Dose of Truth

Making a difference

Tim Richards

Homelessness among our children is a tragedy, unfortunately, it is not a new problem. In 1850 New York City had nearly 30,000 children who were either homeless or living in slums. Many had lost their parents to epidemics, others had parents who were so poor they could not feed them, still others had parents dealing with additions. Even more children were left orphaned and alone in the 1860s as more Americans died during the Civil War.

While the current foster care system is far from perfect, it is still far better than the conditions in which many children found themselves in during the middle of the 19th century before foster care.

According to the Children’s Aid Society, foster care got its start when the society’s founder, Charles Loring Brace, began looking for ways to care for innocent children who were doomed to difficult lives. He developed an innovative but controversial plan to place homeless children with “upright farm families.”

Beginning in 1853, groups of 30 to 40 children were placed on “Orphan Trains” which traveled from Eastern cities to rural areas throughout the country. Stopping at pre-announced stations, children were lined up on train platforms like livestock. Potential parents would ask questions, evaluate health and sometimes even examine the children’s teeth. If selected, children went to new homes. Those who were not picked got back on the train and headed to the next station for another chance at a new life.

Though records from the period are incomplete and estimates vary, from 1853 to 1929 between 120,000 and 250,000 children found new families this way. Orphans were placed in homes in 45 states.

Although some were treated as cheap labor, most were compassionately welcomed into new homes. Many thrived, living productive lives and becoming leaders in their communities. One even became the governor of North Dakota.

Jesus would have approved of those who lovingly opened their homes to these orphans. He once became impatient with his disciples when they refused to let children see Him. He said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the kingdom of heaven belongs to those who are like children…” (Mark 10:14, NLT)

In every generation there are children who need both love and stable families. Adults can volunteer to tutor at a neighborhood school, teach a children’s class at church or help a single parent by picking up the slack when they are overwhelmed. While none of us can rescue a youngster from an orphan train, or take a child to meet Jesus personally, each of us can do something to help. There is no shortage of needy children, but there is always a shortage of adults who are willing to help. Each of us need to ask ourselves this important question, what am I going to do?

Tim Richards

has been a pastor for 37 years, serving five churches, including his current church, The Refuge in St. Louis, which he founded. He and the congregation minister to those who are hurting and do their part to expand God’s kingdom. Tim and his wife Kelly have five children. “A Dose of Truth” which he has written for more than 25 years appears in 13 newspapers. His book, “Thriving in the Storm: Discovering God’s Peace and Perspective in Turbulent Times,” is available from Amazon. Feel free to contact him at Photography is another of his skills. Pastor Tim’s photos may be viewed at

Scroll to Top