Children's Aid Society

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The Children’s Aid Society (CAS) is a private charitable organization based in New York City. It serves 150,000 children per year, providing foster care, medical and mental health services, and a wide range of educational, recreational and advocacy services through dozens of community centers, camps and other locations in the New York area.



CAS was founded in 1853 by philanthropist Charles Loring Brace in order to “ensure the physical and emotional well being of children and families, and to provide each child with the support and opportunities needed to become a happy, healthy and productive adult.” Brace, a minister by training, was appalled by the thousands of abandoned, abused and orphaned children living in the slums and on the streets of New York at that time. The only option available to such children at that time was commitment to jails, almshouses and orphanages.


Orphan Train Movement

Brace believed that institutional care stunted and destroyed children; in his view, only work, education and a strong family life could help them develop into self-reliant citizens. Brace knew that American pioneers could use help settling the American West, so he arranged to send the orphaned children to pioneer families who needed them. This became known as “The Orphan Train Movement.”

The children, who were encouraged to break completely with the past, would typically arrive in a town where local community leaders had assembled interested townspeople. The townspeople would then inspect the children and choose the ones they wanted. After a brief trial period, the children became indentured to their host families.

The children were not adopted; they could not inherit family property (unless the family will said they could), and they had no birth certificates, which sometimes caused them problems later in life. Upon reaching age 18, they were free to leave, receiving a cash payment -- $50 for the girls, $150 for the boys.

Controversy of the Orphan Train Movement

The program was controversial; some abolitionists viewed it as a form of slavery, while some pro-slavery advocates saw it part of the abolitionist movement, since the labor provided by the children made slaves unnecessary.


Orphan Train History

Between 1854 and 1929, more than 200,000 children rode the “Orphan Train” to new lives. The Orphan Train Heritage Society maintains an archive of riders' stories. The National Orphan Train Museum in Concordia, Kansas maintains records and also houses a research facility.


Other Child Welfare Initiatives

Since then, CAS has originated a series of child welfare innovations that have since become commonplace, such as:

  • some of the first industrial schools
  • the first parent-teacher associations
  • the first free school lunch programs
  • the first free dental clinics for children
  • the first day schools for handicapped children
  • the first kindergarten in the United States
  • the first foster homes
  • the first “fresh air” vacations, in which urban children visit host families in the country for the summer.

In the 1980s CAS created the first family court diversion programs, where social workers meet with out-of-control children and their families in an attempt to find out-of-court solutions.

In 1992, CAS created the first “community school”, a partnership with the NYC Department of Education where a full array of health, mental and after-school/weekend/summer programs are available to students at school. The Technical Assistance Center has helped visitors from all over the USA and more than 40 foreign countries learn how to apply "community school" concepts in their schools.

With 40 sites, nearly 1,000 full-time employees and an annual budget of over $70 million, CAS is one of the oldest and largest child welfare agencies in the United States, claiming that 91 cents of every dollar is spent directly on services for children.

External links

  • Children's Aid Society page including digitized photographs and early manuscript. From the Immigration to the United States, 1789-1930 collection, Harvard University Library Open Collections Program
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