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History of Child Welfare in Ontario

Pre-Mid 19th Century - Early Residential Institutions
  • Up until the mid-late 19th century, Ontario society depended upon religious or charitable organizations and volunteer community groups to care for neglected or abandoned children.  Some children who had been neglected or abandoned entered apprenticeships, some were given a temporary or permanent home in return for their labour/domestic service, while others were placed in orphanages or shelters staffed by volunteers.
  • Children who turned to crimes for survival were until the end of the 19th century placed with adults in the same prison. Reformatories were established in the mid- 19th century to house children with what were seen to be criminal tendencies with an aim to correct this behavior.
  • Shifting from a philosophy of punishment to rescue led to the formation of Industrial Schools.  Children under the age of 14 found homeless, guilty of a petty crime or suffering on account of parental neglect could be sent to an industrial school where they were provided with food, clothing and lodging as well as schooling and life skills training in a home-like, cottage setting.
  • The Act for the Prevention of Cruelty to and Better Protection of Children of 1893 stipulated that for every town of 10,000 people or more, a receiving home or shelter must be provided for the temporary care of children apprehended under its authority until homes could be found. By 1930 there were over 800 children residing in shelters throughout the province. By the end of World War Two, shelters were gradually phased out and replaced by small group or receiving homes.
  • The Charity Act of 1874 encouraged voluntary organizations to establish and support orphanages based on the British system.  Initially orphanages sought apprenticeships for most of their children but gradually moved towards implementing long-term care programs.  During the 1920’s, the growing acceptance of foster care led to orphanage closures.  Their use was resurrected during the Great Depression, but by that time many had focused their programming on children with special needs.
December 17th, 1877: Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge
  • The Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge officially opened its doors on December 17, 1877 to the poor and homeless in the community.  Good order included strict segregation of the sexes.  The house existed to accommodate individuals in need and upon admission, families ceased to be.
  • The oldest known state supported poor house in Canada still standing, this provincially funded relief institute was what passed for welfare in 19th century Ontario even into the 20th century.
  • House of Industry and Refuge
  • Many orphaned or abandoned children were also admitted  Still others, deemed to be of weak or unsound mind, came because they had been rejected by their family or community.
  • From 1877 until the turn of the century, about 25% of the inmates of the House were children. Of these less than one-third came from Guelph. After 1861, when Providence House was established in Guelph by the Sisters of St. Joseph, orphaned and abandoned Catholic children were likewise accommodated there along with the adult poor.
  • Children were placed into adult shelters and institutions until they could be apprenticed or bound out to an individual or family in the community. This system of binding out or fostering children out to service had its roots in Medieval times in Britain.  As early as age seven, children were fostered out to another family within the kin group to work as household servants or farm labourers.  With industrialization and the decline of the kinship group, children of the poor were employed in the mines and factories along with their parents.  The new mobile, nuclear family was established as the preferred economic unit.  This family unit, driven off the land in the old country by land clearances and crop failure sought new beginnings in areas such as Wellington County in the 19th century.
  • Approximately 25% of the child population of the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge were bound out to service.  The intent of the policy was clearly to meet the economic needs of the applicant families and individuals rather than the social and emotional needs of the children placed.  Many of these placements failed, often within several weeks or months.  Children who had no choice in the matter had not been prepared for these often sudden moves.
  • Benjamin was a nine-year-old orphan committed from the town of Palmerston on June 1, 1880.  He absconded three days later, but was apprehended in Palmerston on June 16 and recommitted.  After escaping again a month later, he either managed to elude authorities or to be taken in by someone sympathetic to his plight.  Another child, eight-year-old Gilman, was sent directly to the Guelph gaol and thence to [the] reformatory after he ran from the master to whom he had been indentured.” To Celebrate Children, Alvin Koop 
  • Often indentured service was called “adoption”, although this definition by no means guaranteed that the child would have rights as an heir but was a more formalized version of apprenticing.
1891: Growth in Ontario
  • John Joseph Kelso, the father of child welfare in Ontario established the first Children’s Aid Society in Ontario in 1891 with many more established across the province in the years that followed.
  • Child welfare roots are located in the foundation for the Toronto Humane Society in 1887 with the Toronto Children’s Aid Society becoming an organization in 1891.
  • Within 12 months of the Toronto Children’s Aid Society being established, Societies were begun in Peterborough, Guelph and Ottawa.  By the end of 1894, 14 Societies had been established and 29 established by the end of 1895.
