We get calls all the time: “When can I come to meet the kids?” or “Can I bring new toys to the children there?” While we appreciate calls from kind people who want to help and have hands-on interactions with kids in foster care, you will rarely find foster children at our office.
The old ways of child adoption are long gone. Alison Moore, an author and humanities scholar, and Phil Lancaster, a presenter and musician, have done a pretty good job recording and keeping this part of our history alive through their research on The Orphan Train. So let’s take a step back and understand where it all began.
The Orphan Train
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, widespread poverty and disease in New York resulted in the city having tens of thousands of orphans and unwanted children. That is until a minister had an idea: “Send them west.”
Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society in New York in hopes that these orphaned children could benefit from living in family homes (instead of in orphanages) where they could receive a good education and training for work.
“So began the ‘orphan train.’ At the time it was called ‘the placing out system’ and it utilized any passenger train going in any direction that offered reduced fares for children. At stops along the way, farmers and shopkeepers would come to the station, inspect the children and decide if any would be a good match for their families – or businesses.”
An Important Part of U.S. and Texas History
This important moment in U.S. and Texas history is why some potential foster and adoptive families believe the misconception that they can “pick out” the exact child who makes sense for their family. This is because in an orphanage or on the orphan train, you could do exactly that.
Although Charles Loring Brace’s original idea of the orphan train came from a good place of wanting children to succeed in home environments, the children were often exploited by their new families. They were forced to work jobs they were not prepared for, ones which only helped enhance their new family’s life, but not typically their own life.
However, the trains were eventually replaced by foster care and adoption practices that promised greater safety and permanency for children. So we are thankful for Charles Loring Brace for establishing the first movement in the child welfare space, because it helped shape where it is today.
Although the foster care and adoption system is not perfect, we have come a long way from orphanages and the orphan train. In today’s world, when a child is removed from their home, they are immediately placed in a licensed emergency foster home by Child Protective Services (CPS). They are never physically in our agency’s custody, because our job is to place them in one of our open foster homes. As child welfare evolved in the United States, a shift in care began to happen. The government got more involved and realized the success of the children were dependent on their needs.
Here at Arms Wide Adoption Services, we take this a step further. We pride ourselves in our number one focus always being on the needs of the children we serve. We only place children with families who have the strengths necessary to parent and raise that child in a safe and loving home.
In some occasions, you will find children listed on a website or available to meet at a match event. Sometimes it does take a face-to-face meeting to know whether or not your heart is open to a child you weren’t expecting. However, in most cases, Arms Wide Adoption Services, CPS, and agencies alike advocate on behalf of the children and only present families for foster care and adoption who will also keep the children’s needs at the core of their family.
Remembering The Orphans
“When we had the opportunity over the years to meet these orphan train riders, one of their crying songs was that they don’t want to be forgotten,” Lancaster says. “Late in life they found this connection with this community and found out they were part of a huge part of American history that they themselves don’t know much about.”
The Orphan Train Heritage Society of America was founded in 1986 in Springdale, Arkansas, and preserves the history of the orphan train era. With the help of the Heritage Society as well as Alison Moore and Phil Lancaster, the immensely untold, but significant story of the riders of the orphan train can stay alive. Alison and Phil live in the central Texas city of Wimberley, but travel around the United States presenting stories of the thousands of orphans who rode on trains to find families.
Together, we can continue to keep their stories alive and improve our foster care system as a whole. We can remember to keep the needs of the children at the core of everything we do.
Sources / Related Articles
- Children’s Bureau Timeline
- Riders of The Orphan Train
- National Orphan Train Complex
- Orphan Train Heritage Society of America, Inc. (OTHSA)
About The Author
As the Marketing Intern, Jessica Hernandez assists with coordinated social media outreach, publishing blogs, and works with the Family Recruitment team to implement ideas and activities. She is a senior as the University of Houston, majoring in Psychology and minoring in Nonprofit Leadership.