A History of Foster Care and the American Welfare State
Fall 2017 History Colloquium Series
Half-launch party, half-Friday Colloquium Series event, University of Missouri Associate Professor of History and Kinder Institute Faculty Advisory Council member Catherine Rymph will give an October 20 talk on her most recent book, Raising Government Children: A History of Foster Care and the American Welfare State (University of North Carolina Press, October 2017), which works to un-do the negative stereotypes society harbors about the foster care system by unpacking its evolution from the New Deal era through the 1970s (see description below). Free and open to the public, Prof. Rymph’s talk will take place in Jesse Hall 410 at 3:30 PM.
Raising Government Children
In the 1930s, buoyed by the potential of the New Deal, child welfare reformers hoped to formalize and modernize their methods, partly through professional casework but more importantly through the loving care of temporary, substitute families. Today, however, the foster care system is widely criticized for failing the children and families it is intended to help. How did a vision of dignified services become virtually synonymous with the breakup of poor families and a disparaged form of “welfare” that stigmatizes the women who provide it, the children who receive it, and their families?
Tracing the evolution of the modern American foster care system from its inception in the 1930s through the 1970s, Catherine Rymph argues that deeply gendered, domestic ideals, implicit assumptions about the relative value of poor children, and the complex public/private nature of American welfare provision fueled the cultural resistance to funding maternal and parental care. What emerged was a system of public social provision that was actually subsidized by foster families themselves, most of whom were concentrated toward the socioeconomic lower half, much like the children they served. Analyzing the ideas, debates, and policies surrounding foster care and foster parents’ relationship to public welfare, Rymph reveals the framework for the building of the foster care system and draws out its implications for today’s child support networks.
Click here to read Prof. Rymph’s recent interview about the book with MU News’ Jordan Yount.
Catherine Rymph joined the MU Department of History in 2000, after teaching at the University of Iowa and as a Fulbright Lecturer at the University of Greifswald in Germany. She specializes in recent U.S. history, especially U.S. women’s political history. She is the author of Republican Women: Feminism and Conservatism from Suffrage to the Rise of the New Right (University of North Carolina Press, 2006), a political history of feminism and conservatism within the Republican Party, and Raising Government Children: A History of Foster Care and the American Welfare State (UNC Press, 2017). Prof. Rymph regularly teaches courses on U.S. women’s political history, historical perspectives on child welfare and the family, and twentieth-century U.S. history.