Care of Dependent Children.
"State of Illinois, Executive Office, Springfield, Oct. 10, 1895. —
The Hon. Harvey B. Hurd, President Children's Aid Society, 15 Washington Street, Chicago, Ill. — Dear Mr. Hurd: Answering your favor I will say, a somewhat extended observation has forced the conviction into my mind that our whole system of caring for dependent children in public institutions is to a great extent a failure and should be changed. As you are aware, the entire institutions system is of recent origin and there are serious objections to it in all of its branches.
502But in most cases we have nothing better to substitute and therefore are obliged to continue it.
"For example, we have as yet no satisfactory substitute for insane asylums. We must have prisons, and we take care of the feeble-minded and the physically helpless, as well as of the aged who have no means of support. For all these the institutions system will have to be continued, and as to these, it is only a question of bringing the institutions onto the highest plane possible.
"But when it comes to the young the case is different. They soon become institutionized, which means that they are forever disqualified from making their own living. During the impressionable part of their lives their character is shaped, their habits become fixed and the spirit of self-reliance is either destroyed or dwarfed, so that when they leave the institution they are helpless.
"In all conditions life is in a sense competitive, and the boys and girls who have grown up in private homes possess a degree of self-confidence and self-reliance, to say nothing of a knowledge of the world and of affairs, which places them far in advance of the institution girl or boy in the struggle for existence. It is a common thing to see in institutions both girls and boys who are bright and industrious and spirited, and possess excellent principles, but who are absolutely helpless when they leave the institution. They become accustomed to work with a large number and become accustomed to being provided for and to being guided in all particulars, so that as a rule they are weakened for life, while the children coming from even the poorest; private homes are found to be self-reliant, and often become the most successful men and women.
"I am convinced that the best method yet devised for dealing with homeless children is to place them at once in private homes where they may be treated as members of the family and begin early to learn the hard realities of life and the best ways of meeting them, and for this purpose they should be detained in an institution only until it is possible to find some place for them.
"If there are any legal difficulties in the way of having those public officials who deal with the poor carry out this policy, then the law should be changed as speedily as possible so as to permit it and put an end to the herding of children together in institutions where they are
503prisoners without being guilty of any offense except that of being friendless and poor.
Very respectfully yours,
"JOHN P. ALTGELD."