By LAURA McDONOUGH
The concept of fostering children isn’t new. For evidence, look no further than The Bible.
In roughly 1393, a pharaoh’s daughter found an infant floating in the Nile River and named him Moses.
However, foster care as a social concept has roots in English Poor Law. In 1535, laws allowed children, between 5 and 13, to be “apprenticed.” By 1562, they were actually put into indentured service.
The practice followed the British into the colonies. The National Foster Parent Association says the first foster child in North America was Benjamin Easton in 1636. He was 7.
The most noted name in American foster care is Charles Loring Brace, according to NFPA. Considered by many to be the father of the foster care movement, Brace founded The Children’s Aid Society in 1853 in New York City.
The society placed ads throughout the South and West seeking families willing to let children into their homes. This was called the Emigration Plan or the more widely known “Orphan Trains.” The trains would take children from poor sections of New York City to various regions and place them with farm families. The children were to be given a free room, but had to “earn their keep” by working at the farm. The older children were supposed to be paid.
South Dakota went so far as to give subsidies to the aid society for its work.
The movement lasted about 60 years, with more than 120,000 children participating. While some children struggled with being uprooted, many others went on to become successful doctors, lawyers, teachers, as well as other professionals with college degrees and children of their own.
The Orphan Train movement and other initiatives eventually led to welfare reform: child labor laws, adoption, foster care services and more.
Massachusetts was the first state to begin paying families who took care of children. In 1885, Pennsylvania became the first state to licensing foster families.
By the early 1990s, government agencies began placing children and creating services to help families.
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