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Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Orphan trains and the best interest of the child

The history of adoption is as old as humankind, with family members commonly raising children orphaned by death, war, or economic destruction. The middle ages introduced the concept of the orphanage when babies were left at the door of monasteries and were then raised within the institution of the church. But much of what the world knows about adoption, and how to protect orphans, actually stems from the orphan trains of the U.S. in the late 1800s. The American Civil War and increased immigration brought about orphanage over-crowding and resulted in huge numbers of homeless children roaming the streets of urban cities on the east coast. A group of religious leaders spearheaded a solution by shipping orphaned children on trains to the rural west.

Over the next 70 years, as many as 250,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children were placed on trains and sent to the farms of rural foster families in the west. It was the largest mass relocation of children to ever occur and helped establish the foster care system in America. While many lost children were introduced into families where discipline and love gave them a chance for a reasonable life, some of these children were indentured and exploited, rather than adopted, and were made to become farm laborers and household servants.

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