The role of the Reformed Churches in the practice of placing children in foster homes and indentured labor in the 19th and 20th century

So far, only little is known about the role of the Reformed Churches in the practice of placing children in foster homes or indentured labor in the 19th and 20th century. The Federation of Swiss Protestant Churches (FSPC) has made it a priority to come to terms with this past, as many children and adolescents were exploited and abused for many years while the authorities, the churches and society turned a blind eye. For this reason, the FSPC organized a conference on March 21 in Bern, at which historians and experts from the political sphere addressed the question of Reformed participation in the practice of out-of-home placement during that period.
Photo credit: Paul Senn, FFV, Bern Art Museum, Dep. GKS©GKS.

“Many children who were taken away from their families did not find a better life in foster homes or as indentured children than at home. That is the real scandal, not the practice of placing children out-of-home as such,” historian Thomas Huonker told his audience, about sixty conference participants who had travelled to Bern from all over Switzerland: members of the Reformed Church, scholars and researchers, and former victims.

 

Due to a lack of governmental or social structures, pastors or other persons involved in the church played a role in supervising or caring for the children placed with foster families or in foster homes. Although some of them decried the wrongs of the system, it is utterly disturbing to see how many others failed to fulfil their duty to defend the weakest members of society.

 

The aim of the conference was to inspire critical thought and to encourage further research about the role of the Reformed Churches in out-of-home placement until 1981. This process is also intended to increase recognition of the victims‘ suffering. The FSPC seeks to ensure that the topic of the conference will be further developed in the context of an upcoming national research program.

 

The lectures held during the conference are expected to be published by the end of 2016. The conference proceedings will contain the lectures of all speakers and will be supplemented with other contributions.

 

The following lectures were held at the conference:

 

Dr. Thomas Huonker, Historian, Member of the Independent Expert Commission Tasked with Conducting a Scientific Review of Administrative Detention (UEK) - Die Praxis fürsorgerischer Zwangsmassnahmen bis 1981: das politische, soziale und geistige Umfeld, die Akteure, die Betroffenen. [The Practice of Administrative Detention Until 1981: Political, Social and Intellectual Context, Agents, Victims.]

Dr. Loretta Seglias, Historian, Member of the Independent Expert Commission Tasked with Conducting a Scientific Review of Administrative Detention (UEK) - Protestantische Akteure der Fremdplatzierungspraxis in der Deutschschweiz – eine erste Annäherung [Protestants Involved in the Practice of Out-of-Home Placement in German-Speaking Switzerland – a Preliminary Approach]

Prof. Pierre Avvanzino, Honorary Professor at the Ecole d’Etudes sociales et pédagogiques Lausanne - Protestantische Akteure der Fremdplatzierungspraxis in der Romandie [Protestants Involved in the Practice of Out-of-Home Placement in Romandy.]

Prof. Dr. Luzius Mader, Deputy Director of the Swiss Federal Office of Justice, Delegate for Victims of Administrative Detention -Handlungsmöglichkeiten der reformierten Kirchen im Prozess der Aufarbeitung [Possible Courses of Action for the Reformed Churches in the Process of Coming to Terms with the Past]

Florian Fischer, Historian, Scientific Archivist, Synod Council Member of the Reformed Church of Lucerne -Handlungsmöglichkeiten der reformierten Kirchen im Prozess der Aufarbeitung [Possible Courses of Action for the Reformed Churches in the Process of Coming to Terms with the Past]

Manuel Tornare, National Council SP (GE) - Die Aufarbeitung der Fremdplatzierungspraxis aus politischer Perspektive [Coming to Terms with the Practice of Out-of-Home Placement from a Political Perspective]