CHILD CARE. Cleveland’s children in need have been cared for by both the private and the public sectors. Private, faith-based institutions and agencies, created in the mid-nineteenth century when government was weak and sectarian rivalries were strong, initially played the leading role.  By the end of the twentieth century, however, after private resources struggled to survive the Great Depression, the public sector had become the primary care-taker of Cleveland’s dependent children.

The first institution to care for children was the City Infirmary, built in 1837 to house dependents of all ages, including the ill, disabled, and insane. In 1858, the House of Correction, also called the House of Refuge, opened for vagrant or delinquent children under the age of 17, operating in conjunction with the city workhouse from 1871 until 1891. From 1891-1901, delinquent children were kept in the Cuyahoga County Jail. Some public funding supported temporary shelter and training for dependent children in the CLEVELAND INDUSTRIAL SCHOOL (1856-71), assisted by the CHILDREN’S AID SOCIETY.  Cuyahoga County had no public children’s home.

The most important nineteenth-century child-care institutions were the several private ORPHANAGES, sponsored by Cleveland’s Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish communities. (CATHOLICS, ROMAN) (JEWS & JUDAISM).  Orphanages provided temporary or long-term care for dependent or neglected children, most of whom had at least one parent, but a parent who could no longer care for them. The Cleveland Catholic Diocese founded ST. MARY’S ORPHAN ASYLUM FOR FEMALES (1851) and St. Josephs’s Orphanage for Older Girls (1863); the two merged as ST. JOSEPH’S ORPHANAGE FOR GIRLS (1894). The SISTERS OF CHARITY OF ST. AUGUSTINE opened ST. VINCENT’S ORPHAN ASYLUM for boys in 1853.  The HOME OF THE HOLY FAMILY opened in 1896. The (Cleveland) Protestant Orphan Asylum (BEECH BROOK), the Jones Home (JONES HOME OF APPLEWOOD CENTERS), the Cleveland Christian Home, and the Children’s Aid Society were associated with Protestant churches.  The Independent Order of B’NAI BRITH opened the Jewish Orphan Asylum, a regional orphanage for the children of Civil War veterans in 1868. (BELLEFAIRE-JCB). These orphanages almost never accepted black children, and the one small orphanage for them lasted only from 1895-1903. The CLEVELAND HUMANE SOCIETY, established in 1876, investigated cases of child neglect, abuse, or abandonment, placing children in foster homes or orphanages.

Faith-based organizations also provided preventive or protective services for at-risk children. In 1869, the SISTERS OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD opened their convent for young women, and in 1892, the WOMAN'S CHRISTIAN TEMPERANCE UNION NONPARTISAN opened its Training Home for Friendless Girls. These institutions hoped to reform and reclaim young women through religious training in a familial and domestic setting. The Catholic Diocese also opened St. Anthony's Home for Boys (1906) and the CATHERINE HORSTMANN HOME for high school girls (1907).

Private funds also supported medical facilities for children: Rainbow Cottage (1887) for convalescent children, which became Rainbow Hospital for Crippled & Convalescent Children (1913); the Children's Fresh Air Camp (1889), later HEALTH HILL HOSPITAL FOR CHILDREN; the Babies' Dispensary & Hospital, a free milk dispensary (1904) which later added a clinic (1907); and the HOLY CROSS HOUSE for crippled and invalid children (1903), administered by the Episcopalian Sisterhood of the Transfiguration. In 1925, the Babies' Dispensary became part of UNIVERSITY HOSPITALS and joined Rainbow Hospital in 1971 to form Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital of University Hospitals.

In 1909, signaling the interest of the Progressive era in child welfare, a White House Conference on Dependent Children established two trends that would dominate future child-care policy and practice:  an increase in public funding and management and the preference for non-institutional over institutional care. The establishment of the CUYAHOGA COUNTY JUVENILE COURT in 1902 had already indicated heightened public responsibility. Created in reaction to deplorable conditions of the children's facilities in the city jail, the court took legal responsibility for dependent and neglected children and collected child support from negligent parents. The court also placed delinquent children on probation, in a public reformatory institution such as the CLEVELAND BOYS SCHOOL (1903) or BLOSSOM HILL SCHOOL FOR GIRLS (1914), or in a private protective facility.  In 1913, the State of Ohio passed a mothers' pension law, providing public funds for widowed or deserted mothers so that they could continue to care for their children rather than place them in orphanages.