  • Nineteenth century Canada was seen as a land of opportunity to many in Britain and Europe.  New immigrant families who were unable to flourish in Canada faced harsh realities riddled with draught, disease and periods of economic depression.  Children were abandoned to the streets, placed as apprentices or expected to work long hours in unsanitary factory conditions.
  • Orphanages, infant homes and shelters provided some residential placements for homeless children who remained there until 12 or 13 with guardianship transferred by indenture or through apprenticeships.
  • Children abandoned to the streets relied on petty crime to survive and were regarded as threats to the status quo so often were placed in overcrowded prisons with adults.
  • Children who were apprehended from their families were placed temporarily in shelters until an appropriate placement could be found.  Removal from the family was permanent.
  • By mid 1927, temporary wardship was introduced as official recognition of a growing sentiment that separation of children and parents need not be permanent, as it became accepted that most parents held the capacity to learn, change and develop.
1894: Guelph Humane Society
  • February of 1894 a fledgling Guelph Humane Society was founded and had organized its committees with Col. Nathaniel Higinbotham as President.  Within the first few years of operation, the executive committee recognized that the protection and care of children had become their primary function.
  • March of 1894, the Society hired its first employee.  Mr. Thomas D. Elliot was appointed Inspector on a part time basis at a salary of $40.00 per annum.  At that time, the population of the City of Guelph was slightly more than 10,000 inhabitants.
  • The Society’s first children’s shelter, was located at 1 Waterloo Avenue in Guelph from 1897 -1911.  The Society paid $2 per month for a room and to the Matron an additional $1.50 per week for the boarding of each child until a foster home could be found.
  • In the 1890’s, recommended wages for girls varied from $2 to $6 per month and $3 to $6 per month for boys.  The agreement also stipulated that, up to the age of fourteen, foster children attend school and that foster parents pay into a fund for their future use.  For the child placed, there were no guarantees.  The arrangement could be terminated by the foster parents with two weeks notice with the understanding that they would pay the railroad fare for the child’s return to Guelph.
1870-1957: Home Children
  • Between 1870-1957 it is estimated that more than 100,000 neglected and orphaned street children were sent to Canada from Britain with 70,000 arriving in Ontario alone.  They were sent by religious and charitable organizations to live with Canadian families to fill labour shortages in rural communities.
  • 1897 the Ontario government passed legislation to regulate agencies that brought children to Canada.  The supervision of these children became the responsibility of Children’s Aid Societies as they became created.
  • 12% of the Canadian population can trace its origins to a British Home child.
Late 19th Century: Emergence of Foster Care
  • Foster care emerged by the latter half of the 19th century in response to beliefs that a substitute family was a more appropriate place than an institution for a child to build character and receive positive influence.
  • Unknown rural family
  • The assumption at the time was that children in institutions learned what were perceived to be evil or idle habits from one another and generally did not have the chance to morally improve. Organizations like Dr. Barnardo’s Homes placed orphaned British children with Ontarian families to provide farm labour and domestic service in return for what they hoped would be a better life.  Dr. Barnardo’s Homes provided the model for Ontario’s first foster homes.
  • Foster parents received no remuneration and were expected to ensure the child’s attendance at school and Sunday school, while providing food, clothing and support to the child’s character development.
1910: First Shelter in Guelph
  • Clark Street Shelter1910 saw the completion of the newly built brick shelter on Clark Street.  In its first year of operation the shelter housed 78 children: 37 from the city and 31 from the county.  Forty were boys and thirty-eight, girls.  Thirty-one were returned to parents or friends of the family and fourteen were placed into foster homes.  Ten became wards of the Society.  Of the 78 children who were admitted to the shelter, a total of 20 were “kept temporarily during sickness of parents. This “public service” continued well into the 1930’s and the shelter also became home to many other children who required special care and could not be placed elsewhere.
  • 60 Children’s Aid Societies came together in January 1912 to form an association that would work in partnership with the provincial government and the community to develop a standard and consistent child welfare system to equitably improve the plight of all of Ontario children and youth.
1930-1950: The War Years
  • The League of Nations in 1924, in an effort to raise the standard of child life around the globe, drew up a Children’s Charter of Rights.  Along with the majority of Canadians, The Children’s Aid Society of the City of Guelph and the County of Wellington likely felt the Charter was intended only for those nations not yet offering protective services for their young. During the 1930’s it was common for children to be separated from their homes, not because they were in need of protection but rather in need of food and shelter.  Until the postwar period, the Society and its staff presumed that children were highly adaptable and resilient little beings who would automatically respond favourably to the improved conditions of a substitute family.  Rarely, if ever, had they been asked how their
    Society display 1940

    Society display 1940

    intervention had affected them.  The Society recognized that this practice was inhumane and a violation of the Children’s Charter which stated “that no child shall be deprived of his own parent and his own home because of economic reasons alone.”

