Reverend Hastings H. Hart, “Placing Out Children in the West,” 1884

. . . . Gentlemen interested in public and private charities in various parts of the West and South have stated that many vicious and depraved children are sent out by the society; that they are hastily placed in homes without proper inquiry, and are often ill-used; that the society, having disposed of the children, leaves them to shift for themselves without further care; and that a large proportion turn out badly, swelling the ranks of pauperism and crime. . . .

The inquiry will be grouped under four heads:

First. Is it true that many vicious and depraved children are sent out? A few such were found, but there is no evidence that their selection was intentional. Six are known to have committed offences against the laws, of whom I shall speak later. Nine have been sent back by the local committees as incorrigible; and, in such cases, the society has promptly taken charge of them, paying all expenses. Three or four depraved adults have come to the State under the auspices of the society.

Second. Are children hastily placed in homes without proper inquiry, and are they often ill-used? Some five or six cases of abuse are reported. The society has recently prosecuted one case and is reported to be about to prosecute another. A third case was prosecuted, I believe, by the boy himself. In two or three less glaring instances, the children were transferred to suitable homes. Some false stories of abuse have been traced back to gossips or jealous neighbors.

To the first count of this indictment, however, namely, the hasty placing of children without proper investigation, we fear that the society must plead guilty. The plan is as follows: A representative of the society first visits the town where distribution is to be made, and secures three leading citizens to act as a volunteer committee, pass upon applications for children, and take general charge of the matter. A notice is published in local newspapers inviting applications and announcing the day of arrival and distribution. I was myself a witness of the distribution of forty children in Nobles County, Minnesota, by my honored friend, Agent James Mathews, who is a member of this Conference. The children arrived at about half-past three P.M., and were taken directly from the train to the court-house, where a large crowd was gathered. Mr. Mathews set the children, one by one, before the company, and, in his stentorian voice, gave a brief account of each. Applicants for children were then admitted in order behind the railing, and rapidly made their selections. Then, if the child gave the assent, the bargain was concluded on the spot. It was a pathetic sight, not soon to be forgotten, to see those children and young people, weary, travel-stained, confused by the excitement and the unwonted surroundings, peering into those strange faces, and trying to choose wisely for themselves. And it was surprising how many happy selections were made under such circumstances. In a little more than three hours, nearly all of those forty children were disposed of. . . . 

Third. Does the society, having disposed of the children, leave them to shift for themselves, without farther care? No, not in Minnesota. The agents of the society have revisited the counties where children are placed, —most of them repeatedly. These trips, being hurried, have not permitted visits to all of the children, special attention being given to urgent cases. Cases of incorrigibility reported to the society have received prompt attention, —homes being changed or the child removed from the State, as seemed best. . . .

Fourth. The crucial question is, Does “a large proportion turn out badly, swelling the ranks of pauperism and crime”? . . .

From our experience, we are positive in the opinion that children above the age of twelve years ought not to be sent west by the Children’s Aid Society. In this opinion, I understand that the officers of the society concur. . .

Our examination shows, with reference to the children under thirteen years old, that nine-tenths remain, four-fifths are doing well, and all incorrigibles are cared for by the society. If properly placed and faithfully supervised, we are willing to take our full share of these younger children in Minnesota.

 

Source: Rev. Hastings H. Hart, Secretary of the State Board of Corrections and Charities of Minnesota, “Placing Out Children in the West,” Proceedings of the National Conference of Charities & Correction (St. Louis, 1884):143-147, 149-150.

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