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History of the Foster Care System

Fostering a child is not something new. It has been around since the Middle Ages and beyond. During that time, the term ‘fostering’ had a different meaning. It was the arrangement of sending a child off to be raised by another noble family.

Fostering, in the original sense, had a young boy trained in sword fighting, horseback riding, and other such duties. A girl would be trained in domestic chores such as needlework, painting, and running a home. So, the idea of another family caring for a child was not new. It would not begin to morph into the system we know today until the 1800s.

The number of orphans grew beyond the capacity of orphanages that were established throughout Europe. The idea began to form of sending the children to homes to be raised by families who had the means and were looking for children of their own or were just willing to help a child out though they might treat them as a servant. The child was given shelter, food, and clothing to wear which they might not get in some orphanages.

The big move to a foster care system of today’s culture began in the 1900s. In America the push came from a pediatrician and his wife, Henry and Alice Chapin. He longed to pull the children out of the invested orphanages that could not keep up with the demands of the parentless children and found homes for them where they could flourish.

Families opened their homes on a temporary basis with some looking for more permanent placement by adopting the children they fostered. The need for the orphans was being met like never before.

During World War II, foster care practice increased dramatically especially in places such as England where children were sent out of the bombed city of London and placed in homes in the country to be raised by other families until the danger passed.

In America, the New Deal helped open up the foster care system. The government stepped in to remove children in dangerous home settings and place them in foster care with other families. During the time, fostering was not open to all children as many practices including that of the government declined to help anyone of the minority such as blacks or Asians. This discrimination branched out to those children born out of wedlock or to drug addicted parents.

Over time, the laws changed and various acts were passed to ensure that all children would be protected the state and able to enter the foster care system including those with physical and mental disabilities. The foster care system of America is still a developing institution that is being shaped by the government and the various laws enacted to protect children.

May is Foster Care Month. If you have the ability and the desire to take in a child that needs fostering, contact your local agency. There is always a child in need of love.


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