Historical Timeline

In the historical timeline presented here, major developments in services offered in the United States from the early 1500s to the twenty-first century, are presented. Services such as outdoor relief, almshouses, and early instances of home visiting that developed in the United States at first mirrored those of Europe. By the middle of the twentieth century innovations in home-based services were occurring in the United States, especially in terms of services provided for young children. At the present time, home visiting services for families with infants and young children are supported by almost every state. This timeline includes services developed for the poor, sick, and immigrant, as well as women and infants, and reflects the dramatic increase in attention to home visiting that began in the twentieth-first century.


Across time, people in need have received care in their own home by family, friends, and neighbors. Service for the poor, in particular, has roots in many world religions and in ancient civilizations. Assistance was provided in the home because this was the only option before the days of institutional care. Formal home care can be dated to Elizabethan England, when services were provided to paupers in their own homes (Fink, Wilson, & Conover, 1963). In the United States, home care can be dated back to colonial America, when care was provided by family and others in the community. When institutional care did become available, home care was often seen as more desirable. Home visiting has most often been prompted by conditions of illness, poverty, or maternal and infant care. Services tended to be initiated and provided by local communities, with nurses, social workers, and teachers being the major providers. Health care was also provided by physicians in the home. Since the time of established institutions for providing care for the sick and those in poverty, advantages and disadvantages of such services have been debated, with beliefs swinging back and forth, between the value of home-based services versus institutional care.