Charles Richmond Henderson.

Introduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment online

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rack-like edifices and sleep in dormitories or wards. This plan
is often thought to be least expensive, since the greatest number
of children can be stored in the smallest space. Where more
consideration is given to ground rent than to the lives, health,
and vigor of children, such economy becomes the ruling factor.
But there are serious disadvantages in this arrangement. Dis-
eases, especially among quite young children, are likely to enter
and spread rapidly where there is a throng and a multitude, and
sickness is more fatal. A certain military precision and strict-
ness of order must be maintained where numbers are large, and
movements very artificial and unnatural to the young must pre-
maturely be forced upon them. Individual self-direction, the
essential condition of later success, has little exercise; the child
is made a part of a machine, and his faculties of invention and
initiation are weakened. He becomes accustomed to a mode of
life utterly unlike that of the normal family, and when he goes out
to care for himself he has acquired none of those habits of
thought and feeling which equip one for this competitive world,
where personal courage is so essential to success. The very fact,
so often quoted by friends of this system, that the children like
this hot-house system, is an argument against it, for it shows that
the unsocial habits have cast their chains about the very soul.
The worst thing ever said of slavery was that the slave cared for
nothing better.

In order to avoid the injurious effects of the large barrack
asylum, the "cottage" or "family" plan has been adopted by
some institutions. In this arrangement the groups of persons
are smaller, from fifteen to sixty in one building. A house
mother cares for all, directs all. If anything really akin to
genuine family life is sought, it is impossible to place more than
ten or twelve children with one mother. But such a method is

iio Relief and Care of Dependents.

very expensive if the children are retained for any length of

A third type is a compromise between those already mentioned,
the combined cottage and congregate plan. Here the groups
sleep and live in separate cottages, while the dining hall, school,
chapel, administrative offices, and shops are in a central edifice.
When it is necessary to keep many hundreds of children for some
years, this is the best plan, although it is more costly than the
purely congregate system, especially in cities, where land is
expensive; and it is open to the objections urged against asylum
life in general.

Under the very best plan of arrangement there are serious
perils in institutional life. Infectious disease has opportunity
to spread. Children who have not been spoiled by rigid disci-
pline revolt against regimental drill every waking moment.
There can be no mothering, no caresses, no marks of personal
affection and attention which are so necessary in developing the
moral instincts and affection. The body is fed, but the soul is
starved. The orderly company is trained to dependence; the
table is set and provided with food cooked in huge copper
kettles and steel ranges; the bell calls with deadly precision to
each task and pleasure. This is not real life; it is a merely arti-
ficial mode of existence. Individual characteristics are sup-
pressed, as in the army, and the education of distinctive traits
is made impossible. The most depraved children have an
opportunity in the throng to become influential and to taint
others with their immoralities.

The cost of institutions is relatively great. From $300 to
^800 must be invested for each child in buildings, grounds, and
other plant, and from $150 to ^300 a year expense of mainte-
nance for each person. The interest on investment and the salaries
of a corps of servants, superintendents, and teachers, constitute a
steady and heavy draft on financial resources. In consequence
of this vast expense for a relatively small number, hundreds and
thousands of needy and neglected children are left without help;

Relief and Care of Dependent Children. 1 1 1

and while a pampered few are using up the funds of philan-
thropy, multitudes of little ones are left in their misery and peril.

Every institution, by a law of its being, is impelled to preserve
its place and power. Officers and trustees have a natural pride
in ruling over large numbers and imposing establishments.
Salaries are often given on a scale representing the apparent
magnitude of the work. The boards of management love to
drive past the massive edifices and "point with pride" to the
lofty buildings, the ample grounds, the long rows of painfully
demure and subdued children, — the cloud of witnesses to their

It is easier to run in a groove than to move out upon city life
with inventive energy and adjust plans to swiftly changing cir-
cumstances and varied wants. Attachments spring up for the
brightest, prettiest, and best behaved children. Sometimes we
must add the influence of a conscientious, but injurious ecclesi-
asticism, which loses sight of the interest of the child, and holds
him to the asylum rather than let him go to a good home where
a slightly different creed may be taught.

If the institution is supported in part by city or state subsi-
dies, these temptations to continue a bad policy are intensified,
and the asylums are crowded and kept full for the sake of earning
the income, at cost of the future welfare of the ward and of the

6. Principles of Successful Management of Institutions. —
Success here means fitting as many neglected children as possible
for normal family relations, and finding homes for all as speedily
as possible. The universal principle of investigation must here
be repeated. The agents of a society cannot deal wisely with a
child without knowledge of its heredity, social conditions, and
relations. Legal title should be secured in all cases where adop-
tion is intended. Family life is the ideal goal of the institution,
and small groups are better than great regiments. Children
should go to the public schools with other children, and to the
neighboring churches and Sunday-schools, and thus learn to

112 Relief and Care of Dependents.

mingle naturally with society. Rapidly as may be, even by legal
compulsion, all normal children should be placed in good homes
and carefully visited and supervised until majority, or until
oversight is no longer necessary.

