Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child: Abuse in the Foster Care System

“Your parents don’t love you more because you’re biologically theirs…

They love you because you’re you” – Rita Hendricks, The Fosters


Personal Interests:

My interest in the foster care system started in 2013, when I first saw ABC Family’s, The Fosters. The Fosters is a drama which focuses on an atypical family who take in two siblings, Callie and Jude, who have endured rape, juvenile detention, and domestic abuse. Before watching this show, I did not really know much about the foster care system. This made me wonder if conditions were as bad or even worse than what the show portrayed. So, I did my research and found a 1988 article in The New York Times, explaining the plight of many children the system. NYU Professor Thomas J. Lueck wrote that children who were detained in  Social Security offices “were kept in rooms that had no air-conditioning on days when temperatures were over 90 degrees with high humidity”(Lueck). The conditions of some of the foster homes themselves were often much worse, ranging from abusive foster parents to unsafe living conditions. Fourteen year old Naika Venant, for example, was abused by her birth mother from a young age. According to Washington Post reporter Kristine Phillips, during Venant’s time in the foster care system, she was not given enough support for her traumas and ultimately committed suicide (Phillips).Background:

Abuse of the system started in 1562, when laws were enacted to take children out of almshouses and place them into indentured servitude. Almshouses, also known as poorhouses, were used to house homeless children and unemployed adults. During their stays, children slept in the same rooms as distasteful adults, who exposed them to many traumatic horrors according to NFPA. However, servitude was not any kinder to them, as the young girls and boys were exploited and abused by their masters (NFPA). These children were often placed in almshouses because their parents had died or abandoned them (Nelson).

The Orphan Train Movement:

Moving ahead many years to New York in 1853, Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society to house and educate the estimated 30,000 homeless children of New York City (Children’s Aid). With poverty at a high rate, many families required their children to work in the factories (Eviator). Homeless children, even non-orphans, were desperate to find food, shelter, money, and rags. Brace noticed the children being regularly victimized and had the idea of an “emigration plan” where he would send orphaned kids to live on farms in the West. Since they were sent across the country by trains, his later became known as “The Orphan Train Movement” (Children’s Aid).

The conditions of the train were very poor, as they resembled cattle cars. Charles Loring Brace said, “the best of all asylums for the outcast child is the farmer’s home. The great duty is to get these children of unhappy fortune utterly out of their surroundings and to send them away to kind Christian homes in the country.” Brace believed that a stable family would be able to provide support for the neglected children and help them move past their traumatizing pasts (Brown). Some children were warmly welcomed by their new families, but unfortunately,  others were forced into labor, similar to being indentured servants (Foster Care).

“Spare The Rod and Spoil The Child”

Still, there were no laws that prevented “parents” from beating their kids, as the motto of this time was “spare the rod and spoil the child,” which meant that children needed to be physically reprimanded in order to strengthen their personal developments (Markel, New York Times). In 1874, the case of Mary Ellen McCormack (formerly Wilson), brought attention to child welfare. McCormack had been whipped and beaten by her foster mother, Mary McCormack, on a daily basis. During her court hearing, the young girl testified that “[Mary] used to whip me with a twisted whip — a rawhide… I never dared speak to anybody, because if I did I would get whipped” (Markel, New York Times). Investigator Etta Angell Wheeler, lacking any other resource, appealed to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (A.S.P.C.A), who assigned a lawyer, Elbridge Gerry, to take the case to the Supreme Court. The court sided with Gerry, and Mary McCormack was arrested for assault and battery (Foster Care). 

Lisa Ling, an American journalist and author is hosted by Katie Couric on her show, Katie. Ling touches on the biggest foster care system in the US, which is the Los Angeles Foster Care System. She talks about the many pressure the overworked, underpaid and under appreciated social workers have when dealing with the system. They are required to be  “on alert” when trying to extract children from dangerous situations, which can be very difficult. Social workers also have the tough decision of deciding whether or not to take a child out of their home if they think they are in danger where they are currently living.


