I am a firm believer that we must have a critical eye toward how we practiced child placement, fostering and adoption in the past so that we do better today and in the future. Here are my favorite books and websites for you to learn about the history of adoption, foster care and child welfare.
General adoption history:
- The Adoption History Project at the University of Oregon – a very comprehensive web site about adoption history in the United States. Created by Ellen Herman, who also wrote a fantastic book, Kinship by Design: A History of Adoption in the Modern United States.
- John Boswell’s book, The Kindness of Strangers: The Abandonment of Children in Western Europe from Late Antiquity to the Renaissance, is a fascinating look at the history of child abandonment and informal adoption and caregiving.
- Pricing the Priceless Child by Viviana Zelizer has one chapter that analyzes how adoption is a case example of how U.S. families shifted from valuing children for their emotional contribution to a family compared to an economic value.
- Adoption in America: Historical Perspectives (Edited by E. Wayne Carp) – Another great general adoption history book with a wealth of information about past adoption practices in the United States.
In order to really understand the history of adoption in the U.S. you need to know the history of the orphan train movement. Recommended resources for learning more about the orphan trains include:
- PBS’s film, The American Experience: Orphan Trains (includes a teacher’s guide)
- The National Orphan Train Complex blog/website
- Riders on the Orphan Train
- Film, West by Orphan Train
- Book, The Orphan Train: Placing Out in America
- Wikipedia page on Charles Loring Brace, the founder of the orphan train movement and his book, The Dangerous Classes of New York (which sets up the justification for his program)
Native American Boarding Schools and the Indian Adoption Project:
Maternity Homes and the Baby Scoop Era:
- Anne Fessler’s book, The Girls Who Went Away: The Hidden History of Women Who Surrendered Children for Adoption in the Decades Before Roe v. Wade and her film, A Girl Like Her, both explore the experiences of women pressured to place their children for adoption prior to Roe v. Wade.
- Regina Kunzel’s book, Fallen Women, Problem Girls: Unmarried Mothers and the Professionalization of Social Work, 1890-1945 delves into the shift of how social workers and society viewed expectant single women and helped to create a market for adoption
Transracial and Intercountry adoption:
- Dorothy Robert’s book, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare is a must-read for anyone who has the question of why so many black families are in the child welfare system.