There was a time, not very long
ago, a time which continues into the present in many communities
in this country, when the only problem of placing a friendless child
was that of finding someone, anyone, to take it. Any town official
or group of city fathers would be competent to decide that the Jones
family, being respectable and God-fearing, were just the people
to bring up Mary Brown and that Mary was a lucky girl to find such
a home. Or, if there were an orphan asylum available, Mary’s
fate would be settled even more simply.
Evolution of Standards in Child Care
Today our organized child-placing agencies look back upon such
methods as upon the dark ages. They know that only the trained worker
is competent to place a child, they recognize the necessity of family
history if it can be obtained, of physical examination and correction
of physical handicaps before placement. They stand for adequate
investigation of the foster home and a supervision of the child
in that home after placement. The most advanced of the child-caring
agencies also undertake to deal with the question of possible mental
defect by requiring mental tests for all children or for any who
are in the least doubtful. . . .
We have gotten to the point of trying to know something about the
dependent child’s heredity and we insist on a history and
study of his physical condition as far as possible. Is it too much
to ask, no matter how many children we have to place, that we know
something intimate, personal and specific about the child himself?
Is there any use in pretending to do intelligent child-placing unless
we do know our children first? Surely, at best, the removal of any
child from the family on which he has depended and by which he has
been formed, into strange medium to which he must adapt as best
he may, is the most experimental and delicate of tasks. Can we hope
to approach anything like a scientific attitude towards child-placing
while we remain in ignorance of the most important condition of
the experiment, the personality of the child who is placed?
I am sure no one here would oppose such a proposition and yet I
doubt whether many of us are taking any systematic steps to study
the intellectual, emotional and instinctive make-up of the children
we place. We would like to, but we think we haven’t time and
we think it takes a psychologist or a psychiatrist. It does take
time—but no more time than the unknown child consumes in the
trial and error method of placing where success is more or less
of an accident and may come only after many placements. Then there
would be the tremendous saving of having one approach and one system
for all kinds of children which would eliminate the need of special
machinery except for the very abnormal child. . . .
Finally, to get the most out of such a study you need to set yourself
certain tasks, you must aim to find out certain things about every
child and then get it down in written form so that the record gives
a vivid but accurate impression of the child as he appeared at that
time. In the little day school organized on the play school plan
which Seybert Institution operates for the purpose of making just
such personality studies of the children in the Temporary Shelter
in Philadelphia, the teachers are asked to keep in mind certain
points in observing the children. Their general aim is to see how
the child is using his troublesome behavior as a form of adjustment,
to what he is adjusting by that means, and how he can be led to
a more happy and successful method of adapting. The following outline
is suggestive of what they try to discover.
1. Child’s adjustment to other people
2. Child’s way of meeting a difficult or problematic situation.
In social relations
Giving up quickly
Change of Activity, etc.
3. What are his interests or aversions?
4. What can he do well? What does he do badly?
5. How does he work?
Book work, etc.
6. Can he learn? Does he follow directions?
7. Does he show any unusual or marked emotional re-actions and
under what circumstances?
8. Has he any marked peculiarities of behavior, such as taking
things, story-telling, any nervous habit, any sex habit? . . . .
The self is a very complex, elusive, changing phenomenon and we
should approach it with an humble spirit, an open mind and a desire
not so much to judge as to understand.