Practices of the Past and Willowbrook

Up until this point, OBGYN doctors would tell the parents of Down syndrome children not to expect anything from them and they would be a hardship on the family and eventually institutionalized. Also at this time, two doctors and a social worker from the Willowbrook State Institution, were blowing the whistle on the abuse that was going on there. Although there were many dedicated people there was a lot of abuse going on with underpaid, uneducated people.

Terri was running her pre school from 18 months to 5 years of age while she had a recreation program with some social workers. She got into Willowbrook by offering them a community-based program, which was her way of getting into the federally funded building.

Teri, two doctors, and a social worker met at their homes to discuss ways to get help. They formed an ad hoc committee to gather information and support for the few staff members of Willowbrook who were committed to helping the children. Teri got the local paper involved to expose the abuse with two local reporters and news began to surface on the air and in print.

The first reporter was Jane Curtin from the Staten Island Advance, who did a cover story and one of the doctors from Willowbrook went to school with Geraldo Rivera, who helped to get a lot of coverage. They both showed how children were warehoused, abused and hidden.

Back in 1971, filming was not allowed however Teri would document certain things and while doing so, would see little Ronnie trying to crawl out from behind a door every time it opened. She vowed, if nothing else came out of this, she would get him out – and she did.

This was the beginning of Teri’s adoptive family.