Lisa Ling Talks Tackling The Foster Care System

“There is such an urgent need for people to open up their homes, it’s not easy and it takes a lot of time. The moneys that they receive from the system is really fairly insignificant in comparison to what it takes to raise a child. But there really is a need and I want people to know that these children are not in the system because of any fault of their own, it’s something that their parents did, propelled them to be in the system. And these kids are traumatized, and even though they might be in an abusive situation, think about happens to them psychologically when they’re removed from the only home that they’ve known, and essentially put into the system where they’re bounced around from facility to home to possibly group home. It’s really traumatizing and they just need loving people who would be willing to take them in.”

– Lisa Ling


The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999 was enacted by President Bill Clinton on December 14th, 1999, to support youths leaving the system when they are 18. The act provided funding for state, who then set up programs enabling children to transition out of the foster care system and into adulthood (Solutions).

Title IV-E Bill

In addition to this act, a bill was approved by the House on June 21st, 2017, that revised Title IV of the Social Security Act which was originally passed in 1935. The bill amended Section 437 by adding a clause that required funding in order to expedite the adoption process and placement of children in guardianship or foster care (Haas).  Even though the bill accelerates the process  by which youths are placed, this does not fix the living situations of the foster/group homes. Foster parents must go through an inspection to test whether or not they are fit to be foster parents. Once appointed guardian, foster parents have much leeway on how they treat their foster child. However, home inspections are more focused on the physical safety of the foster care environment and often overlook the abusive and violent nature of the homes. The previous bills are both helpful when it comes to supporting children outside of the system, but does very little to fix hazardous living situations such as, domestic violence and exposure to substances.

Through a TED talk, former foster child, Angel Mechling shares her experience growing up in the foster care system. Mechling touches on her many obstacles, including sexual abuse, verbal abuse and

Growing up in the foster care system: Angel Mechling at TEDxUMDearborn
“They stole me they beat me they abused me they raped me and then they erased me,
a child of a foster child is an automatic case number I was an automatic case number”
 “That’s when my world fell apart that’s the day that they told me I wasn’t going home that I wouldn’t ever go home again that I was going to another home and I didn’t know what that meant”
“One night I was laying in my bed and my foster brother came in the room and he laid next to me naked I thought was kind of funny you know why would he not have clothes and why was he in bed with me and I started the laugh and I stopped laughing very quickly because I realized he wanted and I realized many nights what he wanted in order to change inside and when I told my foster mother what their son was doing to me I was called a liar and I was told that I was doing something horrible to their family not that they were doing something horrible to me and that’s when the beatings started they hit me everyday and they don’t want to be seen in public with a liar and a bad child like me so when they walk anywhere out of the house I wasn’t allowed to go instead I was locked in the basement and I would sit on this top stair and it was dark and there were no light from the basement and it was cold and creepy and cried a lot sitting at the door of basement thinking why, why this to me?
 “I ended up in a psychiatric hospital I was 5 years old and I was labeled homicidal
and I was medicated because I wanted to kill people and about that time my life started to blur”
 “The Ameer Act is going for national law I beg you to contact your Congressman tell them to support HR 102 the Ameer Act it is a great thing it’s at least one step it’s not perfect it’s not close to perfect especially because they don’t have to tell you but it is a step because right now it’s your children it’s my children at anytime your child do one of these your child that have a case your child could be shredded this needs to stop this needs to stop


“A History of Innovation.” Children’s Aid,

Brown, Angelique. “Orphan Trains.” Social Welfare History Project, 16 Oct. 2017,  

Cabrera, Marquis. “Foster Care Is An International Issue.” The Huffington Post,, 9 May 2014, \

Children the Right to Initiate Parental Rights Termination Proceedings, vol. 79, no. 7, July 1994, pp. 1200–1202. Eviatar, Daphne. “Suffer the Children.” The Nation, 29 June 2015,


“Cornell Law Review.” by Christina Dugger Sommer. Empowering Children: Granting Foster

