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Foster Care: Background and History

Placement of children in foster homes is a concept which goes as far back as the Old Testament, which refers to caring for dependent children as a duty under law. Early Christian church records indicate orphaned children lived with widows who were paid by the church. English Poor Laws in the 1500s allowed the placement of poor children into indentured service until they became adults. This practice was imported to the United States and was the beginning of placing children into foster homes. Even though indentured service permitted exploitation, it was an improvement over almshouses where children did not learn and were exposed to unsanitary conditions and abusive caretakers.

In 1853, Charles Loring Brace, a minister, founded the Children's Aid Society in New York City. Brace saw many immigrant children sleeping in the streets. He located families around the country who were willing to provide free homes for these children. These children were sent by train to these families and were often required to work long hours. Nevertheless, Brace's system became the foundation for today's foster care movement.

In the 1900s, social agencies began to pay and supervise foster parents. The government began state inspections of foster homes. Services were provided to natural families to enable the child to return home, and foster parents were now seen as part of a team effort to provide for dependent children.

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