illustrates that top policy-makers at the U.S.
Children’s Bureau, remained sharply critical of the amateurs
who founded the first specialized
adoption agencies well into the 1940s. These agencies involved
too much commerce and sentiment, Chief Katharine Lenroot charged,
and not nearly enough social
work. In comparison, she suggested that child
welfare professionals were less enthusiastic about adoption
and more likely to advocate family preservation over the separation
of children from birth parents.
In cases where children had to be placed in new homes, they were
also much more rigorous about investigation, supervision, and other
Dear Mrs. Roosevelt:
I am sorry not to have replied earlier to Miss Thompson’s
note of February 19 to Dr. Eliot asking for information with reference
to The Cradle Society in Evanston, Illinois. I was away from the
office most of last week and found that it had been held for my
The Children’s Bureau has had no official contact with The
Cradle but I have met Mrs. Walrath and Miss Colby of our staff has
personally known its program over a long period of time. We have
a considerable amount of information about it in the files of the
Mrs. Walrath founded the Cradle following her success in finding
babies for members of her own family and several of her friends.
She has received great personal satisfaction from her activities
and has strenuously resisted the practices usually followed by qualified
child-placement agencies. Instead she has relied almost entirely
on her own individual experience and her personality.
Many people have been able to get children from The Cradle when
they were not successful in obtaining children for adoption from
other agencies. Experience has shown that when good social work
has an opportunity to function the number of children eligible for
adoption is usually smaller than the number of people desiring to
adopt children. This is because there are often relatives or other
resources within the family circle that can be developed. The Cradle
places adoption on a commercial basis and accepts payment from foster
parents who have received a child for adoption from The Cradle.
The payments are substantial in amount. Only last week I talked
with a professional person in another State who said that he and
his wife desired to adopt a child but could not afford the price
charged by The Cradle. I was also told last week that a New Jersey
family had paid $1000 for a child. This method of finance has not
been considered wise procedure by social agencies. It is, of course,
the method of support utilized by commercial adoption agencies.
To accept payment from foster parents places the social agencies
in an almost impossible position for further evaluation of the home
and for supervision during the period preceding the final adoption.
Such a period of supervision has been found to be very necessary
to make sure that the foster parents and the child are suited to
each other. The Cradle, however, does not believe in such supervision
nor does it believe in giving the foster family information about
the history of a child placed with them. Foster parents are given
a sentimental letter for use with the child if he should ask questions
about his own people. This letter attempts to explain to the child
that his past history should be of no concern to him for he is now
a part of his foster family. It is generally agreed that every human
being has a right to know on reaching a proper age what his antecedents
are and this practice is believed to be a very serious aspect of
The Cradle’s work.
A study was made of The Cradle by Mr Paul T. Beisser in 1941. He
was at that time General Secretary of the Henry Watson Children’s
Aid Society in Baltimore. His report confirms information the Children’s
Bureau has concerning the superior medical program maintained by
the agency. I understand that not only medical but psychological
service is available.
For many years the social agencies of Chicago were greatly concerned
about the practices of the agency. Finally, Mrs. Walrath turned
to the social work field for help and applied for membership in
the Chicago Council of Social Agencies. One of the requirements
for membership was the employment of a social worker. Such a worker
was employed but we understand she was not permitted to function
in accord with her own training and experience. We are unacquainted
with the qualifications of their present social service staff but
understand they have two workers neither of which is equipped to
carry on a skillful piece of work such as should be available in
every child-placing agency.
Recently efforts to enact a more satisfactory adoption law in Illinois
were opposed by members of the Board of The Cradle. One of the standards
which it is felt are necessary in adoption laws is that the child
should reside with the proposed adopted parents for a time before
a final adoption decree is issued. Such a trial period has been
proved to be a very important method of assuring the permanency
and success of an adoption. This, of course, has not been in accordance
with the practice of The Cradle. Adoption of Cradle children are
often made before the child has lived in the home of the petitioners.
As you will see, the picture is a somewhat mixed one. I am told
that a number of Cradle adoption have been eminently successful.
However, I believe that on the whole this type of organization should
not be encouraged.
Katharine F. Lenroot, Chief