The History of Foster Care in Michigan and The U.S. (Part 1)

February 27, 2018 Abuse and Neglect Attorney
2 dirty and neglected children
Thousands of children were left to fend for themselves, starving and forced to steal to feed themselves.

People talk about the foster care problem as if it were a new issue we’re facing. It isn’t. Did you know that? The issue of abandoned or abused children and orphans in need of homes is nothing new in the United States. In fact, in 1850, in New York City, it was estimated that there were about 30,000 homeless and orphaned children living in the streets, and in institutionalized orphanages, many of which were so enormous they housed 1,000 children at a time.

Homeless children stole food, and were put to death!

As you can imagine, children received very poor care in those huge orphanages, and most were turned out early to make room for younger children before they reached adulthood. And while we’re on the subject of adulthood, the state of New York prosecuted any child accused of a crime as an adult if they were 7-years-old or older. So street children, who were sleeping in the gutters and stealing food from garbage cans and grocery carts, were often hanged at public hangings for the crime of theft. Blows your mind, doesn’t it?

It blew Charles Loring Brace’s mind too. So in 1853, at a time when orphan asylums and almshouses were the only social services available for poor and homeless children in New York City, he started the Children’s Aid Society. The CAS set up lodging houses with food and education for thousands of orphaned and abandoned children in New York. They also started the Orphan Trains.

The Orphan Trains out of New York City

Orphan Trains carried children out to towns and cities in the West (where Brace believed everyone lived a life of plenty) where they were placed with families wanting children. The orphans were bathed and dressed and loaded onto trains to be carried across the country to their new families. At every stop they were herded of the trains, made to line up on display, and viewed by locals who checked their teeth, squeezed their muscles, and asked them questions.

Some found good loving homes with families who desperately wanted children. Some, sadly, were taken on as no more than extra field hands or house servants by families who wanted unpaid workers. The plan had been for someone from the original placement agency to check up on each child once a year to ensure that they were receiving adequate care. In reality, due to distance, modes of transportation available, and the sheer number of children placed, that didn’t always happen.

Families were screened by a local council consisting of six people from the area who had volunteered. There were no standards by which each council determined a family’s fitness, and almost no paper trail existed for the children. All in all, between 1853 and the early 1900s, more than 120,000 children were placed with families across the US. It was the earliest form of foster care

Foster care has come a long way in Michigan

There have been many changes in the way foster care operates in the U.S. and in Michigan. Some of those changes are really good ones, others – not so much. Join us next time as we take a look at child services in Michigan, how the concept of foster care developed, and the different ways people have tried to solve the abuse and neglect of children.

Until then, if you or a loved one have had a run-in with CPS and you are worries about losing your children to foster care, call The Kronzek Firm at 866 766 5245. Our skilled child abuse and neglect defense attorneys are here to help!