Our History

Over a century ago, Dr. and Mrs. J. R. Townsend founded Children's Home Society of California (CHS) to address the plight of California's homeless and abandoned children. They believed that children belong in homes, not institutions. Committed to that philosophy, the Townsends set out to assist homeless children in Los Angeles.

In 1891, the Townsends secured a charter from the American Education Society for placing "homeless children in childless homes." CHS was then incorporated in the counties of Los Angeles, San Bernardino, and Santa Clara. That year, a child was taken into care and was the first child placed in an adoptive home by CHS. In 1892, CHS expanded its operations to California's Bay Area. This led to the establishment of additional offices and programs throughout the State of California.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was little or no legislation regarding homeless children in California. Unprotected by laws, these children were placed in orphanages and almshouses. In 1910, Hiram Johnson was elected Governor of California and an era of active social legislation began. In 1911, legislation was enacted to license child placement agencies, and CHS received Permit #1 from the newly created State Board of Charities and Corrections.

Children's Home Society of California often took an active role in public policy issues. For example, in 1918, at the request of the Bureau for Exchange of Information, CHS became a founding member of the Child Welfare League of America (CWLA). In 1947, CHS urged legislation to establish public adoption agencies, which passed, enabling county agencies to come into existence.

Since its creation and through the 1960s, CHS played a major role in the field of adoption. In fact, in 1966, CHS was the largest private adoption agency in the world. During our peak year for adoptions in 1968, we placed over 2,000 children in adoptive homes.

As society's needs have shifted and available funding has changed, so too has our organization adapted to better serve the needs of children and families. In the 1970s and 1980s, CHS expanded to a full range of child welfare services, including group home care, child day care, respite foster family care, and services to children living in stressful environments. This change was due to the agency's decreasing number of adoptions and society's increasing need for services for youths.

Beginning in the 1990s, working parents created an escalating demand for child care. To assist in meeting this need, CHS shifted its focus to help families receive quality child care and development services. At the same time, CHS helped more child care providers enter the field, expand their facilities, and increase their standards and levels of professionalism. In the late 1990s, many parents entered the workforce as a result of welfare reform. This further increased demands on an already overburdened child care system. The need for quality child care is still so great it has been called a "national crisis."

Continuing into the 2000s, CHS began to reach out to more families and child care providers across the nation through the creation and expansion of our Family Education Program materials. Since the inception of the program, over 21 million of these colorful, easy-to-read, informative materials have been distributed to parents and professionals alike. The largest distributions occurred from 2008 to 2009, in the aftermath of the economic crisis of 2008. Considered by many economists to be the worst of its kind since the Great Depression, the economic crisis furthered the need for our quality services while also reducing much needed funding.

In the 2010s, CHS has been focusing on expanding our services to children and families at risk and also diversifying our revenue. In 2012, through an unsolicited grant, CHS's Family Resource Services launched the Family Nutrition Program through our San Diego office to address the growing childhood obesity epidemic. Using an individualized, strength-based, family-centered approach, the pilot program served income-eligible families to create relevant, long-term change in the attitudes and behaviors toward nutrition.

At CHS, we will continue to look ahead to guarantee that we are effectively serving children and families, helping inherently strong families become self-sufficient and build a strong foundation for the future. Our ongoing priority will always be to provide high quality services in all of our programs.