Deinstitutionalization: Family Attitudes Change Dramatically

Revised: March 05, 2003

It is well established that the majority of families of people living in institutional settings are convinced that their relatives are receiving good care, and that they are in the best possible situations for them (Spreat, Telles, Conroy, Feinstein, & Colombatto, 1987).

For decades, however, some researchers have openly questioned the strength of parental defense of the institution’s quality and appropriateness. Klaber (1969) surveyed parents of people in institutions in Connecticut. He found that more than three fourths of them were convinced of the excellence of the facilities. As he summarized, "The parents...were convinced of the excellence of the facilities in which their children were placed ... The praise lavished on the institutions was so extravagant as to suggest severe distortions of reality in this area."

Although parents and other family members approve of the institution, and reject the idea of community movement, these attitudes are not necessarily unalterable. I first detected the phenomenon of dramatic attitude changes in the Pennhurst Longitudinal Study (Conroy & Bradley, 1985). Before community placement, the great majority of families opposed movement of their relatives into CLAs. After community placement, the proportion of families strongly favoring community placement rose dramatically, from less than 20% to over 60%. Similar results were obtained in the Mansfield Longitudinal Study in Connecticut. Tabular and graphical summaries of the overwhelming changes in family attitudes have already been presented.

In addition, it is important to note that radical family change in feelings about community living have recently been documented by other respected researchers in California (Berkeley Planning Associates, 1998). Their table VII-3 of "How Families Saw Community Placement: Then and Now" replicates our own Table 20 of Report 17 (Conroy, Seiders, & Yuskauskas, 1998) to within a few percentage points in practically every cell, and shows even stronger post-relocation satisfaction than we found (89% vs. 83%). Hence there can be little question of the high family satisfaction with California's community alternatives to Developmental Centers.