From the time the first social worker was introduced to the Exeter School in 1924 it had been common practice to “place out” able young men and adolescents from the institution onto working farms or into “wage homes”; family owned and operated businesses and private residences wanting cheap labor in return for providing room and board for state wards in the community.
For many, these were the first and only homes such individuals had ever known outside of an institution.
A little over two weeks since my first visit to Exeter had passed on the day I returned to Howe Building, parked my car and went upstairs to look for the attendant. When I came down, Phillip was standing at the bottom of the stairs dressed, smiling happily, and had already put all of his clothing into my car.
His leave-taking was unusual in the respect that all the boys at Howe Building seemed sad to see him go, but he exhibited no remorse whatever about leaving. As he got in the car, he said, “I hope I never see this place again.” I laughed and told him that probably he would want to visit his friends after he had been out a little while. Phillip’s response was “I’ll never want to come near this joint again.” I told the boy that it was a natural attitude for him to have now, but that I was sure his attitude would change and that he would actually miss many of the things that he had done while at this institution.
At first during the ride to Providence Phillip talked about many things. He talked about television. He talked about getting ready to go and he talked about the fact that it was snowing hard. Then there was a prolonged silence, after which Phillip said, “Boy, it was nice to see my mother — it’s nice to have a mother.”
I did not interrupt him at this point, and there was another rather extended silence. After this one, Phillip again began by saying, “My little brother’s cute and did you hear they told me to come visit any time. Boy, it seems already like I wasn’t in Exeter so long.”
I then said to Phillip, “Well, Phil, I’m glad you are happy, but I want you to know that just because you’re out of Exeter, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to like everything that happens from now on.” I then pointed out some of the routines in an institution and how after a prolonged period, a person got used to those routines and depended upon them. Phillip seemed able to see this, and although he was unable to verbalize any expressed comments, he seemed to be attempting to say that the night before this placement, he was afraid of what was going to happen, even though he was so happy that it was going to happen.
I attempted to encourage the boy to express this and finally Phillip said, “Yes, I was scared as hell and the reason I couldn’t tell you was that I thought you would get mad if I said the word hell.” I laughed at this and said that I was sure he had used more profane language and that I would probably hear him say things like ‘hell’ during the times we saw each other.
From this remark, Phil said, “Yes, but a kid always has to be nice with his social worker,” and I laughed again and said, “No, I don’t think this is true. I think the only think a kid has to be with his social worker is himself. Just be exactly what you want to be and then maybe a social worker can do something you want him to do.”
There wasn’t much conversation afterwards for quite some time, and then Phil said he was anxious to go to work. I discussed in detail my knowledge of the personalities involved in the farm placement and attempted to help Phil make his initial adjustment to them. Throughout this entire ride, I was impressed with the fact that Phil’s responses did not seem to come from a feeble-minded boy, and felt strongly that he should be tested in a few months to determine just how much below normal he functions intellectually.
When we arrived in the vicinity of the Pasco farm, Phil recognized spots he had seen before and when we got to the house, he jumped out anxiously and brought his stuff inside. He greeted Mr. Pasco, and Mr. Pasco after saying hello, said to the boy, “Have you eaten?” Phil said no and Mr. Pasco immediately set the household in order to prepare Phil a meal. The three of us talked for a short time until I felt it wise to remove myself and allow this boy to feel at home, feel independent and realize that this was where he was going to live.
Next — Part Five: Dear Miss Linden