For over 200 years, The Village has been dedicated to building a community of strong, healthy families who protect and nurture children. In 1809, this effort was established and led by a committed group of women, the Hartford Female Beneficent Society. Over the years, the Society merged with organizations such as the Hartford Orphan Asylum, Connecticut Children’s Aid Society and Children’s Services of Connecticut. Through time there have been changes in the organization’s name and services, but the commitment to assist children and families has remained constant.
Betsey and Thomas Sloan reluctantly gave up their daughter for adoption to a Village predecessor organization on September 27, 1809. Most children cared for by the charities in the 1800s were casualties of illness, poverty or the lack of someone to look after them.
Nineteenth-century reformers had no qualms about removing children from families considered too “degraded” to raise them correctly. Eight boys came to a Village predecessor in 1833 – only one was an orphan. The others had fathers who were “victims of intemperance” or mothers described in admission records as “abandoned characters.”
A 16-acre gift of land from Rev. Francis Goodwin became the nucleus of a new idea for the early Village. A campus of brick and slate-roofed cottages took shape around a central green in 1925 at 1680 Albany Avenue – back then, a part of rural Connecticut. The campus took the name “Children’s Village.”
The emotional health of each child became a priority for Children’s Village and other predecessor organizations in the 1930s. Other institutions sought our assistance with innovations in social work practices. Increasingly, town police departments and juvenile courts referred children to early Village organizations in recognition of successes in helping the children become productive members of society. Child guidance became the watchword.
Many predecessors of today’s Village began unifying in 1950. The newly minted organization took the name “Children’s Services of Connecticut.” At the new organization, immediate emergency placement became a standard practice in child protection and care of children.
Also in the 50s, civic-minded women – many of whom had adopted children from one of The Village’s predecessors – formed auxiliaries. These corps of women created opportunities for channeling funds to their charity of choice.
Helping to shape governmental social policies became a priority for our predecessor organizations in 1970. Today, our experience with addressing issues of poverty, racial inequality and urban life makes The Village a resource and leader in the development and advocacy of effective public policy for families and children.
The Village for Families & Children became the official name for the organization that incorporated more than a dozen predecessors. Leaders at The Village began looking at more community-based ways to assist children and families in the Greater Hartford area. Delivery of programs where families need them – at home, at school, at Village sites around the community – took shape during this time.
The Village has spent 200 years bringing creative solutions to our community. This year, we took time to reflect on how well we’re meeting our goals. We asked our partners and funders. And we will hone in on ways to improve. Our strategic direction: integrate services even better so that the entire family is strengthened…for lasting change. We will continue to meet them where they are – at home, in school and in their neighborhood.
In 1813, a Village predecessor agreed to educate “Jane M., a black.” Even in Connecticut, this was a revolutionary move at the time. But our founders were as courageous and innovative then as our leaders are today, advocating to change public opinion and never refusing or segregating a child because of color.
Virginia Thrall Smith (1836-1903) organized the Connecticut Children’s Aid Society in 1892. She was a visionary who fought poverty with kind words and practical aid. She organized sewing and cooking schools, a loan fund to help families in crisis, and a free employment bureau. Child saving became her passion.
She set up Hartford’s first free kindergarten and created precursors of some of today’s Village community programs. As a member of a State investigation team in 1882, she discovered more than 2,500 Connecticut children living in town poorhouses, surrounded by petty criminals and the mentally ill. With a band of friends, she lobbied for their release, and found foster and adoptive homes for many of them. For handicapped children, who were not so easily adoptable, she set up a Newington home that developed into Newington Children’s Hospital – now the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.
Just like today, many of the young people once in the care of Village predecessor organizations did well when they were grown up. Paul, once an abandoned baby, graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Agriculture and managed his foster parents’ farm. Janet, described in documents as “a backward girl showing the effects of association with a cruel and immoral father,” by 1927 was executive secretary in a business firm. And Celia, whose mother had died and whose father deserted her, became a nurse.
World War II created the pressures of loss and grief for families, as well as disruption from military service. Village predecessors provided counseling and adoption services for unmarried mothers and day care for children of women working in ‘defense’ factories. At war’s end, families reunited. Parents voluntarily entrusted their children to this care and as their circumstances changed for the better, were able to reunite their families – an early example of the same practice at today’s Village.
Today’s emphasis on partnership and collaboration with other community agencies took form in the 1960s. For example, educational, medical and social services to young unmarried mothers began as a partnership with the Community Renewal Team. A day treatment program, another innovation, opened with a primary goal of preventing institutionalization. Referrals commonly came from state social services organizations beginning in the 60s.
Fresh programs responding to social issues came on line in the 1980s, thanks to a rare grant from the National Institute of Health. Counseling services for sexual abuse took form in 1985 and we opened programs geared more toward prevention, like counseling services based out of a Hartford public school.
Today, The Village continues to believe that prevention is far more powerful than treatment. For instance, we run Family Resource Centers in several Hartford schools. There, families can develop effective discipline techniques to prevent problems at home. Adults learn skills they need to move ahead in the job market. Children become more engaged with school, motivated to learn.
Through The Village’s designation as one of only two Collaborative Trauma Centers in Connecticut by the federal government, we are able to expand our expertise and use of trauma-informed screening and treatment for children and youth.
As a Trauma Center, The Village strengthens the broader system of care for children affected by trauma. We help expand the capacity of other child-serving clinical organizations by providing information, training and other assistance on new effective treatment models.