I wonder if it's possible to rehabilitate the image of "institutions," as in, "Let's do away with those awful mental institutions so those poor people can be treated in the community." Well, that one didn't work out too well, did it? Or there's, "Orphanages are such cold, heartless places. We must get children into families." Yes, foster care has worked out so much better.
So hoorary for the Indiana department of the American Legion for speaking out for the institution it has helped support for 143 years:
Indiana Legion spokesman Stephen Short said Thursday the 125,000-member organization is nearly unanimously opposed to the decision to close the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Children's Home in Knightstown. The group will meet with state officials this weekend at the Legion's annual midwinter conference to discuss its concerns.
[. . .]
The Indiana State Department of Health said this week it would close the home about 25 miles east of Indianapolis and move the 114 students in grades 5-12 into community settings in May. The state cited the costs to renovate and maintain the facility, which was founded in 1865 to care for children of Civil War veterans and once housed 1,000 children.
I can understand the state's fiscal concerns in these troubled times. It cost $10 million to run the home last year, and the state health commissioner says it would cost $65 million to $200 million to renovate the 50-acre, 53-building campus. But that's not all that's going on here:
We really need to put our money into services, not bricks and mortar,” Monroe said. “Institutionalizing children is just not where society is at today.”
Opponents of the decision, hundreds of whom have signed an online petition urging Gov. Mitch Daniels to reconsider, say the move is shortsighted and overlooks the reason children were sent to the home in the first place.
“If you've got a better plan, come up with it and then talk about closing the home,” Short said. “They don't have a plan. The Department of Health's plan is to mainstream these kids back in their local communities. Well, if they could go to their local communities, they wouldn't be at this home in the first place.”
Of course they lack a plan. It's enough to just have a big heart and want to get those poor kids out into the mainstream. If there's a word more lofty in intent but disastrous in effect than "mainstream," I'd like to know what it is. Many of the protests about the colsing are coming from alumni of the home who talk about how it turned their lives around.
We tend to think of these institutions in terms of their darker counterparts, such as prisons and debtors' houses, where punishment is the order of the day and the keepers are indifferent or even brutal to the needs of individuals. Maybe we should think of them as more like the institutions we need sometimes, like hospitals. Yes, hospitals are run by strangers who treat us as interchangeable patients instead of the wonderful individuals we all are, but they have the experts who know how to treat us, and having us all in one place makes things easier for them and us.
Sometimes people need the kind of care and attention they can't get out in "the mainstream," where they are scattered throughout the population. They need the care and attention of experts who have them all in one place and can see immediately how their treatments affect a wide variety of recipients.
That means institutions. And how much easier is it to spot and fix one faulty insitution than, say, hundreds of foster parents scattered across the state who might not be getting adequate supervision?