2015-2016 Season, Education, Featured, Luna Gale

History of “The System” in Luna Gale

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Pamela Reed stars in Seattle Rep’s Luna Gale by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Braden Abraham. Photo by Alan Alabastro.

Researching the issues within Luna Gale has sparked many questions about the history behind the U.S. foster care system. What historic factors contributed to the creation of an agency whose sole purpose is to find placements for children who cannot stay with their biological parents? Who may have been the key players in the creation of this agency, and what contributed to kids not being able to stay with their parents? The timeline below may help to answer some of these questions.

 I853 Charles Loring Brace, philanthropist, formed the Children’s Aid Society (CAS). The mission of this private organization was to provide assistance to orphans living on the street in New York City. Through donations, they provided inexpensive housing, schools, summer camps, and sanatoriums in NYC.

1861- 1865 Over 600,000 soldiers died during the Civil War, leaving a significant population of orphans. There was no government agency at this time to help these children find caretakers and homes.

1854-1929 From the end of the Civil War Era to the beginning of the 20th Century, the CAS arranged for orphans to be transported from crowded Eastern cities to foster homes located in the rural Midwest. The movement became known as the Orphan Train Movement because children were transported to their new homes by trains.

1912 The Children’s Bureau, the first government agency organized for the protection of children is founded by the efforts of civic leaders Lillian Wald and Florence Kelley. The Children’s Bureau is still in operation today and deals with issues affecting children such as infant and maternal death, child labor, delinquency, and juvenile courts and foster care

1935 Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), a federal assistance program, was created by the Social Security Act under the New Deal put in place by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This program provided financial assistance to children whose families had low or no income. ADC was primarily created for white single mothers who were expected not to work.

1946 ADC becomes part of the Social Security Administration as health issues for children became a larger issue.

1962 ADC added the foster care component, using federal money to fund state foster care.

1980 The Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act required states to become more involved in the child welfare system. Its aim was to develop standardized procedures for placing children in foster care and to develop ways to keep families together.

1997 The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) was enacted under the Bill Clinton Administration. This Act shifted the emphasis towards doing what is best for children’s health and safety and away from a policy of reuniting children with their birth parents.

2016 Today modern foster care issues include a lack of foster parents, teens aging out of the system, parental substance abuse, and inequalities in foster care. The system is in need of some major reforms.


See one social worker’s story on stage in Seattle Rep’s current production of Luna Gale, playing through March 26.

Want to keep reading? Find additional background show research, personal interviews, and more in our Education department’s Luna Gale interactive Play Guide, found on our website.

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