The preference for non-institutional care for dependent children gave foster homes and child-placing agencies new importance as Cleveland orphanages became crowded with children who stayed for long periods of time.  Cuyahoga County funded the Cleveland Humane Society’s efforts to organize child placement in foster and adoptive homes. In 1921, the Children's Bureau was established to standardize the placement of Protestant and Catholic children in foster homes and orphanages. The Welfare Association for Jewish Children (JEWISH CHILDREN'S BUREAU) handled the placement of Jewish children. Several non-residential services also developed, such as the WOMEN'S PROTECTIVE ASSOCIATION (1916), which became the Girls' Bureau (1930), working closely with Juvenile Court probation officers, and the Jewish and Catholic Big Brother/Big Sister programs (est. 1919-24) BIG BROTHER/BIG SISTER MOVEMENT).

The private sector responded first to the educational needs of very young children.  The CLEVELAND DAY NURSERY AND FREE KINDERGARTEN ASSOCIATION, founded in 1882, established day nurseries and kindergartens for the children of working mothers;  after kindergartens became a public responsibility in 1897 ( EDUCATION), nursery schools and daycare centers gradually replaced the association's kindergartens.

During the prosperous 1920s, St. Vincent’s Orphan Asylum, the Protestant Orphan Asylum, and the Jewish Orphan Asylum relocated to the suburbs. They changed their names to suggest they were no longer asylums or institutions: they became PARMADALE CHILDREN’S VILLAGE, Beech Brook, and Bellefaire, respectively. They also replaced their large congregate facilities with cottages to create a home-like atmosphere and encourage individual attention to each child’s mental health.

The Depression accelerated the trends toward public responsibility and non-institutional care.  As private funds dwindled, the number of dependent children rose:  in 1931, 1300 of them were in Cleveland orphanages, strapped for funds and trying to provide for more children with less money.  In this crisis, the public sector stepped in. The Cuyahoga County Child Welfare Board (CUYAHOGA COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES) took over the placement of more than 1,000 children from the Cleveland Humane Society and the Welfare Association for Jewish Children. The county built a larger juvenile detention facility in 1932 to provide temporary shelter for delinquent, dependent, and neglected children.  More important, in 1935, the federal Social Security Act – through old age and unemployment insurance and Aid to Dependent Children (ADC), an outgrowth of the mothers’ pensions - provided some income security for families who in earlier times might have been forced to place their children in institutions.   ADC became Aid to Families of Dependent Children and bore the chief financial responsibility for the care of dependent children in Cuyahoga County, usually within the family, until its termination in 1996.

As public funds became increasingly available for psychological and psychiatric services, orphanages gradually shifted their focus away from dependent children and renewed their interest in children with emotional and behavioral problems. In the late 1950s and 1960s, the orphanages became residential treatment centers for emotionally disturbed children. During the 1970s and 1980s, responding to the movement to de-institutionalize all populations, the orphanages and other private child-care agencies developed a wide range of off-site therapeutic services for children and families.  The Lutheran Children's Aid and Family Services, the CATHOLIC CHARITIES SERVICES CORPORATION, and the JEWISH FAMILY SERVICE ASSOCIATION offered adoption, foster home placement, and child and family counseling.  Because these services were often paid for with public funds, the private agencies were obligated to serve children of all religions and races.

As it had in the nineteenth century, the county also opened (and then closed) facilities for children judged dependent or delinquent by the Juvenile Court: the Winifred Freyer Home (1951-1967) and the Metzenbaum Children's Center, a temporary shelter and diagnostic facility (1967-1994). The Youth Development Center in Hudson, formed by the merger of Cleveland Boys School and Blossom Hill School for Girls, opened in 1974 and closed in 2008. The  county’s 1932 Juvenile Detention Center, which had made headlines for its overcrowded, brutal conditions, was replaced in 2011 by a new Juvenile Justice Center.  The Juvenile Court also placed delinquent or at-risk children in Bellefaire-JCB, the Cleveland Christian Home, or the Jones Home of Applewood Centers.  Although they also had received public funds for their county wards, Parmadale (2014) and Beech Brook (2016) had closed their residential treatment programs.

The Cuyahoga County Department of Health and Human Services, with local, state, and federal funds, had become the most significant provider of care for children in need; it supplied direct financial support through Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and investigated allegations of child abuse or neglect. Public funds also bought specialized professional services like psychiatric and medical care and counseling from the private child-care agencies, forcing them to adapt but allowing them to survive.

Marian J. Morton

Updated 2021


Black, white and red text reading Western Reserve Historical Society

Finding Aid for the Federation for Community Planning Records, WRHS


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Morton, Marian J. "Homes for Poverty's Children: Cleveland Orphanages, l85l‑l933," Ohio History   (Winter‑Spring l989).

_____________, “Institutionalizing Inequalities: Black Children and Child Welfare in Cleveland, 1859-1998,” Journal of Social History (Fall 2000).

_____________, "Surviving the Great Depression: Orphanages and Orphans in Cleveland," Journal of Urban History, Vol. 26, No. 4 ( May 2000).

Polster, Gary E. Inside Looking Out: The Jewish Orphan Asylum 1868-1924 (1990).


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