Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania (1882-present)
By: Michael Barga
Background: With the onset of the Long Depression in 1873, many urban employers who previously had abundant jobs let workers go. Families were left penniless and destitute. At this time, children who were without a home stayed in almshouses, jails, the streets, or became indentured servants and apprentices. Conditions were often unhealthy and included forced labor, and the onset of the financial crisis only intensified the severity of the neglectful care for disadvantaged children. The Philadelphia community hoped the scientific charity movement offered promise in providing more reputable care that met the scope of children’s needs.
Introduction: Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania (CAS of PA) was formed in 1882 and was one of the first organizations dedicated to the care of children (Gumbrecht, 2003). In the early 20th century, Mary Richmond helped reform the organization to match the latest progress of the scientific charity movement through collaborations and research, and CAS of PA also holds a strong connection to the formation of the Pennsylvania School of Social Work. The organization’s work has combined policy and direct service over the years, and the Society’s responsiveness to communal needs is especially highlighted through their efforts in times of war, depression, and social discord.
Development and Activities: The CAS of PA was founded “for the care and training of neglected and homeless children, who are trained to self-reliance and habits of industry” through the services they receive.1 The organization’s charter also discusses issues of child welfare that are still familiar today: education, ensuring adequate clothing for children, accountability of foster care families, and promoting the independence of older children. One significant difference is the inclusion of moral neglect as eligibility for a child’s admission into CAS of PA, which indicates cultural assumptions present in this and many other organizations in the early days of scientific charity.1
Volunteers from another early scientific charity group, the Philadelphia Society for Organizing Charitable Relief and Repressing Mendicancy (SOC), were largely responsible for the formation of CAS of PA, and the groups use a similar language in describing their purpose. CAS and SOC volunteers had helped run an awareness campaign of unhealthy and poor almshouse conditions in 1883, and legislation was subsequently passed in Pennsylvania which made almshouses only a temporary, not permanent, residence for children. Suddenly, there was a significant group of children legally mandated to be placed into the community.
As an upstart organization supported by substantial private funds, CAS of PA took the lead in implementing the law and creating placements, in coordination with other groups. By 1884, the Society had expanded its involvement to nearby counties, and these branches of other volunteer groups later became incorporated with CAS of PA. Within the first fifteen years, their efforts for children took a family-in-environment perspective that still resonates with the social work profession today: “The Children’s Aid Society in Philadelphia has been quite successful in securing for cases where mother and child can be kept together, places at service in the country, where oft-times, under the influences of a favorable environment, the mother’s restoration in the best sense may be effected”.1
In 1903, CAS did legal and policy work in conjunction with SOC executive director Mary Richmond to facilitate the creation of a juvenile court for children in Pennsylvania. Similar to the use of a mandate for emptying the almshouses of children, the county could now be given a court order to support individual children’s well-being. The financial amounts only partially covered expenses for a child; $4.25/week and $3.50/week were allotted to foster care and institutional care of children respectively in the early 20th century. The greater significance was the increased interest of the legal system in the coordination of care for children through the vehicle of scientific charity.
In 1907, CAS of PA and a recently formed service-provider, the Seybert Institution for Poor Boys and Girls, combined administrative operations. The joint operation hoped to better manage and investigate case files and applications. The organizations utilized one another’s resources to address the unique needs of each child. For example, the Seybert Institution’s facilities outside of the cities were an option to CAS of PA cases where foster care in a rural environment seemed advantageous to a child’s health.
Edwin D. Solenberger, General Secretary of CAS of PA, was an essential part of this joint effort, which later became known as the Children’s Bureau in 1911. From 1907-1944, over 35 years, he helped manage the ever-growing administrative team that matched the relentless demand for children’s placement and case management in the Philadelphia area. Like many developments in social welfare at this time, Mary Richmond was a significant factor in the creation and growth of the bureau.
The scope of the Children’s Bureau grew dynamically with the inclusion of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC) in 1908. The base of operation moved to the Children’s Shelter of the SPCC which helped expedite the investigative process seen as so important to the success of the new scientific charity method. Those in leadership, like Solenberger, provided education to the scores of agencies that served children in the city, in addition to coordinating case work.
In 1908, CAS of PA and others also promoted professionalism of case work by hosting a training series on the subject of child-helping, one of the first of its kind. Those involved later formed the Pennsylvania School of Social Service, Inc. In 1935, the School became associated with the University of Pennsylvania and awarded master and doctorate of social work degrees. The training was a precursor to the recognition received by CAS of PA at the White House’s first conference on children held a year later, where CAS of PA advocated for the practice of paying foster families rather than indenturing children in placements.
While CAS of PA had a strong involvement in placement in its early days, its philosophy was focused from the start on keeping families together, including single mothers. This took shape in practical efforts like its Department of Domestic Service, which helped place a single mother and her child in a supportive home in exchange for domestic services by the mother to the host family. CAS of PA appears to have more greatly emphasized family integrity over moral neglect. The Department of Domestic Services particularly demonstrates this value considering the stigma surrounding single motherhood at the time.
