Was There Really A Time When A Couple Could Walk Into An Orphanage And Take Home A Kid?

This was a trope in old movies, cartoons, and shorts, and even in some (relatively) recent movies (Problem Child, for example).

Did this really happen? Was there any oversight (like there was at least some attempt at making sure the parents were on the up & up)?

For another alternative:

not much … usually the kid stayed with the prospective parents a month and then a worker type stopped by and seen how things were going and if all was ok papers were signed and the kid was yours …

If you notice in the movies you see this in its usually " the first couple of months were ok and then they put the screws to ya " ie chores work ect …

in fact there was a rather infamous abuse case in the early 1900s UK that changed British law to where they had what passed as back then background checks and checked up on the kids until they were of age 18 … I can’t remember the name of it now tho …

In Anne of Green Gables, published in 1908, Matthew and Marilla, an elderly brother and sister, don’t even have to walk into the orphanage. They hear that Mrs. Spencer, an acquaintance, is going to get a child at the orphanage a day’s trip away, and they ask for her to pick up an orphan for them as well, basically to work for them because it’s hard to get hired help:

“We’re getting a little boy from an orphan asylum in Nova Scotia and he’s coming on the train to-night. . . Mrs. Alexander Spencer was up here one day before Christmas and she said she was going to get a little girl from the asylum over in Hopeton in the spring. Her cousin lives there and Mrs. Spencer has visited her and knows all about it. So Matthew and I have talked it over off and on ever since. We thought we’d get a boy. . . So in the end we decided to ask Mrs. Spencer to pick us out one when she went over to get her little girl. We heard last week she was going, so we sent her word by Richard Spencer’s folks at Carmody to bring us a smart, likely boy of about ten or eleven. We decided that would be the best age—old enough to be of some use in doing chores right off and young enough to be trained up proper.”

There’s no oversight at all. Someone makes a mistake in the message to Mrs. Spencer and Anne, a girl arrives for Matthew and Marilla instead. They have a chance to hand her over to a mean, bad-tempered woman who needs help with child care and they keep her because they pity her.

I feel like a lot of adoptions were carried out between family members and neighbors. Maybe even a pastor or priest got involved, back in the 1800s.
My Sister adopted a baby from a teen. in her church. It was an open adoption. The adopted girl is in her 20s now. But the process was still long and drawn out and expensive. She had the baby from 3 days old. The adoption wasn’t final til the baby was 18mos old. My Sister sweated every day of it.

Back in the Old Country, my great-great-grandfather died leaving a widow with a bunch of kids and their small tenant farm allotment going to someone else. The ones that were old enough (by the standards of the day) were literally put up for auction as farm workers/servants. The highest bidders took the kids home and put them to work. No background checks, no home visits. (And these were not actual orphans.)

Once the oldest was of age, he left for the US, sending money back home to start bring the others over, who then also chipped in. The mother and the youngest girl eventually made it here, too.

If it’s between being a child laborer or starving to death, working wins.

For many decades, Georgia Tann, who ran the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, abducted children from poor families and sold them to wealthy white people, including a lot of Hollywood types.

The Behind the Bastards podcast recently did a two-part episode about her – Behind the Bastards | iHeart

There was no need to go to an orphanage. Obstetricians often arranged for childless couples to adopt the children of unwed mothers. Helen Doss’s book “The Family Nobody Wanted” is a good book on adoption in the 1930’s and 1940’s. Yes, couples could go to an orphanage for an older child.