The 1950s – Family or Institution
In the 1950s there were two major alternatives – living at home with family or going to an institution. Families received little if any support from public agencies. Until 1954, for instance, no state health department offered any special services for children with developmental disabilities or their families.
Public welfare services were directed largely to long-term institutional care – orphanages, mental hospitals, public and private institutions for people with developmental disabilities, and nursing homes.
The horrors of Willowbrook consumed nearly three decades. Geraldo Rivera’s investigation led to the class action lawsuit that revealed what really transpired inside this institution.