‘Institutional Care and Placing-Out; The Place of Each In the Care of Dependent Children’ by Elias L. Trotzkey

Elias L Trotzkey (1930) Institutional care and placing-out; the place of each in the care of dependent children

Chicago: The Marks Nathan Jewish Orphan Home

This monograph began its life as a memorandum prepared by Elias Trotzkey, Executive Director, Marks Nathan Jewish Orphan Home, Chicago, Illinois on 10 February 1930. An Internet search reveals that he published books on related topics but does not offer any other information about his life.

Key Ideas

  • Conserving the child’s family.
  • Institutional care is generally more beneficial to children’s development than foster care.
  • Quality of care is more important than where it is being provided.


Elias Trotzkey begins by highlighting the way in which the emphasis on conserving the child’s home and, if that is not possible, seeking the closest alternative had led to increasing attempts to discredit institutional care and splits in the child care community. While there had been various attempts to defend institutional care and various attempts to heal the breach, the attacks had also had some positive results in terms of improvements to institutional care.

He then summarises the history of child care starting with the first enactments on children in Deuteronomy and then the developments in Europe and North America in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries which led to many orphanages being established along with some projects for placing children out (as boarding out was known in North America). He notes that in 1899 placing out came to be preferred even though it was often not successful and that most initiatives, whether placing out or institutional, ignored conserving the child’s home.

At the White House Conference on 25-26 January 1909 conserving the child’s own family become the first choice, with placing out preferred to institutional care if that was not possible. The conference was followed by the creation of the Federal Children’s Bureau and the development of criteria for institutional care. These were formalised as “Minimum standards for child welfare” at the Second Washington Conference on 5-8 May 1918, which was followed by the establishment of the National Child Welfare League of America.

In spite of these developments and the criteria, by 1925 there were over 1,400 institutions caring for over 150,000 children, alongside over 400 child placing agencies by 1923.

Existing research on the relative merits of institutional care and placing out is fragmentary but figures from the Chicago Jewish community for 1925-26 and the Greater New York Jewish community for 1926-28 enabled him to identify a sample of 2,523 children in institutional care in four organisations and 1,214 placed out by two placing out agencies.

He summarises the results under three headings, physical, mental and emotional:

1. Physical

(a) The children’s physical development on admission was the same as the average child in the community.

(b) All children showed marked physical development in care but those in institutional care did overwhelmingly better.

(c) The children’s physical development at the time of survey was now better than that of the average child in the community.

(d) However, a minority had remained underweight, underdeveloped and in need of treatment.

2. Mental

(n.b. more of the children with lower IQs had been placed in institutions)

(a) Normal children all do well in care but exceptionally well in institutional care.

(b) Educationally conceived institutions benefit general educational development.

(c) The best environment for a child’s mental development is a progressive institution.

3. Emotional

Children did best in institutions that offered individualised care, because the families in which children were placed out often did not have the resources to provide the same level of individualised care

Overall, more important than where the child is cared for is who is attending to his care and how.


Elias Trotzkey’s memorandum suffers from the absence of the statistical rigour which would now be demanded, something which he inherently acknowledges in saying that there is very little evidence on which one can base a comparison between institutional care and placing out.

However, he is the first person to attempt a ‘value added’ assessment of care in that, rather than measuring where the children are now, he measures the improvements that have taken place in the different environments and concludes that, while many of the children in institutional care might still be ‘behind’ their peers in placing out, the gains they have made have surpassed those of the children placed out.

Though the largest survey in this series, it involved a very short time-span but, like Rowe and Lambert (1973) and Wiener and Wiener (1990), he found that the more able children were placed in foster care. Yet, as Wiener and Wiener (1990) found over a much longer period, they gained less than those in residential care.

He also stresses that the children who did best in institutional care received individualised care, something which the Curtis Committee was to find sadly lacking from most English and Welsh institutions sixteen years later (Care of Children Committee, 1946).

This gives added support to his conclusion that it is not where a child is placed but the quality of the care they receive in that placement that is paramount – a message that was to be confirmed only a few years later by Skeels (1942) but which is often drowned out in the interminable battles among child care professionals.

Care of Children Committee (1946) Report of the Care of Children Committee Cmd 6922. His Majesty’s Stationery Office, London Chairman: Myra Curtis

Rowe J and Lambert L (1973) Children who wait: a study of children needing substitute families Association of British Adoption Agencies, London

Skeels H M (1942) A study of the effects of differential stimulation on mentally retarded children: a follow-up report American Journal of Mental Deficiency, 46:340-350.

Wiener A and Wiener E (1990) Expanding the options in child placement University Press of America, Lanham MD

Leave a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.