Since 1799, children and families in Massachusetts have found helping hands in the various predecessor agencies that comprise what is now The Home for Little Wanderers (The Home). The infrastructure of the present organization reflects a vastly expanded range of services and programs through the merging over the last decade of four major organizations: Boston Children’s Services, The New England Home for Little Wanderers, Parents’ and Children’s Services, and Charles River Health Management. See a timeline of The Home's history of service (PDF).

Throughout their histories, each of the legacy agencies have acted as leaders in providing new and innovative services for children and families in the region:


Placing-out could be temporary or permanent. The child above was boarded out by the Boston Children's Aid Society because her mother was ill.


Boston Children's Services (BCS)

BCS, the oldest child welfare agency in the nation, traces its lineage to the establishment of the Boston Female Asylum, an orphanage, in 1799. BCS is also descended from the Massachusetts Infant Asylum, the first foundling hospital in the U.S., and the North End Mission, a child-care agency and Sunday school founded in 1867. These two organizations merged with the Children’s Aid Association, a diverse child welfare agency whose original mission was to serve as a home for boys who had been released from jail. In 1960, BCS was formed through the merger of the Children’s Aid Association and the Boston Children’s Friend Society, an adoption agency with a history dating from 1883.


The imposing facade of the New England Home for Little Wanderers in 1914.


New England Home for Little Wanderers (NEHLW)

NEHLW was founded in 1865 by 10 Boston area businessmen with an original goal of caring for children who had been orphaned and left homeless by the Civil War. NEHLW was not meant to become a permanent residence for these children, but rather to serve as a way station where they could prepare for a new life. Sometimes that new life was found in families outside of the Boston area - even as far removed as the Midwest. Using trains to transport the children to their new homes, the NEHLW thus became a part of the famous Orphan Train movement.

Since its founding, NEHLW’s programs have expanded beyond adoption services and continued to adapt to the changing needs of the community. During the early part of the 20th century, NEHLW opened branch offices in Maine and Western Massachusetts, acting as a pioneer in bringing child welfare services to other parts of New England. These offices were closed with the eventual emergence of other human service providers.

During World War II, the NEHLW even worked with the U.S. Committee for Care of European Children to shelter and place over 250 young refugees.

Parents’ and Children’s Services (PCS)

Boston was a thriving industrial city in 1849 but, while some individuals prospered, many working class-families were mired in poverty. The destitute families she saw as she walked home from church saddened Fannie Merrill, the nine-year-old daughter of a Unitarian minister. One Sunday, Fannie began collecting pennies from her Sunday school classmates to give to less fortunate families. From this pocket change grew The Children’s Mission to the Children of the Destitute of the City of Boston, a charity that provided needy children with shelter, education, and employment. In the years that followed, the Children’s Mission expanded and adapted to meet the changing needs of the community. The organization incorporated in the 1860s as a non-sectarian charitable agency. After a century of pioneering social service programs, the Children’s Mission changed its name to Parents’ and Children’s Services and continued the mission that Fannie Merrill began that Sunday so many years ago.

The mission of PCS - to promote the well-being of children and the preservation of families through culturally competent direct service, education, and advocacy - was entirely consistent with that of The Home and the merger brought additional depth to the agency’s services.

Charles River Health Management (CRHM)

The New England Home for Little Wanderers acquired Charles River Health Management in July 1998. A for-profit company with contracts from the Massachusetts Departments of Social Services and Mental Health, CRHM specialized in providing mental health care services to children in the latency to adolescent age range. The Home continues to manage and provide services through some of the original CRHM programs, including the Child and Family Counseling Center in Roslindale and the Children's Community Support Collaborative in Brighton.

Continuing the Legacy

As it has for more than two centuries, The Home’s singular focus remains on helping children achieve independence and success from seemingly insurmountable difficulties. We approach our work with equal parts of caring, commitment and enthusiasm, and we understand that the good we have been able to do has been possible through the dedication of our donors, staff, colleagues and the communities in which we serve.