Excerpt from Ruth W. Lawton and J. Prentice Murphy, “A Study of Results of a Child-Placing Society,” 1915

If social work is ever to develop into a profession, searching analysis and criticism of methods and results, no matter what the consequences may be, become prime essentials.

On October 1, 1913, the Boston Children’s Aid Society added a research worker to its staff; the expense of her work for the first two years being met from a special gift coming from one of the directors. This director, and others of the board and staff, were anxious to have the society study in a broadly interpretive way some of the economic and social problems represented in the lives of the children coming to its attention. There was also a desire to see if our particular services as a child-placing society could not be stated in certain exact terms, with the hope that in so doing we might be able to establish certain standards by which we could measure our own work, and which might be of some service to other children’s organizations, also inclined to self study. We hope to publish in greater detail certain portions of the study which are only slightly covered in this paper.

Moreover, in this process of measuring our own standards there was a still further desire to see wherein we were failing in our work; for social agencies do frequently fail: often because their professional technique is crude or faulty, and often because no methods short of a fundamental change in social institutions will correct the unsocial conditions so often found. A quick reporting of faulty lines of approach to better social conditions is something that society at large has a right to expect from every social agency, and this can only be done through careful interpretation of the work as it progresses. . . .

To our great surprise and disappointment we found in 1913, after superficial examination, that our histories as written records were of little value; that, although they represented many evidences of good and bad work, there were too few facts on which sound, wise studies could be based. The task, moreover, of getting supplemental data was, of course, entirely out of the question, for a number of reasons—chiefly that of expense.

Most social agencies are prone to indulge in this same bromide, namely, that, given sufficient money, they could do so much in an educational way with their old history records. We do not feel that we are exaggerating when we say that it is perhaps possible to rattle off on the fingers of one hand the children’s organizations, and the family treatment organizations as well, scattered over the country, whose records have any general social value whatsoever.

Source: Ruth W. Lawton and J. Prentice Murphy, “A Study of Results of a Child-Placing Society” (paper presented at the National Conference of Charities and Correction, 1915), 164-165.


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