7. Boarding out Children. — It is not always possible, espe-
cially in older communities, to secure suitable families who are
willing to adopt dependent children and assume their entire sup-
port. The difficulty increases when the child is a foundling of
unknown and suspicious origin, sickly and motherless, or unat-
tractive in appearance and wayward in habits. Placing out is
promoted by the offer of at least part payment for the care of
such children. This is much better than institutional life, and
is less expensive. Frequently a natural attachment grows up
between the waif and those with whom it is boarded, and then
the foster parents are willing to accept legal responsibilities and
maintain the child. In many cases the parent may be glad and able
to meet the cost, at least in part; and if the child is over twelve
years of age, its support may be met by its own wages. The
rights of such children must be safeguarded by supervision.

8. Placing out. — It is now generally agreed that a good
family home is far better for a homeless dependent child than an
institution. Physical health, industrial training, normal social
environment and opportunities, rooted affections and virtues,
access to avenues of success, are all offered by natural family

As an encouragement to those who undertake the reponsibili-
ties of foster parents it may be fairly claimed that environment,
in the case of healthy, normal young children, not yet corrupted
by evil example, counts for more than heredity. This is not
true of those who inherit specific disease, weakness, or defective
brains. It is the duty of those who offer children for legal adop-
tion to make known to foster parents any indications or evi-
dences of such deep-seated defects. Even if the child proves
sickly and short-lived, there is the profound moral satisfaction
of having made its life happy and full of love and hope. But

Relief and Care of Dependent Children. 113

the dangers and burdens should be fully known and weighed in
advance of adoption.

The essential conditions of successful placing out are investi-
gation, careful records, and thorough supervision. The investi-
gation is made first of all by asking the family to make a
statement of its ability and desires. A blank schedule is sent
to the persons who propose to take children for boarding or
adoption, and on this form the parties report their church rela-
tions, distance from school, size of farm, occupation, number of
persons already in the family, ages, and whether the child is
expected to eat with the family or with hired help. From this
statement much can be learned about physical surroundings and
the object of the correspondents in asking for a ward.

A careful and responsible society will carry this investigation
further, by means of questions addressed to several responsible
neighbors, with the purpose of estimating the moral fitness of the

The third step is a visit of the trained agent of the society to
verify impressions, seek other sources of information, and form
a judgment. These investigations are continued by later visits
of supervision. The inspections should be repeated several
times in a year and without previous notice. Monthly reports of
progress should be sent by the school-teacher, and quarterly
letters from the pastor. All this information should be carefully
recorded on cards or in indexed volumes. No society has a
moral right to undertake the placing of children unless it is pre-
pared to carry out this plan of investigation and supervision
generation after generation. When irresponsible persons open
an office, without any capital except a chair, a desk, and an
abundance of assurance and promises, and agree with the con-
fiding public to place all children in good homes at an average
expense of ten to fifty dollars, they may be set down as either
ignorant or knavish. In either case they are not to be trusted,
and should be legally restrained from continuing in the traffic.

The general public is little aware how great a responsibility is

1 14 Relief and Care of Dependents.

assumed by those who attempt to place out homeless children.
It is not difficult to find homes for children, because selfish
people are always lying in wait for juvenile slaves, and base
people are eagerly seeking girls for prostitution. Unscrupulous
agents can easily get rid of an illegitimate child and transfer the
burden of support and education from those responsible for its

But those who accept this task are answerable for the child
until its majority. Experience shows that about half the chil-
dren need to be replaced, some of them several times, before
the right place is found. This costs a great deal of work and
money. It is not fair and honest for agents without financial
responsibility to collect money for the placing of children, and
then abandon their care and leave them to the accidents of self-
ishness and moral depravity. Such abuses must be brought
under legal control. Only competent associations should be
licensed by the state, and they should give adequate guaran-
tees for the faithful prosecution of supervision. One such
voluntary society in a state is enough for the general work,
although some religious denominations may prefer to provide for
homeless children of their own faith, and are willing to give the
necessary sureties.

In order to enforce the principle of responsibility to the state,
it is desirable to point out the perils of injudicious placing-out
methods. There is danger that defective and diseased children
may be prematurely placed in homes. These are not usually
proper subjects for this method. Children of unknown ante-
cedents, scrofulous, consumptive, feeble, may be adopted igno-
rantly, on a false theory that nurture is everything, heredity
nothing, a doctrine too strongly urged by some over-zealous
agents of placing-out schemes. Such a representation is unwise
and short-sighted, because a few years will reveal its essential
falsehood, and there will be a reaction against the society.

