Do orphanages still exist in America today? The answer is no. Traditional orphanages as portrayed in novels and movies no longer exist in America, and it wasn’t because the need to care for parentless and/or poverty-stricken children disappeared. However, to understand what became of the children and the orphanages that housed them, one must understand the original intent of orphanages at their formation and what replaced them at their closing.

The earliest forms of orphanages in the US were created in the early 1700s and became more organized establishments in the 1800s. They were established to care not only for children whose parents were killed in Indian raids or died in epidemics but also children from families who were unable to care for them due to poverty or addiction. As a result of the population boom, influx of immigrants, and widespread poverty, orphanages often were overcrowded, understaffed, and lacked resources for proper care. While orphanages were better for the children than the streets, they still could not provide what every child needed and deserved—a family environment in which they could grow and thrive.

Around the 1900s, the progressive movement began to have a big influence on social thought in America. As a result, reformers started rethinking the orphanage system and created the earliest form of the child welfare system. President Theodore Roosevelt championed the change by forming a conference of leading experts of the day in the field of child care at the Conference on the Care of Dependent Children. Largely due to their vision for child welfare in the US, the reformers moved for Congress to form the United States Children’s Bureau. There was also economic growth that enabled parents to care for their own children and to foster other children. As a result, fewer children were placed in orphanages and remained in a family environment.

Traditional orphanages in the United States began closing following World War II, as public social services were on the rise. US adoption policy and procedures, as well as child protection laws, began to take shape, leading to the demise of traditional American orphanages, which were replaced with individual and small group foster homes. The reformers pushing for this change argued that children would do better placed in homes, where they could receive personalized care and individual attention, than in institutions. By the 1950s, more children lived in foster homes than in orphanages in the United States, and by the 1960s, foster care had become a government-funded program.

Traditional orphanages are extinct in America today. Instead, there is a complex, government-funded foster system, whose main goal is the reunification of children with families who can appropriately care for them. In addition to the foster care system, there are residential treatment facilities and group homes for children who, for several reasons, cannot thrive in or integrate into a foster home.  Sometimes the children have behavioral, emotional, physical, or mental problems that foster parents are unable or unwilling to work through, or it is in the best interest of the child to be medically institutionalized. Belinda Luscombe in her article quotes Kathryn Whetten, a Duke professor of public policy and director of the Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research (CHPIR), “In the U.S. there is a movement to see long-term residential care as detrimental to all children and that only when no other options are available to do we place children in residential care and with the condition that they stay for as little time as possible…Yet many of the residential centers here in the U.S. provide family-like care with long-term caregivers/parents who are continuously trained and supported in how to raise children who have experienced significant chaos and trauma in their lives. The children have family meals and can consider the [other] children in the unit to be like siblings.”  No matter how “family-like” the environment of a residential center, long-term institutionalization should only be reverted to when it is in the best interest of the child. Every child deserves a loving, forever family, even if that child has to remain in long-term residential care for safety.

Proverbs 31:8-9 says, “Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” One blog says that “428,000 children are in foster care in the U.S.” To give a visual aide, “consider this: The 4 largest football stadiums in the United States could be filled and still not hold all the children who are currently in the system…[and around] 102,000 of these children are currently eligible for adoption.”  The Abba Fund surmises that “if 1 family in every 3 churches in the US adopted a waiting child, every waiting child in the US would have a forever family.” If that happened, more children could be rescued from aging out of the system and being left all alone as they make their own way through life.

In conclusion, the orphanages of the past were replaced by the foster system, including group homes and institutions, of today. While the structures to house orphans have changed, the fact that there are still orphans has not. Every child deserves a loving, forever home.

Do you feel there is a hole in your heart that can only be filled by a child? We’ve helped complete 32,000+ adoptions. We would love to help you through your adoption journey. Visit or call 1-800-ADOPT-98.

Do Orphanages Still Exist in America?

Yes, orphanages still exist in other countries, with around 18 million orphaned children living in them or on the streets worldwide. While adopting from orphanages is not common in the United States anymore, international adoption remains an option for those interested.

Countries like China and Haiti are known for international adoptions, but it’s important to know that not all children in orphanages are available for adoption, and not all meet the U.S. immigration law’s definition of an orphan. The law states that an orphan is a child who has experienced the death, disappearance, abandonment, desertion, or separation from both parents. This means some children in orphanages may not qualify for immigration to the United States.

In countries without a foster care system, orphanages may temporarily house children whose parents are working to regain stability, like those facing financial hardships. Prospective adoptive parents considering international adoption should research thoroughly and work with reputable organizations experienced in these adoptions to ensure they adopt a child who meets the criteria of being an orphan in need of a loving home.

While adopting a baby from a U.S. orphanage is not an option today, there are alternative ways to provide a loving and stable home for a child. Prospective parents can explore options such as adopting from the U.S. foster care system, adopting internationally, or seeking assistance from adoption agencies like American Adoptions. Each option allows adoptive parents to positively impact a child’s life and provide the care, support, and love they need.

1. What are the different ways people adopt within the United States?

People primarily adopt within the United States through:

  • Private domestic adoption
  • Foster care adoption
  • International adoption

2. Does the adoption process in the United States still involve traditional orphanages?

No, the adoption process in the United States no longer involves traditional orphanages. They have been replaced with an improved foster care system and private adoption agencies like The Gladney Center for Adoption.