Paul Popenoe, “The Foster Child,” 1929

In this excerpt, eugenicist Paul Popenoe presented his skeptical view of adoption by taking issue with How Foster Children Turn Out, the first major outcome study. According to Popenoe, its author, Sophie van Senden Theis, greatly exaggerated the influence of home environments and misrepresented the power of heredity.

Most of the children available for adoption fall into three groups: (1) illegitimate children; (2) those abandoned by their parents; and (3) those who have been taken away from their parents because the latter were found unfit by the courts to retain the custody of their own offspring.

It is scarcely necessary to point out that in none of these cases is the ancestry likely to be up to par. . . .

So far as I am aware, only one agency which places children has made any determined effort to find out how its children turn out. This is the State Charities Aid Association of New York, which published in 1924 a report on the history of 910 of its children. Briefly, it found that six out of every eight have “made good” in the sense that they have at least been able to manage their own affairs with ordinary prudence and live in accordance with the standards of their own communities. The seventh has turned out to be incapable but “harmless”; the eighth, definitely bad.

Although three fourths of the children are thus alleged to have become reasonably good citizens, this fact is not quite so encouraging as it appears at first sight to the family which contemplates taking in or adopting a child (only 269 of the children in this group were legally adopted), for the fact is that some of them had to go through two, three or more homes before they found one in which they could live satisfactorily. There were 1,621 homes used for the 910 children. In only 60 per cent of the homes did the child turn out satisfactorily. It thus appears that the family contemplating taking a foundling has a little better than an even chance not to regret the act. . . .

The important points seem to be:

(a) To pick out a child with as good ancestry as possible. . . .

(b) The child should be taken young. . . .

(c) The child should be taken only on trial.

Source: Paul Popenoe, “The Foster Child,” Scientific Monthly 29 (September 1929):243-245, 247.
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