The Child-Saving Movement: History, Goals & Outcomes

The Child-Saving Movement: History, Goals & Outcomes
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  • 0:03 Origins of the…
  • 1:04 Foster Care
  • 2:17 Fighting Child Abuse
  • 3:00 Regulating Child Labor
  • 3:55 Juvenile Justice System
  • 5:03 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Leanne White

Leanne has a master's degree and an independent licensure in chemical dependency counseling. She has extended experience in corrections and post-secondary education.

At a time when children were treated as adults, the child-saving movement was the voice many children so desperately needed. Child-savers made strides in child labor laws, fighting child abuse, and the development of a juvenile justice system through their activism.

Origins of the Child-Saving Movement

Can you imagine a time in the US when it was legal to abuse children and expect them to work laborious jobs instead of attend school? It was a reality before the nineteenth century. However, thanks to the child-saving movement, the idea of children's rights became mainstream.

The child-saving movement was developed in the late 1800s by a group of upper middleclass women who were concerned with children and their futures. Increasing immigration and industrialization, the rise of child laborers, and the stress of caring for children on overworked parents became an issue. Parents were abandoning their children in times of desperation, and youth were left to fend for themselves.

Child-savers believed that if they could protect children from problems such as poverty, abandonment, child labor, and lack of education, then they would be securing a better future for the country. Child-savers made great strides in free education, child labor laws, child abuse laws, and the development of the juvenile justice system.

Foster Care

The focus of the original child-savers was to help children escape poverty, abusive families, and laborious jobs. They looked at these environmental factors as the cause of developmental issues such as delinquent behavior and intellectual problems.

At the height of the movement, around 1890-1920, the child-saving movement was grounded and funded by private charitable organizations, such as the New York Children's Aid Society (CAS). CAS sought to save urban youth from poverty and troubled homes.

Because leaders of CAS believed life was better in the country compared to the city, they would send abandoned or troubled youth out west to live with farming families. Child-savers supported this program because of their belief in environmental factors causing developmental issues.

The idea of the program was to remove the child from the troubled environment and place them into a more wholesome environment where their behavior could be reformed. The term 'orphan trains'was coined, and the start of foster care began. Today, CAS continues to serve the needs of youth in poverty. There are some critics, though, that argue these programs can actually take away children's rights by forcibly removing them and placing them in foster care.

Fighting Child Abuse

If you knew a child was being abused or neglected by their parents, you would want those parents to be held accountable in a court of law, right?

In the late 1800s, there were no established laws that protected children from abuse. However, there were laws that protected animals from abuse. When a nine year old was horribly beaten by her guardian in 1874, the only way the guardian could be prosecuted was under laws that protected animal rights.

From this case and with the help of the child-savers, the first child protection organization was formed, the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. This organization was the first of many to focus their attention on abused, abandoned, and over-worked children.

Regulating Child Labor

Do you remember what you were doing when you were eight? Most likely, you were in school, in some type of extracurricular activity like sports or dance, and playing with friends. Chances are, you weren't working long hours in a factory.

The child-saving movement made great strides in the formation of laws regulating and banning child labor. At the start of the twentieth-century, twenty-eight states had passed child labor laws protecting children from mining and manufacturing jobs.

With the help of these laws, the employment of children in the workplace began to decrease over time. Though reformers and child-savers are often credited for this decrease, other societal changes had a role as well, including:

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