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To the State Board of Charities:
Your committee on idiots and feeble-minded respectfully reports that the several institutions of this class have been visited by the members of this committee during the past year, and we desire to preface our detailed report upon each institu tion with some general statements which call for special consideration and early legislative action.
The policy of the State, in caring for its dependent and defective wards, is the outgrowth of an experience, which has gradually evolved a system of relief for certain classes of cases. The feeble-minded and idiotic have been separated from the several groups of dependents, among whom they were scattered promiscuously, and have been segregated into separate institutions specially adapted for their custody and care. They have been classified by the establishment of three custodial institutions, the Syracuse State Institution for Feeble-Minded Children who are teachable; the Rome State Custodial Asylum for idiotic and less teachable, and the State Custodial Asylum for FeebleMinded Women at Newark.
In these institutions are gathered about fourteen hundred inmates, the Syracuse institution having over five hundred inmates, and each of the others over four hundred. This provision, however, falls far short of meeting existing demands, as there are still many feeble-minded children and adults in the several establishments for public relief, and in the private charitable institutions throughout the State.
In the State institutions for the care of the feeble-minded, a discriminating classification demands somewhat extensive
changes. The capacity of each of these institutions is already fully taxed, and, consequently, additions and extensions to each are imperatively necessary. By a readjustment of the inmates, if increased accommodations are provided, a transfer of about one hundred and fifty adults from Syracuse can be effected. Of these, about one hundred men can be sent to Rome, and fifty women to the institution at Newark. This would provide for the reception of this number of young and teachable cases at the Syracuse institution. An extension of the institutions at Rome and at Newark is, therefore, urgently demanded.
Even this amount of additional accommodation will be insufficient to provide for the cases still under care in other public and private institutions. In nearly every community of the State, also, may be found children of teachable age who are more or less feeble-minded and who, in this early period, are capable of receiving and profiting by a special education, under favorable circumstances, which may prepare them for partial if not for full self-maintenance, and, at least, enable them to become harmless members of families in which they may be maintained.
The continuance of these feeble-minded cases in the community is an evil, and they should be promptly removed to a proper environment. In the family, in the school or in an institution, where there are children, the presence of the idiotic or feebleminded is very pernicious. In his early years the child is imitative; he readily takes up peculiarities of manner or of speech. The mingling of normal children with the feeble-minded is of no benefit to the feeble-minded, but may be productive of lasting mental injury to the normal child. For this reason, therefore, provision should be made for the proper custody and care of all feeble-minded children separate from those of normal capacity.
The older cases of feeble-minded persons are a menace to society for the reason that, having little or no self-restraint and mental control, they are liable to increase the number of illegitimates in their communities, as well as to propagate a degenerate offspring. For this reason, the necessary provision should be made for their proper segregation.
A far larger number of such cases call for custody and care than is generally supposed. Indifference and failure to appreciate the important bearing of this question, tends to perpetuate a condition which is a menacing one. We, therefore, urge that this Board use all legitimate and reasonable efforts to secure such consideration of the subject by the next Legislature as shall secure the necessary appropriation for the extension of the institutions referred to.
We would call attention to another condition which this committee has considered in previous reports. The institutions of this class afford an extended field for scientific observation and research as to the causes of defect and degeneracy. In thus gathering its dependents into special classes, the State not only provides for their humane treatment, but it also should require that such treatment be conducted on scientific lines, and that the results of such scientific observation shall be a matter of record, from which generalizations of great importance can be deduced. Thus, each individual ward, on entering an institution, should be made the subject of special study, and all facts of his family history ascertainable, and of his own individual life history and condition, should become a matter of record. If we are to lessen the conditions of dependency and defect in our communities, we must first seek and recognize the causes of such defect and degeneration. This can be done by the scientific study of these cases. Such observation and study and the generalizations drawn therefrom, can only be made by properly qualified medical officers.
The deficiency in this direction is very noticeable. The provision for medical officers is limited almost entirely to a custodial service. This has been especially the case at Newark. Here the superintendent is a layman, and the inefficiency of the medical department has been a source of almost constant embarrassment to the administration. The small salary paid secures a single resident medical attendant, of moderate professional capacity, and makes no provision for scientific observation or records. At Rome and at Syracuse, the superintendents,
although able physicians, are almost exclusively occupied by the duties of supervision, with little opportunity for scientific work, and the assistant medical staff is too limited to admit of extended organization for such a purpose. We feel that a reorganization of this part of the administration of these institutions is essential, in order that the State may secure and make available the scientific data which this extensive field of observation will afford, if properly cultivated.
SYRACUSE STATE INSTITUTION FOR FEEBLE-MINDED
Syracuse, N. Y.
This institution has a capacity for 546 inmates. The number of inmates present October 1, 1900, was 546. There were admitted during the year 63, making the total number under care for the year ending September 30, 1901, 609. The average number present during the year was 515.
Owing to inadequate provision for the large number of the teachable feeble-minded who are residents of this State, this institution has, unfortunately, been turned aside from its legiti mate function as a school for the education of feeble-minded youth. This has been caused by the necessary retention of a large number of adult feeble-minded persons who, although originally admitted to the institution when young, have been retained for want of accommodations elsewhere. In addition to these, others were admitted too old to be improved by a course of training planned for younger and more susceptible cases. At the present time one-fourth of the inmates are above twenty-one years of age, and should be removed to give place. to children who may derive benefit from the special instruction given in this institution. This change, however, will be impossible until provisions for the accommodation of such persons are established at the custodial asylums at Rome and Newark, to each of which a portion of this adult population should be removed. These institutions, however, are crowded to their
fullest capacity, and the necessity for increased accommodations for this class of defectives is now very great.
It is desirable that immediate measures be taken to restrict this institution exclusively to the training and care of those feeble-minded youths who can be taken at as early a date as practicable and receive the benefit of such education as is afforded here.
Some important improvements are needed in this institution. A better system of baths should be provided by the removal of the old bathtub and the substitution of the spray bath. This change is urged on both economical and sanitary grounds.
The stairways should be arranged for the safety of the inmates in the event of fire. This has been proposed heretofore, but, owing to lack of funds, was not done.
Another important change should be effected by which a much more complete separation between the sexes can be secured than is at present the case.
STATE CUSTODIAL ASYLUM FOR FEEBLE-MINDED WOMEN. Newark, N. Y.
This asylum has a capacity for 410 inmates. The number of inmates present October 1, 1900, was 414. Thirty-five were admitted during the year, making the total number under care 449. The average number present during the year was 413.
The improvements to the grounds have progressed favorably and a new building was completed during the past year. The work is of good character. The grading about the new cottages has improved the general appearance of that section of the grounds.
The electric light plant has been put in order for regular service, but the capacity of the dynamo seems to be insufficient for all the lighting that may be required. The improvements in the "A" building, in the main office and in other parts are completed and satisfactory.