  • During the years surrounding World War Two, new services were required of local Children’s Aid Societies who were asked to secure homes for British Child War Guests. And to investigate cases involving servicemen and their families for the Dependents Board of Trustees (D.B.T.) and the Dependents Allowance Board (D.A.B.).  This task increased each year, peaking in 1944 when 457 investigations were conducted.  During this time, the Society began to de-populate the shelter and shorten the length of stay for children requiring emergency accommodation.  By 1942 the population had been reduced to nine children with the average length of stay being reduced from several years to approximately 45 days.  That year it was reported that 203 children in care were being provided for in a foster home setting.  This number rose to 302 in 1947.  The shelter on Clark Street became renamed as The Reception Home Protection and family preservation work in the post-war period was a huge challenge for Agency social workers.  The months and years of separation between men in the services and their wives and children resulted in a very difficult adjustment period for families.
  • In 1945 the shelter children were moved from the over-sized quarters on Clark Street to a more intimate family setting at 106 Essex Street which was run by an experienced foster mother from Mount Forest, Verda Seim.  Verda who was known simply as “Mum” to the children in her care, operated the reception home until 1950.  During the later years, the Society began to place a greater emphasis on using its foster homes for the emergency and short-term care of children.
  • With the end of World War Two, those involved in child welfare began to question the long-held presumption that children were highly adaptable and resilient.  This shift in thinking led to increased acknowledgement of the special needs of some children, along with greater awareness of the support needed by foster families to adequately fulfill their important role in the lives of children.
1958: 55 Delhi Street
  • 1958 saw the Agency move from crowded offices on Douglas Street to the spacious quarter of the old nurse’s residence at 55 Delhi Street.  At the time, a growing staff consisted of 11 workers and the Executive Director J. Paul Jolliffe.
  • A modest beginning in family counseling took place in 1960 in response to a vision for Rita Rothwell with childimproved support and counseling for struggling families.  Launched as a pilot initiative, these services offered help in parent-child conflicts, marital problems, minor mental disorders, alcoholism, social maladjustment caused by health problems, unmarried parent situations, aging and financial difficulties.
  • An alarming trend of the sixties was the increased use of institutions and large treatment facilities which were not only costly but necessitated the removal of children to a great distance from their families and home community.
  • The Society’s first group home opened on Arkell Road in 1969 largely for male crown ward youth who were considered too challenging for a foster home.  The four group homes within the region did not reverse the tide of wards going outside the county for residential treatment. The Agency’s response to this trend was an increased focus of moral and financial support for foster homes keeping children and youth closer to their home community.
1970s: The Permanency Planning Movement
  • The 1970’s marked the emergence of the Permanency Planning movement, which focused primarily on keeping children out of care, or having children in care returned home or be adopted as soon as possible.  The growing number of children in care with extensive emotional and behavioural challenges meant having permanency plans that reflected long-term foster care stays or placements in group homes (small group institutions which could provide an alternative to foster care for those who needed it.).
  • The 1970’s saw the Agency dealing with middle class problem families who are confused about themselves and their identity.  These cases were more challenging to deal with than the chronic family cases that the CAS had been dealing with over a lengthy period of time.  Parent-teen conflicts were almost outnumbering neglect cases on protection caseloads.  The use of drugs became a reason for institutionalizing a ward and youth gangs became an issue within the city of Guelph.
1984: A Name Change
  • 1984 saw the Agency dropping the name Children’s Aid Society and becoming Family & Children’s Services of Guelph and Wellington County.  The new name reflected a growing awareness of the child welfare agency’s role with children and their families.
  • In 2010 there were approximately 2,600 children and youth in Ontario whose needs were so great that they required a more structured setting.  Children placed in group care may be medically fragile and need constant care, or may have severe behavioural problems and be dangerous to themselves or others.
2011: Moved our Main Agency Office
  • In November of 2011 Family & Children’s Services moved our Head Office from our Delhi office to our current office at 275 Eramosa Road, Guelph.

2018: A Year of Reflection
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