In 1911, organized charity gained greater prominence in the national arena with the creation of the U.S. Children’s Bureau. The new federal agency was the fruition of a multi-faceted focus on child welfare in the United States at that time, including a strike and subsequent march across the Northeast by child workers and Mother Jones. CAS of PA, along with its many service-providing partners, facilitated the development of the U.S. Children’s Bureau on the policy side.
CAS showed its responsiveness to communal needs again in 1920 with the opening of health facilities. The project became known as the Associated Medical Clinic and included pooled resources of the Children’s Bureau and other Philadelphia agencies, in addition to CAS of PA. The goal was to provide physical examinations and health-monitoring for children who were wards of the state and participants in child welfare organizations. Children’s Hospital would later bring the facilities under their management as an essential part of their services.
In 1920, CAS of PA was involved with child welfare on the national level again as a charter member of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). The progressive movement was coming to a close, yet the public’s special interest in protecting and serving children continued. The CWLA hoped to galvanize the many approaches to caring for children in need across the United States held by government and private charity alike, and CAS of PA was recognized as a valuable contributor to this effort.
The early 1920’s continued to be busy for CAS of PA as they developed more local collaborations. The Welfare Federation, which featured a Council of Social Agencies, was created with the intention to renew coordination and discussion between the many groups that served the needy in Philadelphia. The federation later shifted its role to providing grants and funds to charity organizations, changing its name to the United Way of Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Another significant local collaboration was the joint acquisition of the Social Service Building in 1922 by CAS of PA, SOC, and other agencies with a broad range of social welfare purposes. The shared offices would lead to greater understanding between service-providers who had varied points of emphasis, areas of expertise, and approaches to the multi-dimensional nature of child welfare problems. During the Great Depression, CAS of PA saw another shift in its partnerships which was initiated by Society branches in surrounding counties. In 1939, Rural Child Welfare Services was created by branches in six rural counties to organize the disbursement of funds allotted to their areas by the Pennsylvania Department of Welfare. The move served as formal recognition of the focus on urban child welfare by CAS of PA.
During and after WWII, CAS of PA came in greater contact with children of diverse backgrounds. European children who had become refugees during the war were sent to CAS of PA for foster care placements. Domestically, CAS of PA expanded its contact with the black community towards the end of the war. It merged with the Children’s Bureau who had already been placing black children ages four and under. In 1951, CAS of PA and the Seybert Institution merged, retaining the name Children’s Aid Society. The revamped organization worked with the Urban League to set up adoptions for the black community. CAS of PA created greater access of services to blacks even before Brown v. Board of Education and the Civil Rights movement changed the cultural landscape of the United States on race.
Over the next few decades, Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania continued its work in foster care and adoptions, as well as its involvement in research and developing best practices for child welfare. In 1984, CAS of PA made a significant decision to focus on non-government supported services, mainly case management in community and support of disenfranchised populations. One significant effort was the hiring of case workers by CAS of PA to serve individuals at a soup kitchen in 1989, a collaborative project with Episcopal Community Services who ran the facility.
In 2008, CAS of PA merged with the Philadelphia Society for Services to Children, formerly the SPCC, to create Turning Points for Children. The hope was to combine the remaining endowments of each organization to better serve the Philadelphia community, a prudent plan given the financial crisis that hit the United States soon after.
This work may also be read through the Internet Archive.
1. “Civic Club Digest of the Educational & Charitable Institutions & Societies in Philadelphia compiled by A Committee of the Social Science Section of the Civic Club with an introduction on aspects of Philadelphia Relief Work” by Samuel McCune Lindsay. Philadelphia: George H. Buchanan and Co., 1895: 253, 90. https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=HqIXAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&output=reader&authuser=0&hl=en
2. “History of Turning Points for Children.” Organizational History of Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania, 2005: 2. Unpublished document obtained through Turning Points for Children.
“Invisible Philadelphia: Community through Voluntary Organizations” by Jean Barth Toll and Mildred S. Gillam. Atwater Kent Museum, 1995: 318-322.
“Unfriendly Visitors: The Emergence of Scientific Philanthropy in Philadelphia, 1878-1880” by Julia B. Rauch. Dissertation of Bryn Mawr College, the Graduate School of Social Work and Social Research, 1974.
“Turning Points for Children: Merging for the Future” by James Moss. 2012. Unpublished document obtained through Turning Points for Children.
Gumbrecht, J. (2003). Children’s Aid Society of Philadelphia records. Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Retrieved from http://hsp.org/sites/default/files/legacy_files/migrated/findingaid3026childrensaid.pdf
Historical Society of Pennsylvania. (2016). Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania records (3026). Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Retrieved from http://digitallibrary.hsp.org/index.php/Detail/Collection/Show/collection_id/92
For More Information: Contact the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and visit their website at http://hsp.org/
Acknowledgement: Thank you to Louise Leibowitz, Vicki Nolten-Mair, and Brenda Rich of Turning Points for Children in assisting the research for this entry.
How to Cite this Article (APA Format): Barga, M. (2013). Children’s Aid Society of Pennsylvania. Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from http://socialwelfare.library.vcu.edu/programs/child-welfarechild-labor/childrens-aid-society-of-pennsylvania/