Small institutions, local and denominational, have too few
wards in families to pay for a travelling agent. Children are

Relief and Care of Dependent Children. 115

abused, misfits occur and go without correction, and occasionally
frightful scandals, as when young girls are led astray. Fre-
quently people will adopt children in order to secure unpaid
workers in kitchen or field.

Very bitter complaints have been made in Western states
against societies farther East for sending out defective and way-
ward children, and leaving them without further thought or care.
Statutes have been passed to limit this practice and to secure
proper supervision. There are some advantages in placing
children at a distance and in a new environment, since the
foster parents feel less anxious about interference of relatives
and the revival of early unfortunate influences. Children over
twelve years of age should not be taken far, as only young children
can safely be trusted at a distance from the supervising office.

Release. — The wards of a society should not hastily and
prematurely be discharged from its oversight and control. They
must be protected during minority from abuse and secured an
education. But there comes a time when it is safe and wise to
relax and suspend supervision, when it is certain that the home
is good. Foster parents do not like to be watched and treated
with suspicion after giving all reasonable proofs of fitness.

Supervision by Vohmta?y and Local Child-saving Societies. —
In many towns and cities there are orphanages, aid societies,
asylums, industrial schools, and homes of the friendless which
receive and find homes for homeless children. Supervision and
inspection demands a high order of ability, wide travel, energetic
labor, by a tactful and experienced expert. It is evident that an
association which deals with only a few new cases in a year
cannot afford to provide such an agency, and is tempted to
depend on letters or irregular visits. It would seem to be wise
to combine several of these agencies in one federation for the
purpose of maintaining the kind and quality of supervision
demanded by experience. A denominational orphanage could
easily contract with a strong and central placing-out society for
this part of the work, and could receive assurance that families

ii6 Relief and Care of Dependents.

would be selected of the faith of the parents. Such a federation
would tend to educate the agencies of new organizations, to
frown down fraudulent and inefficient methods, and to raise the
quality of voluntary agencies. A society has already been estab-
lished in the central states with these aims in mind; but it is
rather a conference than a federation with authority and control,
and cannot be held responsible for the errors of individual
members or visitors.

9. Care of Crippled and Deformed Children. — It is relatively
difficult to find homes for those who are unattractive in appear-
ance and unable to render service, or likely to be a burden
through life. Even a homely face or reticent manner may long
prevent a child from finding a family home. Hence institu-
tional care must be prolonged. Those who are naturally slow or
lame must be trained with special patience and skill, to fit them
for a competitive career. The deformed lad learns telegraphy,
type-setting, or stenography, and becomes self supporting at
sixteen years of age. The unprepossessing girl is fed well and
groomed for many months, is taught the arts of housekeeping,
and easily finds a permanent position in domestic service. With
tact, patience, and watchfulness a wise superintendent will finally
work off and distribute a large company of this class, and place
them in the general community.

Homeless epileptics and feeble-minded children ought not to
be placed in families, and their needs will be considered in the
part devoted to defectives.

Municipal lodging houses should provide separate buildings,
with their own officers, for homeless youth, so that they may not
be compelled to mingle with tramps.

10. Support and Control. — There are three chief methods of
support of child-saving associations and institutions : private
gifts or endowments, taxation, and subsidies to private institutions
from public funds.

State Organization of Child-saving. — In some states it has
become customary for the state or for local governments, as

Relief and Care of Dependent Children. 117

counties, to subsidize private establishments, and thus employ
them to care for homeless waifs. Certain advantages are claimed
for this method by those who favor it. It is said to be economi-
cal. The commonwealth is not required to buy and maintain a
plant, while the fees of parents and the gifts of patrons relieve
the public from a burden of taxation. It is also asserted that the
interests of the children are more tenderly and carefully protected
and furthered, and that religious and moral influences, in the
same direction as those given by parents, are more secure and

But this system is open to severe criticism. The argument
from public economy is questioned, for the tendency of subsi-
dized institutions is more and more to lean on the state, and
patrons gradually cease to give with liberality. Why should
people give money to an institution to which they already
contribute by paying taxes?

The argument from the interests of wards is not sound. The
tendency of subsidies is to tempt the institutions to keep the
youth year after year for the revenue it brings from the govern-
ment. We have already seen that children ought to be placed
in natural homes as quickly as possible; and the tendency of a
subsidy is to restrain and hinder this effort to place out. Fur-
thermore, it is a sound maxim in government that where the state
supports it ought to control, in order that a detailed account may
be rendered to the public of the use of all funds raised by taxa-
tion. The state has no right, directly or covertly, to support a
sectarian institution, and in some states it is unconstitutional.
The law is sometimes evaded under some pretext, but it is sound
and wise. By proper care as good treatment can be secured by
the officers of the state as by private associations, and the
intervention of the voluntary organization is unnecessary.

