional arrangements to care for dependent children. Placing-out could mean baby farming. It could mean boarding homes, in which agencies paid families to care for children, or working homes, where older children earned their keep. Traditional indentures were still used by orphanages in many states into the twentieth century and these were not unusual as a means of acquiring children for adoption. Indenture contracts secured children’s services for a period of years in exchange for the provision of food, shelter, and basic education. At their age of release, typically 18, indentured children were given a fixed sum of money, a suit of clothing, or other material resources specified in advance. Free homes, where children received care without monetary compensation, was another placing-out method. Free homes approximated an adoption ideal founded on love rather than labor. Many children placed in free homes were never legally adopted, however, and in the early decades of the century, they were much less common than homes in which board was paid.

Many Progressive-era reformers were influenced by eugenics and insisted on a policy of family preservation. They grudgingly accepted placing-out—especially when it amounted to adoption—as a last resort. They may have idealized families as the only acceptable place for children, but they preferred above all to keep children with their blood kin.

 

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