Child Welfare League of America Memo, “Description of Children Who Were Referred For Adoptive Placement and Considered Difficult to Place,” 1955

Source: Viola W. Bernard Papers, Archives and Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Library, Columbia University

African-American children, no matter how young or healthy, were invariably considered to have “special needs” simply because child welfare professionals found them difficult to place—all the more so in the case of siblings.

No. 1: Joe – 3 years old.

Joe is a Mexican and Indian boy who is very attractive and alert appearing, but tests indicate an I.Q. of about 80. Joe is dark in coloring and has a mop of unruly straight, thick, black hair, which his foster mother finds very difficult to manage. At the present time Joe is in a White foster home in a rural area and spends most of his time tagging the foster father around as he takes care of the farm. Joe was removed from his home when he was an infant of about six months, and although he has other brothers and sisters he has always been separated from them and so does not know them. He has not seen his father nor his mother since he was removed, but until a year ago, he was not legally free and therefore could not be referred for adoptive placement. However, when he was freed he was referred immediately, but as yet no home has been found for him. So far as he knows he belongs in his present foster home. Joe is a very outgoing boy with sparkling black eyes and an engaging grin, most of the time. He has a hot temper however, and a stubborn streak shows itself when he does not get his way. There are older children of the foster parents in the home and Joe is their pride and joy.

No. 2: Mike – Mexican and Indian – 7 years old.

Mike is Joe’s half-brother, having the same mother but another father. Mike is a rather withdrawn, anxious boy who has been in a foster home since he was about 4-1/2 years old. At this time he has been in his present home for about 8 months, but had three foster home placements before that. Mike does exceedingly well in school, is in the second grade and on a psychological test his I.Q. was 120. About a year ago Mike was made legally free and was immediately referred for adoptive placement, but as yet no home has been found for him. He is a tall wiry boy with very black hair and very dark eyes. His eyes are quite expressive and the foster mother says that he is very difficult to discipline because if you look at his eyes you “just melt.” Mike does not have to be disciplined very often, in fact not often enough perhaps. He is quite interested in reading and in music and most particularly in fishing. His coordination has always been excellent and his foster parents think he could be a good athlete, but he does not seem to be interested in athletics at this point. The teacher, of course, is very fond of Mike because he does well in school and causes no trouble. Mike has begun to ask why his parents do not come to see him anymore and is aware that he has a different status in his foster family than the own children of the foster parents. Mike remembers life with his mother and with a rapid succession of fathers. For awhile after he was placed, his mother visited every few months, but within the past 2 years he has not seen her. He has never known his father and has had some difficulty in understanding why in a foster home the fathers come home every night, they don’t come home drunk and the same father comes home consistently. At this point Mike is rather unsure about trusting adults and is seeking a permanent and secure relationship. However, the worker is hesitant to talk very much with him about adoption since finding an adoptive home for Mike will be a long process. His chief disadvantages are his color and his age.

No. 3: Regina – Negro and Indian – 6 years old

Regina has a very dark brown skin and looks quite Indian with straight thick coarse black hair and black eyes that can change from being very somber to being very sparkling in a very short time. Regina is of average intelligence and in starting school has seemed to make an adequate adjustment. She has been in the same foster home for the past four years and is the ideal of her foster father. The foster parents are in the 70’s and so it is obvious that Regina cannot stay there much longer even though they would very much like to keep her. She lives in a very small town, but there are several Indian children in the school. Regina has been legally free for 2 years, but for a time she was not placed because she tested too low according to the worker. It seems that when Regina was about 3 years old she came in for a psychological examination and sat glumly through the whole process, participating very little. She made almost no response to the tester and sat the whole time “looking holes through her.” When Regina was about 4-1/2 or 5 the case was transferred to another worker who, after observing Regina, was positive she was not dull. She began to see more of Regina to get acquainted with her and finally after awhile brought her in for another psychological test. At that point Regina seemed like a different child, responding very well and testing well within the average range. Two sets of adoptive parents have seen Regina, but she has been too dark for them. Regina has a faculty for controlling things by remaining silent and just sitting staring at whoever is attempting to talk with her. At one point she had to be moved from her present foster home for a brief period because the foster mother became ill and went to the hospital. Throughout the whole 2 weeks Regina was in a strange place, and talked very little, played very little and just seemed to be suspended in space until she could return to her foster home. It was most frustrating to the foster family and they became quite upset by her. Of course, the more upset they got the more silent she was. As soon as she returned to her first foster home she became her old self again and proved that she could be responsive, alert and full of fun.

No. 4: Marie – Eskimo and Indian – 4 years old.

Marie has been legally free since birth, but for some time was held without referring to an adoption agency because she had a cleft lip and cleft palate, which needed repair. At this point the repair has been completed and she needs speech training at this point. There may be some orthodontics at a later time, but just now her greatest need is for a permanent home and one where she can get speech training. Marie is a short, squarely built, round faced little girl who looks rather Oriental in appearance is except for her brown skin. Her mother was an unmarried mother from Alaska who came to the States after she got pregnant. She relinquished the child at birth and was not heard from after that. She was not too sure about the father, but was sure of only the one thing that he was an Indian from the West Coast someplace. The worker is convinced that Marie could be a much more attractive child than she is if she were dressed differently and if the foster mother would take better care of her hair. However, at this point she usually looks like a little waif with dresses much too long for her and her hair cut in a very square dutch bob. The repair of her cleft lip has been done so well that one hardly notices the scar. Marie seems to function on an average level for a 4 year old except for her speech, but since she is in a foster home where she does not get stimulation, the worker is not convinced that Marie is functioning up to capacity.

No. 5: Felix – Indian and White – 11 years old.

Felix is a handsome bright boy who looks like the pictures of Indian braves one sees on postcards. He has a beautiful body, is very good in sports, and does well at school. He is quite an outgoing gregarious boy and is very much the leader in the small school that he attends. Felix looks more White than Indian, except for his very thick coarse black hair, and since he is in a community where there are a great many Indians he has not appeared to think much about his mixed racial background. Felix has had rather a checkered background and was one of several children, but since he was the youngest he has been pretty much completely separated from the rest of his family for the past several years. He sees his older brothers once in awhile since they live in that vicinity, but there seems to be no strong relationship between them. Felix was in foster care off and on from the time he was about a year old. He would spend some time in foster homes where he was placed because of neglect by his mother and father and then would return to his parents when the agency thought they were rehabilitated enough to take care of their family. Actually, most of the care Felix received was from his brothers who were from 3 to 7 years older than he. His father was White and was a logger who had to give up his occupation of logging and was never able to find a job that lasted very long and that would support the family. Most of the time while the father was gone in the woods the mother would entertain various and sundry men in her home. When the father came back the situation would improve, but it would last only as long as he was there. Finally, after being unsuccessful at attempting to find employment other than logging he returned to his former occupation against the advice of a doctor, and after a few weeks was killed in the woods when a tree fell on him. At this point the mother seemed to give up completely, came into the Welfare Department and asked them to place all of the children. . . .


Source: Zelma Felton to Joseph Reid, December 5, 1955, Child Welfare League of America Papers, Box 1, Folder: “Speeches - Joseph Reid, 1952, 1955,” Social Welfare History Archives, University of Minnesota.

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