Who we are
Thousands of children, dirty, malnourished and alone, boarded the Orphan Trains near the turn of the 20th Century, desperately hoping to find families. Older children – especially strong ones – found homes quickly; younger ones, however, often went from city to city before someone noticed their sad, lonely eyes. More than 400 kids who stepped aboard the trains arrived in Florida – adding to the state’s already growing population of homeless and abandoned children.
Public welfare was nonexistent and few laws protected children, spurring a national movement triggered by the constant stream of orphans traveling the tracks. On a quest to find families for homeless, neglected children, the movement ventured to Florida in the early 1900s, counting on support from the wealthy. But the year before, fires destroyed much of Jacksonville, eliminating potential philanthropic dollars. The lack of funds didn’t change reality: Florida needed a foster and adoptive placement agency to care for children without homes, without families.
Children's Home Society of Florida opens our doors
Under the leadership of Reverend D.W. Comstock, Children's Home Society of Florida was established in Jacksonville on November 17, 1902. With a staff of two, we found homes for 21 children our initial year, operating with a budget of $400. Less than a decade later, Marcus “Daddy” Fagg became State Superintendent, guiding us toward our unwavering leadership in the child welfare arena.
Under Daddy’s wing
Daddy Fagg, an astute businessman, rightfully earned his nickname through his heartfelt devotion to abandoned and orphaned children. He took them under his wing, tending to children's needs, rocking babies and mending broken souls. But he also knew how to touch the hearts of others. By 1947, we had a staff of 54 and had cared for more than 53,000 kids.
With a national reputation, Children’s Home Society of Florida was instrumental in creating legislation to protect children’s rights. After playing an integral role in enacting Child Labor Laws, we drafted the Compulsory Education Law and rallied for the creation of the State Welfare Board and the agency that would become the Department of Children and Families. More recently, we assumed a lead role in the launch of community based care as Florida underwent a dramatic shift with the privatization of child welfare.
We continue to fight for legislation protecting the rights of children and families, and we’re committed to doing right by kids, illustrated by our continuous accreditation by the Council on Accreditation since 1982.
Meeting kids' (and society's) evolving needs
As we continue to respond to evolving social needs, our services expand with each decade. Our initial single-room office in Jacksonville has expanded into 15 divisions throughout the state, headquartered in Winter Park, with more than 1,800 employees. Last year alone, we helped nearly 200,000 kids and family members.
And we’ve pledged to make an even bigger difference: to break the generational cycle of abuse and neglect for more children. As we provide key, life-changing services, we’re always looking for ways to do it even better – because our kids deserve it.