Arnold Gesell, “Child Adoptions in Connecticut,” 1939

Source:  U.S. Children's Bureau, Physical Status of Preschool Children by Anna E. Rude, Bureau Publication No. 111 (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1922), 22-1.

For many adoption reformers during the first half of the century, including Arnold Gesell, increased clinical control was synonymous with reducing risk in adoption. Measuring developmental norms was one of the minimum standards they advocated for making adoption safer and more predictable.

I appreciate the privilege of talking before this assembly of judges on the important problem of child adoption, a problem over which you have such fundamental and far-reaching control. I am especially glad that under the circumstances of your invitation, I can speak to you as a citizen of Connecticut rather than as an official of any organization. As director of a clinic for children I have had unusual opportunities to see the social significance of the whole problem of dependent, neglected, uncared for and illegitimate children. In the past ten years our clinic at Yale University has made careful and repeated mental examinations of over 1,500 such children prior to their placement in foster homes or institutions. The cases are referred by social agencies seeking diagnosis and advice. (Incidentally I should say that this work has been done as a public service by the University, without any cost to the taxpayers of the State.) . . .

For public and social reasons it seem especially important at this time to emphasize the solemn responsibilities of the court in this matter of child adoption. Abuses are unnecessary because the demand for adoptive children far exceeds the supply. It so far exceeds that the state is now in an excellent position to insist on high standards of adoption procedure.

I think that we are all agreed that the restrictions upon adoption should not be too severe, too stiff, too clumsy. We do not believe in undue red tape or undue publicity. We should think of adoption as a social resource which needs conservation. There are too many poor adoptions; not enough good ones. There are too many tardy adoptions, unnecessarily delayed because the foster children have been kept for years in boarding homes, or in the county “temporary” homes. The Bureau of Child Welfare of our State has in the last six years placed only 31 children in adoption. Many people think that social agencies have often been too strict, too inflexible in their well intentioned methods. Practical people point out that every good adoption of a young dependent child saves the state many thousands of dollars in sheer maintenance expense.

The human values are beyond computation. Every good adoption makes a very rich addition to the sum of happiness. On the other hand, few things in life can cause more intense suffering than a botched adoption—heartaches for the adult; injustice and emotional distortion for the child. . . .

The state legislature created the institution of child adoption and created the court to put that institution into effect. Adoption is not merely a legal proceeding. It is an act of social adjustment. In last analysis the court is the most responsible participant in that act of adjustment. Social agents, public and private, through investigation and supervision must lend their assistance to make the adoptions safe and sound. But these agents are in essence servants of the court, aiding it to judge the merits of the issue. It is a court of petition, of examination, of decree. The child himself is mute and without defense. Only after he is fourteen years old is his signature demanded. His natural parents, his relative, the petitioning foster parents, their advisors, and their lawyers are adults. They speak for themselves and for their own interests. The child cannot speak except through an investigation of the court, delegated or otherwise. Complete justice to the child demands such investigation prior to the final decree.

Connecticut needs a simple law which will make investigation and probation mandatory and a matter of course. The public will support such a law. They will regard it as a strengthening of the authority of the court, not a limitation of its power.

Illegitimate births are on the increase, broken homes are on the increase, childless homes and child-rejection are on the increase. So is child adoption. Child adoption concerns the fundamentals of family life. For civic, as well as humane reasons, we need additional safe-guards under vigilant court control, here in Connecticut.


Source: Arnold Gesell, “Child Adoptions in Connecticut,” pp. 1-3, 7-8, Arnold Gesell Papers, Box 45, Folder: “Adoption,” Library of Congress, Manuscript Division, used by permission of Mrs. Joseph W. Walden.

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