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INTAKE OF CHILD CARING INSTITUTIONS
WHAT CHILDREN SHOULD BE RECEIVED FOR CARE BY
C. C. Carstens, Executive Director, Child Welfare League of America,
This paper is principally intended for the discussion of the kind of children's problems with which agencies other than the child's own family should be concerned and with which they should equip themselves to deal intelligently.
Forty-two states and the territories of Alaska and Hawaii have passed laws which make it possible for the state or local units within the state to provide for certain dependent children in their own homes. The conditions as to whether such support is given in the families of widows only, or in families where the father may still be alive, or to unmarried mothers, vary from state to state. Likewise the length of time that must elapse before the family becomes eligible, and various other conditions differ very much in the various states. The principle is, however, well established. Most of the states have more law than is now being used, or at least satisfactorily administered. A greater uniformity in the conditions applying to mothers' assistance funds is undoubtedly desirable, but in most of the states the administration of these funds is at present of greater concern than any amendment of statutes. Such an administration is largely a question of the better application of case work principles by the social servants of the local units as well as by the supervising visitors of the respective states where the state departments are in position to provide such supervision.
This paper is, however, not intended to discuss the various questions of mothers' aid, but we desire to express our interest in having every case of dependent children considered first of all from the standpoint of the possibility of applying the mothers' assistance principle to the solution of the problem, consistent with the maintenance of safe and intelligent care for the children.
A further fundamental principle akin to this is that all applications for the care of children must be examined from the standpoint of making such slight or even complicated adjustment, with or without financial assistance, that will make it possible to maintain the family home, or if a brief absence of the children is necessary, to rebuild it again. Homes should not be broken up because
of poverty, nor should they be broken up on slight provocation. On slight study a breakup sometimes seems justified, but when a more complete study has been made there are revealed those intangible home qualities which counterbalance the lack of more obvious and tangible qualities and home comforts. The sense of belonging to a family and the alternative sense of being lost when that family life is broken are real things in the lives of children.
A modification of the last principle expressed also leads efficient social work to examine the resources that relatives provide. The thoughtless forcing of children into the homes of relatives who have ample means and plenty of house room but who are not sympathetic to the needs of the children of their poor relations or who make them feel dependence in the household or even would exploit them is not good social work. On the other hand, if the child's home has been broken up, the kindly interest of an older brother or sister, of an uncle or aunt, perhaps less often of a grandfather or grandmother, may make up for some of this loss.
We desire also to register here our profound conviction in the interrelationships of the various fields of social work. Sometimes homes can best be saved by the development of a better health program, by better probation, by the development of a preventive mental-hygiene program, and in other ways too numerous to mention.
But when all these things have been done there still remain many children for whom some provision must be made in either institution or foster home. It is the needs of these children that we are concerned to analyze in the rest of this paper. A program for children in any given community includes the use of homes for adoption, free, school, wage, and other boarding homes, as well as institutional care. Each of these should be chosen specifically from the standpoint of the child's own needs. No community can consider itself equipped until it not only has the various kinds of facilities for such care but also has an organization, either as a separate inquiry agency, an inquiry department of a childplacing agency, or an inquiry department of an institution, to determine what the particular needs of the child are.
But such a department or agency needs also certain supplementary equipment, such as provision for temporary shelter care, either in an institution or in specially selected shelter foster homes, medical examination both for quarantine purposes and also for the determination of special needs, the psychological and psychiatric clinics, now often called child-guidance clinics, where the child may not only be examined to determine his mental levels but may also have careful study of his personality traits, in order that the acquaintanceship with the child may become an intimate one and the needs may actually be met if they are at hand or planned for if the community's equipment is still imperfect. In the past we have too frequently decided what kind of service we wished to institute, and then in a Procrustean fashion made the child fit into our equipment. Our present tendency is a more scientific one; we are endeavoring to
find what the peculiar needs of the child are; we aim to learn how these needs are best met; and then we ask the community to provide that need.
Assuming now that a careful medical, social, and personality inquiry has been made in each case, let us consider various groups. The full orphan child of good or reasonably good parentage, attractive in looks and demeanor, should be considered as suitable for adoption. Such a decision is modified by the age of the child, since it is often difficult to integrate completely a child ten years or older into a new family. Here also consideration of relatives should not be forgotten, and if suitable adoption into an uncle's family can be worked out it may be considered highly advantageous. The child having fewer attractions will sometimes prove equally suitable for adoption, but may need a longer proba- ་ tion period than a year for adjustment between the time of the original placement and the completion of adoption. In certain instances such a child may be placed in a free home with slight or no prospect of adoption. In this case close supervision is very much needed. The minimum standards of the Child Welfare League of America of four visits a year would hardly satisfy the need, even when circumstances seem reasonably favorable. An easy turning to adoption for the solution of complicated children's problems is perhaps the greatest danger in work for dependent children.
Full orphans that are not considered suitable for adoption and who are in danger of exploitation in free homes should be placed either in institutions or in boarding homes, subject to certain conditions mentioned below.
There is also the child of the mother whose husband has died and who wishes very much to keep the child in her own care, but whose home is not eligible for mothers' assistance funds. Perhaps she has not been in state or nation long enough to satisfy legal requirements. This problem is one of the most complicated in that many communities have too slight financial facilities available for the subsidizing of family homes under these circumstances. Poverty should not make it necessary to separate mother and child in this case; unfortunately it often does, and an institution or boarding home is the usual resource to which a community must turn. Sometimes the institution has made it possible for such a mother to become a house mother and to give her child or children the opportunity of living with her in the same cottage and keeping that contact alive. We consider this not the most desirable plan but a reasonable one where the community cannot maintain the home by any other means and when the institution makes it possible for mother and child to live in the same cottage. Certain church and non-sectarian institutions have come forward in the last few years to maintain, through their own resources, such homes as are not eligible for public funds, without the necessity of either child or mother going into the institution itself.
Then there is the child whose mother is dead and whom the father wishes to keep, either in his own home or at any rate in his control, so that the father and child may see each other frequently and the tie between them may