When legendary pediatrician Mark Osterlin arrived in Traverse City in 1935, the former University of Michigan associate professor quickly set to work making his mark on the region – helping Munson Hospital get off the ground, heading up its newly formed Children’s Clinic, and building friendly rapport with local residents.
But early in his tenure, Osterlin noticed a disturbing trend: Many of the TC children coming through his practice were showing visible signs of abuse and neglect, but there were no processes in place to remove the kids from their dangerous situations.
Osterlin set out to find a solution. His early efforts led to the establishment of today’s Child and Family Services, which is celebrating its 75th anniversary this month.
Likely you’re familiar with the organization’s work. Since its beginnings in 1937, it has matched more than 15,000 children with foster families, created more than 3,500 adoptive families, and spearheaded area programs to help victims of sexual abuse, children diagnosed with behavioral disorders, teens who have aged out of the foster care system, and more.
But what you might not know is that the inspiration for this community staple traces back to New York – and to the legendary orphan trains that whisked abandoned and neglected city kids off the streets, cleaned them up, and sent them west to families who promised a better life.
The orphan trains were, in part, the brainchild of Charles Loring Brace, a minister and youth advocate who had founded the Children’s Aid Society of New York in 1853.
“They [Brace and his partners] would put the word out that there would be children arriving in these communities, looking for homes,” says Gina Aranki, marketing and public relations director for CFS. “And people would show up, pick kids out of the crowds and take them home.”
Whatever history makes of Brace’s well-intended social experiment, it’s generally credited as the beginning of foster care in America – a solution that no doubt caught Osterlin’s eye. He contacted the Michigan branch of Brace's Children Aid Society, proposed a northern Michigan branch, and in October 1937, realized his dream.
The organization and its offerings have evolved over the decades – its name changed to Child and Family Services about 40 years ago and services expanded north to Harbor Springs in 1981 – Jim Scherrer, CEO of the organization, says its mission remains the same: strengthening the fabric of the family.
Thursday, Nov. 1, CFS will celebrate its 75th anniversary – and the staff, community members, partners and colleagues who have made that achievement possible. The program, which includes dinner, entertainment and inspiring stories of CFS client success, begins at the Hagerty Center at 5:30 p.m. Learn more or register to attend here.
Testament to Success
The young woman in the photo below was the first child to be served by the Michigan Children’s Aid Society who utilized this before and after to showcase its good works, stating: “Abandoned by her unfaithful mother and turned into the street, she was picked up by a member of a Local Advisory Board of the Michigan Children's Aid Society and taken to the residence of the then-State Superintendent Amos Barlow. The small picture shows her condition when received by the Society on September 28, 1891. She was ragged, filthy and infested with vermin. After being transformed into a clean and comfortably dressed child, she was placed in a good home where she grew up amid favorable circumstances. The large picture shows her grown up – a well-educated, self-supporting, young woman, and a living monument to the Society, which has watched over her all these years."