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of the D.A. Blodgett Homes for Children
The Pioneering Years (1887-1933)
In 1887 a group of Grand Rapids women felt concern over the plight of children whose own families had broken. They organized under the name of The Children's Home Society and were incorporated in 1892. Their inspired and vital leaders were Mrs. Delos A. Blodgett and Mrs. M. J. Clark. Mr. Delos A. Blodgett purchased a house for their use but it was soon outgrown. In 1908, Mr. Blodgett with his son, John Blodgett, built for the Children's Society the imposing red brick institution at 920 Cherry Street S.E., where its white pillars were a distinguished symbol of its contribution to institutional care of children. The stated purpose of the organization at the time was to care for children who were: 1) nameless; 2) homeless; 3) wards if the juvenile courts; 4) sick babies needing special nursing care; and 5) children of parents who are temporarily disabled or without means. It was a clearly defined program meeting a wide community need.
Improvement of children's physical health was emphasized, since malnutrition and disease were widespread conditions. National interest was focused on Blodgett Home when the institution started a breast-feeding program for undernourished infants. Distribution of mother's milk brought a greatly reduced infant mortality rate. The Babies Welfare Guild was formed at this time to assist in financing this experiment. The board of the Blodgett Home followed this project by organizing the Clinic for Infant Feeding providing a community-wide service which later became part of the agency now known as the Community Health Service. This clinic was successful and produced records indicating a reduction of 50% in deaths of children under two years and 56% reduction in babies under one year. During one year at the Home there were four outbreaks of scarlet fever. The agency board and staff became interested in the cost of such epidemics. In 1911 the board made a study of one epidemic and arrived at the figure of $100,000. This was the first study of its kind and it drew national attention, being publicized by the Russell Sage Foundation for many years.
Medical and dental services were of the highest caliber. Individual physicians and dentists, as well as the Kent County Medical and Dental Societies provided dedicated volunteer hours to the children in Blodgett Home.
In 1917 Blodgett Home became a charter member of the Federation of Social Agencies of Grand Rapids, which developed into the Community Chest, and later the United Fund.
The first camping program was started in 1919. A summer fresh air camp was initiated; it grew into Camp Blodgett when the present site of the camp of forty acres on Lake Michigan was given by Mr. and Mrs. John W. Blodgett. The Babies Welfare Guild enlarged its interest to include the camp and became an important source of financial and directive support. Mrs. Joseph Hart, Mrs. Robert Hill and Mrs. George Graves were devoted volunteer workers, throughout many years in developing the camping program. The aim was mainly improvement of the physical condition of children in the Home, but it was also thought of as a vacation outing for the institutional inmates.
The idea of temporary foster care occurred to the board of Blodgett Home as early as 1910. During that year the agency placed children in boarding homes for the first time. Historically, on a national level, Blodgett Home was among the earliest to put into practice this concept of child care. Records of the agency in 1911 indicate that the board was concerned about children having to remain long in the institution. Special regard was felt for babies under one year and instructions were made to nurses and assistants to give as much attention as possible to all infants. Consideration was given to the idea of hiring a person whose exclusive function would be to mother the babies. In 1920 the first social worker was employed and the case work approach to each child resulted in rapid movement of children out of the institution into foster homes. By 1923 the foster care program was an established policy. Miss Mary Hefferan and Mrs. Fred M. Deane Sr. provided inspiration and impetus for these developments.
In 1932 the financial crisis of the Depression brought a local need for drastic budget curtailment and resulted in a merger of Blodgett Home and the Grand Rapids Branch of the Michigan Children's Aid Society. In 1933 an agreement was reached with both agencies and the Community Chest. The boards of both agencies combined and the operation proceeded under the Joint Children's Board. Under this arrangement Blodgett Home participated in the state-wide child-care program of the Michigan Children's Aid Society. All adoptions were handled through the state office.
Today, the D. A. Blodgett Services for Children and Families is located at 805 Leonard St. N. E., Grand Rapids and offers a wide range of services.