Chapin Hall’s roots go back to 1860, when it was founded as the Chicago Nursery and Half-Orphan Asylum. For the next 100 years, it flourished as a group home for the city’s disadvantaged children. During that period, it was sustained largely through the generosity of private donors.
By the early 1960s, however, the institution then known as Chapin Hall had become increasingly dependent on public funding. As a result, it altered its focus, first to sheltering wards of the state and then to treating emotionally disturbed children. The 1980s brought a fundamental shift in government policy that led to the reallocation of financial support from residential programs like Chapin Hall’s to programs delivering foster care. Faced with the inevitable loss of funding, Chapin Hall’s leaders recognized that they would soon be unable to provide direct services to young people.
In 1984, Chapin Hall’s board of directors resolved to explore new ways of fulfilling their commitment to the interests of children. They turned to the University of Chicago, where faculty members described the pressing need for the kind of research that could help improve the policies and programs intended to promote the well-being of children and youth. These discussions became the foundation for a decision to redefine Chapin Hall as an organization that would engage in research and evaluation, providing information to the policymakers and service providers whose decisions would most directly influence the resources available to young people, their families, and their communities.
Chapin Hall’s leaders entered into an agreement under which the University of Chicago would provide administrative support, a campus home, and an atmosphere conducive to serious inquiry. The result was something unprecedented at the time: a think tank dedicated solely to the issues of young people and affiliated with one of the world’s leading research institutions.