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History of Foster Care in America

Updated on January 11, 2014

Foster care plays a huge role in the lives of displaced children today. Without foster cares, all these children would be living on the streets or worse, dead.

Charles Loring Brace
Charles Loring Brace

Charles Loring Brace

In the mid-19th Century, a man named Charles Loring Brace started foster care in America. He noticed that there were 30,000 homeless children living in the streets of New York City. He decided to take these children and place them in homes throughout the U.S to save them from a lifetime of suffering. He sent them by train, which started The Orphan Train Movement. This movement lasted from 1953 till the early 1900’s and transported more than 120,000 children to new homes and lives.

The Orphan Train Movement
The Orphan Train Movement
The Children's Aid Society
The Children's Aid Society

Robert and Charles Brace

When Brace died in 1890 his sons, Robert and Charles, decided to take over his work. They worked for the Children’s Aid Society until they both retired respectfully in 1931 and 1927. Robert and Charles created a foster care method that became the basis for the Federal Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997. It was called Concurrent Planning and it greatly impacted the foster care system.

Concurrent Planning

Concurrent Planning reduced the time children were allowed to remain in the system before being available for adoption. ASFA claimed that before this law was passed that the lack of such legislation was the reason it was so common for kids to languish in care for years without any permanent living situation. Others argued that the reason children languished in foster care was because many were taken needlessly from their parents but 10 years after the law was passed, the number of children in the system was down by about 7,000. From the mid 1800’s to the eve of the Great Depression, orphaned “train” children were placed with families who pre-selected them with an order form that specified age, gender, hair, and eye color. In other instances, trainloads of children were placed on stages, train platforms, or town halls and were examined by prospective parents. Unfortunately, they were sometimes separated from his or her sibling or would end up in a family who only wanted to use them as a slave. Although, most of the time they were chosen by a loving family.

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