If a state is so unwise as to adopt the subsidy scheme, and
depend on private agencies for the performance of a public duty,
then it should regulate these agents and compel a full discharge
of contractual obligations. The payment of subsidies should be

ii8 Relief and Care of Dependents.

for services actually rendered, and should not be in a lump sum,
to be used at the discretion of the society. The payment should
be made for each child separately, and never enough to cover
entirely the cost of maintenance; much less should a profit be
possible. State boards should be legally required to secure
itemized reports from each subsidized institution, and should
make administrative rules in relation to the length of time
children may be held back from natural family life. Other
rules should regulate methods of placing out, inspection, and

Governmental Syste7ns. — Public sentiment is rapidly tend-
ing to require legal prohibition of confining children in poor-
houses. In some states the local governments, as counties,
provide separate homes, under the care of matrons. Here
arises a danger : unless the number of children is large the per
capita cost is relatively high, and there is a great temptation to
retain the wards too long in order to keep up the numbers and
reduce the average cost. It is difficult and expensive to provide
a placing-out organization for many counties, and if each political
unit is left to go its own way this vital matter will be neglected.
The logical and appropriate course in a state where there are
many such establishments is to bring them all under control of
the state board and provide a state agent to select and supervise
family homes, and also to require the local institutions by law to
disperse their wards by adoption, apprenticing, or boarding out.

In other states the law forbids local authorities to send normal
children to poorhouses, and maintains a central school for their
temporary care and for administration. If parents, relatives,
churches, orphanages, and private associations fail to provide for
homeless children, the commonwealth assumes their care. At
the state school these little ones are sheltered in cottages, each
under the direction of a matron, while a common school, a dining
room, and a chapel are used by all. The institution has an agent
who travels over the state in the interest of the wards, and trans-
fers them to selected homes as rapidly as these can be found. In

Relief and Care of Dependent Children. 119

each county a local resident agent is appointed to cooperate with
the state institutions for dependent and delinquent children.
All dependent children under twelve years and over six months
of age become wards of the state by being legally committed
through the courts, either to the state school or to incorporated
charitable societies. During minority they are protected by this
shield of guardianship.

Auxiliaries to this system, in its complete form, are institu-
tions for the feeble-minded and epileptics, with industrial schools
for wayward boys and girls. Ill-treated children are protected by
law, and those who can receive benefit from medical and surgical
treatment are received at the state school. The importation of
children from other states is forbidden, or restricted and regu-
lated. Factory laws and systems of inspection defend growing
children from being used up in factory labor, and other statutes
guard against criminal associations and enticements from
saloons. Parental responsibility is enforced by compulsory
education and truant officers.

The state encourages private charities, but does not subsidize
them or form financial connections with them, requires them to
become incorporated, and subjects them to supervision by the
state board.

While each commonwealth carries out these principles in a
different way, and adds to the range of experiment in this field,
the working of these ideas may be observed in Massachusetts,
Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and elsewhere.
In the judgment of the writer, Michigan is not only the pioneer in
.most advanced lines, but, on the whole, has the best equipment.

The beneficent tendency of a complete state system, as con-
trasted with a subsidy system, may be illustrated by the following
figures. In Michigan, in 1874, the date of the establishment of
the state public school, there was a dependent child to each 2224
of the population, and in 1890 only one dependent child to
12,500 of the population; and yet population had increased
87 per cent, and cities had increased in density, while child

I20 Relief and Care of Dependents.

dependence decreased 400 per cent. In 1874 the cost of 600
children to the counties was about ^60,000. If the same relative
number had to be supported in 1900, the cost would have been
^112,400. The contrast with subsidy states, like New York and
California, during the same period is startling.

State control over private institutions is necessary to secure the
rights and interests of the dependents and of the public. Fre-
quent examination should be made in relation to sanitary and
other conditions, and continuance of work under the direction of
the society should be conditioned on annual approval by the state
board. Mr. Letchworth declares that "power should be lodged
in a central authority to transfer inmates from one institution to
another, in order to perfect and maintain classifications; to
remove juvenile offenders from institutions and place them in
family care during good conduct; also to remove from institu-
tional care and to place permanently in homes all children suited
to family life." While some of these regulations apply more
directly to local public institutions, the. same general regula-
tions, in the last resort, must be applied to negligent private

Online LibraryCharles Richmond HendersonIntroduction to the study of the dependent, defective, and delinquent classes, and of their social treatment → online text (page 10 of 35)