Although The Home for Little Wanderers began as an orphanage in 1799, today’s Home provides over 25 critical programs, including behavioral and mental health services, therapeutic residential care, family treatment and support, foster care and adoption, special education and programs for older youth aging out of the system.
This comprehensive breadth of support has its roots in five child welfare organizations: Boston Children’s Services, The New England Home for Little Wanderers, Parents’ and Children’s Services, Charles River Health Management and Wediko Children’s Services.
In 1799, a group of women established Boston’s first orphanage for young girls, the Boston Female Asylum. Notable for its charity and its female management team, which included Abigail Adams as a founding contributor, the orphanage evolved over time and eventually merged with the Boston Children’s Aid Society in 1923. The new enterprise was called the Children’s Aid Association (CAA). CAA’s other founding forces included the Massachusetts Infant Asylum, the first foundling hospital in the U.S., and the North End Mission, a child care agency and Sunday school established in 1867. In 1980, CAA merged with the Boston Children’s Friend Society, an adoption agency formed in 1883, and Boston Children’s Services (BCS) was born.
Countless children were left orphaned and homeless by the Civil War. In 1865, 10 Boston businessmen created the New England Home for Little Wanderers (NEHLW) to help them. Not meant as a permanent residence, the NEHLW was a way station where needy “wanderers” could prepare for a new life. Sometimes, that life was found with families outside of the Boston area – even as far as the Midwest. In fact, the NEHLW played a role in the famous Orphan Train movement, which relocated approximately 200,000 orphaned and homeless children to the Midwest from 1854 to 1929.
During World War II, the NEHLW worked with the U.S. Committee for Care of European Children to shelter and place over 250 young refugees. As the years passed, the NEHLW’s programs adapted to the community’s changing needs and expanded beyond adoption services to care for children in new ways. The organization also furthered its reach, extending beyond Boston to serve other Massachusetts communities and eventually, New Hampshire.
Boston was a thriving industrial city in 1849, yet many working class-families were mired in poverty. Fannie Merrill, the nine-year-old daughter of a Unitarian minister, took it upon herself to change that. She began collecting pennies from her Sunday School classmates to help the destitute families she saw when she walked home from church, as well as others in need. Fannie’s pocket change was the foundation of social change – the formation of The Children’s Mission (officially called The Children’s Mission to the Children of the Destitute of the City of Boston). The Mission provided needy children with shelter, education and employment, eventually incorporating in the 1860s as a non-sectarian charitable agency. After a century of pioneering social service programs, the Children’s Mission changed its name to Parents’ and Children’s Services and continued the mission that Fannie Merrill began so many years ago.
Charles River Health Management was acquired by the New England Home for Little Wanderers in July 1998. A for-profit company with contracts from the Massachusetts Departments of Social Services and Mental Health, CRHM specialized in mental health care services for children. The Home continues to manage and provide services through some of the original CRHM programs, including the Child and Family Counseling Center in Roslindale and the Children’s Community Support Collaborative in Brighton.
Wediko Children’s Services was established in 1934 as a non-profit committed to helping children and their families who are facing life’s challenges. The organization grew by partnering with schools and families to promote the mental health of children and adolescents who face multiple barriers to learning. The Wediko continuum of mental health and educational programs have long served the New York City area, helping create happier, healthier lives throughout the community.
Boston Children’s Services merged with the New England Home for Little Wanderers in 1999, after which the agency’s name was shortened to The Home for Little Wanderers. This was followed by a merger with Parents’ and Children’s Services in 2003. The mission of PCS – to promote the well-being of children and the preservation of families through culturally competent direct service, education, and advocacy – was entirely consistent with that of The Home. An additional merger with CRHM further strengthened The Home’s programs, while the subsequent addition of Wediko expanded The Home’s helping hand to New York City. As the reach and impact of The Home has grown, the need for “New England” in the name no longer made sense.
Today, The Home for Little Wanderers’ singular focus remains on helping children achieve independence and success from seemingly insurmountable difficulties – just as it has been for more than two centuries. We approach our work with equal parts caring, commitment and enthusiasm, and we understand that the good we have been able to do has been possible through the dedication of our donors, staff, colleagues and the communities in which we serve.