History of Southbury Training School
From the Past to Now
The Southbury Training School (STS) is a state-of-the-art residential care facility for the intellectually and developmentally disabled (I/DD) population of Connecticut.
The Early Days
STS, built after the Great Depression as part of the national Work Projects Administration program, opened its doors for the first time in 1940.
The school, comprised of 125 colonial-style cottages spread over 1,400 acres of farmland in Southbury, represented a pioneer vision for long-term care for I/DD people who had the right to life but needed constant supervision and services just to live.
By 1969, the population at STS peaked at 2,300 residents. It was viewed as a model self-sustaining facility attracting parents from all over the country seeking a safe environment for their severely disabled sons and daughters to live out their lives.
Controversy and Challenge
However, in the 1970s STS experienced a shortage of state-run staff, which caused difficult challenges at the school.
During that time, Willowbrook State School for children with intellectual disabilities in New York City made national news for its deplorable conditions.
Willowbrook rightfully closed in 1987. But the controversial institution stirred a shift in attitude concerning the rights of I/DD individuals. A push from disability advocates to mainstream I/DD individuals into communities by living within group home environments instead of state-run institutions became the focus, which led to the state-level decision to close new admissions to STS in 1986.
At that time, the population was over 1,000. Today, there are 313 aging residents living at STS. As the population dwindles at STS, the waiting list for group home placement for other I/DD individuals in Connecticut continues to grow. The waiting list is well over 1,000, with some families waiting 25 years to find a suitable living arrangement for their loved ones, such as those available at STS. Even so, new admissions at STS remain closed.
STS Meets Federal Mandates
In 1984 the federal government sued the state of Connecticut over staff shortages and conditions at STS. Within a ten-year period, and through the oversight of a federally appointed special master of the school, the State has complied with all mandates for improvement at STS and, since 2006, has been released from federal oversight.
Today, STS is a progressive model for long-term care solutions for I/DD individuals. It provides a group-home environment within a serene country setting, has a modern, state-of-the-art dental clinic, and provides dental and medical services for its residents as well as short-term care for I /DD individuals living in Connecticut.
The Messier Settlement
Though STS serves as a model institution for people with severe disabilities, another lawsuit, Messier v. Southbury Training School, challenged the guardians of STS residents to consider the “rights” of their loved ones to live within a community setting instead of being “segregated” from others by living in an institution.
This is well intentioned by disability advocates, but the majority of STS residents do not have the intellectual or developmental capabilities to live within a community setting. And many more severe I/DD individuals on the waiting list in Connecticut are in need of the high level of care and expertise the dedicated and trained staff at STS provides its residents. Many staff members have worked with these residents for years. They know them, love them and understand their special needs.
The settlement stipulates that guardians of STS residents be given first priority over those on the waiting list should a group home opportunity become available and they decide to move their loved ones from the stable environment at STS.
Though the Messier settlement has given families of loved ones at STS the opportunity to explore other group home environments, many prefer to keep their loved ones at STS where they know their loved ones will continue to receive the highest standards of care from compassionate professionals experienced in treating I//DD individuals.
STS is the Waiting List Solution
As a state-run institution, STS has seen, and has successfully overcome, its share of challenges over the years.
Today, the school’s beautiful campus, modern health facilities and cottage-style residencies are contradictions to the dark image of “institution” for the intellectually and developmentally disabled. Visitors on any day are greeted with smiling, caring and compassionate staff, clean and cheerful facilities, and comfortable home-style living conditions.
Connecticut is facing a crisis of finding group home settings for I/DD individuals who have the right to long-term, quality-of-life care. STS can be part of the solution to this crisis.
Help us influence lawmakers in Connecticut to open admissions to the Southbury Training School.
STS History Time Line
1940 – Southbury Training School opens its doors.
1969 – Population peaks at 2,300 residents.
1980s to present – Disability advocates pressure states to close institutional facilities for I/DD individuals and to mainstream them into group homes within communities.
1985 – Department of Justice (DOJ) challenges adequacy of services at STS.
1986 – State of Connecticut enters into a Consent Decree with the federal government to improve medical care and conditions at STS.
1986 – New admissions close at STS.
1992 – STS is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
1996 –Messier v. Southbury Training School is filed, challenging the rights of I/DD individuals to be transferred from STS into group homes within communities.
1997 – Special master is appointed by the federal government to ensure that STS and the State of Connecticut comply with the DOJ’s order to improve facilities at STS.
1997-2006 – STS meets all federal mandates and becomes a state-of-the-art model of institutional care for its residents.
2006 – STS is released from judicial oversight.
2008 – Messier v. Southbury Training School lawsuit finds STS in compliance with federal mandates for improvements at STS.
2010 –Messier v. Southbury Training School settlement is reached concerning group home community placement of STS residents.