In the mid-1800s, urbanization — which resulted in increased crime, poverty and relaxed moral standards — and other factors left the state of New York alone with 27 orphanages and about 10,000 children left homeless.
Orphanages provided an immediate housing solution for needy children, but in 1853, Charles Loring Brace created a more permanent alternative: He established the New York Children's Aid Society, which is considered the beginning of the free foster-home movement.
Brace found permanent homes for more than 200,000 orphans by establishing the orphan train system, which sent children to families in the West and Midwest between 1854 and 1929. His actions transformed the work of social agencies, which started finding placements for children instead of keeping them in orphanages. Richmond's Children's Home Society was established in 1900, bringing needy children from all over the state into a receiving facility in Richmond (similar to an orphanage), where they lived before being placed with a suitable family.
In the 1900s, social workers began to place children in homes, keep records and find specialized care for needy children. But the general lack of oversight was evident, as some individuals took advantage of these children. Georgia Tann operated an illegal black market for baby adoption from 1924 to 1950 under the guise of the Tennessee Children's Home Society, kidnapping children from poor families or single mothers and selling them at high prices.
Greater supervision of child placements came about with President Franklin Roosevelt's signature on the Social Security Act of 1935, which provided federal funding for states' welfare services to children.
By the 1950s and 1960s, foster care and group homes took the place of orphanages nationwide. Most orphanages largely closed from about 1960 to 1975. The Children's Home Society closed its receiving facility in 1920 and currently works with the state to find private foster homes for needy children across the commonwealth.