August 28, 1959
“The whole concept that Jews ‘take care of their own’ is inaccurate. Sure, we’re generous when it’s a matter of giving money to welfare causes. But when it comes to involving ourselves personally, we’re not so generous.”
The speaker, a social welfare leader, was serious as he discussed a problem of growing concern in San Francisco — the lack of Jewish foster homes for children.
Recent statistics obtained from Homewood Terrace, San Francisco’s Jewish child care agency, reveal the fact that out of a total of 1,238 foster homes in the Bay Area, only 21 care for Jewish children. And out of these 21 homes, seven are Protestant, a fact which reflects the seriousness of the shortage of Jewish homes. Only 1 percent of all foster homes are Jewish.
What accounts for the failure of Jewish families to respond to the need for foster homes?
Social workers point first to the differences in religious orientation, economic status and family unity in the Jewish community, as compared to the Catholic community for example, where the ratio of foster homes to the Catholic population is three times higher.
Says Helen Hagan, assistant executive director of the Child Welfare League of America, “Jewish families are mush closer than those of other religious faiths. As a result, they find it difficult to disrupt their family unity by opening their homes to a child to whom they may become very attached, because it will mean sharing with his own parents and giving him up eventually.”
Catholics, on the other hand, are greatly influenced by their church in this respect, many social works believe. “The Catholic church plays more of a role in the lives of its parishioners than other sects,” states one, “and they take seriously its emphasis on their responsibility for making homes for children who need them.”
If the figures on Jewish foster homes are an indication, then it would appear that in San Francsico we don’t identify ourselves with our traditions to the extent where we’re willing to live them on this kind of day-to-day basis.
“Being a foster parent is too much of a challenge to most people,” explained one social worker. “It is more difficult than raising one’s own children. There aren’t many people who feel they have a talent with children and therefore they don’t feel this is their ‘niche for service’.”
Lack of financial motivation also contributes to the difficulty in finding Jewish foster homes. In San Francisco, a high proportion of Jewish families belong to the middle class, and enjoy relatively high income status. On the other hand, the Catholic population, from which the majority of foster homes come, is made up largely of lower middle class families who need the additional income they receive for caring for foster children.
The need is growing every month. For every child now in a foster home, there is a child who needs a home but has none. This means that he must remain in the institution, or have makeshift arrangements provided for him.
As a result, Homewood Terrace has had to turn to the non-Jewish community to provide foster homes. At the same time it tries to furnish children with the Jewish education and religious training they would normally receive in Jewish homes.
Whether it is fear of personal responsibility, belief that institutional care is the answer, or simply lack of awareness of the problem, it appears that the Jewish community of San Francisco is failing in one vital area of health and welfare responsibility.