Couric, KatieCouric. “Lisa Ling Talks Tackling The Foster Care System.” YouTube, YouTube, 30 May 2014,

“Foster Care: Background and History.” Findlaw,

“Foster Care Infograph.” Shari Margolin Design Co,

“Foster Care Synopsis.” Paul Langley,

Grim, Ryan, and Aída Chávez. “Children Are Dying at Alarming Rates in Foster Care, and Nobody Is Bothering to Investigate.” The Intercept, 18 Oct. 2017,

“Growing up in the Foster Care System: Angel Mechling at TEDxUMDearborn.” YouTube, YouTube, 17 Nov. 2013,

Haas, Karen L. “H.R. 2742: Modernizing the Interstate Placement of Children in Foster

Care Act.”, 20 June 2017,

Hinskey, Daven. “What E Pluribus Unum Means.” Today I Found Out, 21 June 2013,

“History of Foster Care in the United States.” National Foster Parent Association – History of Foster


Hubner, John, and Jill Wolfson. Somebody Else’s Children: The Courts, the Kids, and the Struggle to Save America’s Troubled Families. 1996.

Markel, Howard. “Case Shined First Light on Abuse of Children.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 14 Dec. 2009,

Moore, Barbara E. “American Childhood Through The Years: Colonial Era, 18th Century Through Early 19th Century, and Progressive Era.” Humboldt State University, 2006, p. 7. 

“Little Strangers: Portrayals of Adoption and Foster Care in America, 1850-1929.” Little Strangers: Portrayals of Adoption and Foster Care in America, 1850-1929, by Claudia Nelson, Indiana University Press, 2003, p. 180.  

Lueck, Thomas J. “Study Faults Foster-Care Conditions.” The New York Times, The New York Times Company, 3 Sept. 1988,

“PBS LearningMedia Collection: Explore the History of the Orphan Train Movement.” IPTV, 8 June 2016,

Phillips, Kristine. “After a Lifetime of Foster Homes and Abuse, a 14-Year-Old Broadcast Her Suicide on Facebook.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 16 Mar. 2017,

“The Orphan Train Movement.” Children’s Aid,

Seshadri, Vishwanath. “Values for Life !!” Spare the Rod !!, 1 Jan. 1970,

Solutions and Highlights. “Solutions and Highlights.” Solutions and Highlights |,

Swan, J.W. “Orphan Train Flyer.” Wikipedia, 8 Sept. 2012,

“”, 31 Mar. 2015,


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  1. April 26, 2018 by Sophie.Woan

    This was such a fascinating topic. I really love how you found multiple TED talks about this subject; it was so clear that you put so much thought and research into your Catalyst Conference. I was wondering how you found those research articles from the professor and the journalist about this topic!

  2. April 27, 2018 by Kiley Herlihy

    This topic is very interesting to me, and I’m glad you’re brining awareness to it! I really liked how you first started with your personal connection to the topic, then the background, and then the legislation. This layout was easy to follow as well as informative. I felt that the videos really added to the presentation, because especially in the first one it discusses the problems with all aspects of the system. Not just with the child, but the large decisions social workers have to make in split seconds.

  3. April 27, 2018 by Shealyn.Kennedy

    I also got interested in the foster care system after watching The Fosters. I think that it’s great that you did such thorough research about the topic. I can tell that you truly care about this issue and it was very well written and interesting. I like how you incorporated more than just text. You added pictures, videos, and a survey which kept it interesting. Great job!!!

  4. April 27, 2018 by Caroline Welch

    Hi Genni! I really liked your project, I too have always been curious about what truly goes on in the Foster care system as well and your page answered practically all my questions and concerns! I especially liked how you included more than 1 TED talk so us readers could get a glance at two different experiences. Nice job:))

  5. April 30, 2018 by Ellery

    Hi! Your project was so informative and moving! The text and images flowed nicely and it was easy to understand. The first picture, on the list of projects page, was really impactful–a smart choice. Thank you!

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