The devastating influenza epidemic of 1918 orphaned many Italian children of Boston's North End, and the community and clergy responded by establishing the Italian Home for Children to care for these orphans. During the first fifty years, Franciscan sisters devoted their lives to raising and teaching thousands of children at the Home.
As decades passed, the needs of the children arriving at the Home began to reflect more complex crises. Today, the Home's focus is providing residential and day treatment services for children of all nationalities with emotional and behavioral needs.
Licensed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Home provides a comprehensive network of services to boys and girls with emotional challenges between the ages of 4 and 14. All of the services provided by the Italian Home for Children are directed toward our primary goal: the reunification of the children with their own or alternative families and/or the preservation of families at risk.
Italian Home for Children exists to help children and their families thrive through progressive programs.
- Protect the rights of children;
- Promote the highest standards of education, care and treatment for children;
- Support and preserve the relationship between a child and his/her family and community;
- Accept the family system as the one in which the child is most likely to succeed;
- Assist children and families in all efforts that promote a healthy reintegration at the earliest possible time;
- Exist as a resource for children and families irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability, religion or national origin.
Boston's North End - 1918.
As it had ravaged the world, the influenza epidemic of 1918 devastated Boston's congested North End, and left hundreds of orphans in its wake. Touched by this tragic crisis, Father Antonio Sousa, O.F.M. pastor of St. Leonard's Church (the first Italian parish in New England, established in 1875) took the cause to heart, and set about to mobilize the Italian community.
The orphaned children of the North End became the subject of Sousa's sermons and numerous letters sent to other Italian Roman Catholic Churches in the Boston Archdiocese. On October 10, 1919, a group of 42 Italian-Americans gathered at St. Anthony's Hall adjacent to St. Leonard's to organize and select a Board of Directors and Incorporators to create the first Home for Italian Children in Massachusetts.
In the spring of 1920, the fundraising campaign enabled the purchase of the Gahm Estate in Jamaica Plain, a 10-acre farm with farmhouse and barn. Cardinal O'Connell arranged for Sister Mary Valentina, a Missionary Franciscan Sister of the Immaculate Conception and teacher at St. Anthony's school in the North End, to operate the Home for Italian Children with six members of her order.
The Home for Italian Children officially opened February 10, 1921 with 30 girls aged 4-14 in residence. In 1929 admission broadened to include boys. From 1921-1969, the Home cared for approximately 115 children annually. The average age was 10 and the average stay was one year, although it ranged from 6 months to 10 years. Unlike most other orphanages and child welfare agencies of the time, children were not placed as domestic servants (as that was not the custom for Italians); or transferred to other institutions; or placed with foster or adoptive families. Rather, most of the children at the Home simply remained there until they could return to their parents or relatives or until an older sibling could care for them.
At its beginning, the Home's founders had the foresight to also concern themselves with "other children of Italian parentage, whose parents are unable for any cause to support them properly." The Home therefore was founded on by-laws that gave it a continuing function for children long after the aftermath of the influenza epidemic. Over the years, the needs of children referred to the Home did indeed change. The agency began to change the nature of its services - from only Italian children to children of all races, nationalities and religions, and from custodial care to treatment.
Subsequently, children with behavioral and family problems, many of them victims of abuse or neglect, were also accepted. By the early 1960s, the professional services of a social worker, consulting psychologist and teachers were added to supplement the work of the Sisters and services to the children. In 1974, in response to the changing political and social climate, the Home's name was changed. Keeping its ties to the Italian community, the agency became the Italian Home for Children. By the mid-1970's, the Home had become a residential treatment center providing clinical services for emotionally challenged children of all nationalities and races.
From 1979-1984, a full range of clinical and educational services was developed. The main building was renovated to create modern, cottage-style units and additional office space. In 1985, the Home added an emergency shelter program for immediate care for children at risk. With the help of a capital campaign in the early 1990's, the Mary Savioli Pallotta Educational Center was built to house all the educational services at the Home. In 2000, the Italian Home for Children acquired Cranwood Group Home in East Freetown, MA to expand its residential services. In 2001, in a joint venture with the Walker Home and School, the Italian Home acquired the Brighton Allston Mental Health Association to complete its continuum of services.
In the fall of 2005, after several years of hard work, the Italian Home received notification that we have been nationally accredited by the Council On Accreditation (COA). COA accreditation attests that an organization meets the highest national standards and is delivering the best quality care to the community it serves. For more information on the COA, click here.
The Italian Home is a residential and day treatment facility for emotionally and behaviorally challenged children of all races, nationalities and religions. On any given day about 100 children attend the programs in the Jamaica Plain campus, while about 20 children are enrolled in the Cranwood programs in East Freetown, MA. The Italian Home for Children specializes in the assessment and treatment of a variety of behavioral and mental health concerns. Every year the Italian Home assists hundreds of children and provides its services to children throughout Massachusetts.
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