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The term "home study" was not common until the mid-twentieth century, but investigations of potential foster and adoptive homes were hardly new in 1950. Children who rode the orphan trains in the nineteenth-century, or who were placed-out during the early years of the twentieth century, were supposed to be given to responsible adults who possessed adequate resources to care for them. At least in theory, child-placers were charged with insuring that families who took in children born to others had the money, food, and room-not to mention wisdom, patience, and love-to do the job.

The major finding of early adoption field studies was that home investigations were either not done well or not done at all. Progressive-era reformers were appalled by baby farms and other black-market adoptions that illustrated how children might be casually, cruelly, or commercially placed with just about anyone for just about any reason. They complained that sloppy and unregulated arrangements jeopardized child welfare and argued that states had a duty to the public to insure that placements were made according to minimum standards, including the investigation of homes. In 1891, Michigan called on judges to "investigate" before entering final adoption decrees, but no state made such investigation mandatory until the Minnesota Adoption Law of 1917 charged public authorities with making an "appropriate inquiry to determine whether the proposed foster home is a suitable home for the child."

Between 1917 and mid-century, most states revised their laws to include such an inquiry. Enforcement was weak, however, and many states did not require that investigations take place before children were placed. This loophole made it considerably more difficult to remove children in undesirable placements because many of those children had already been living in their new homes for a long time. Judges who handled adoptions often found themselves in a no-win situation: severing attachments between children and their foster families was likely to compound problems caused by poor placements themselves.


From: The Adoption History Project website www.uoregon.edu/~adoption/index.html Used With Permission.


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