In the 1950’s, Fulton State Hospital officials heard frequent requests from distraught parents and community agencies about children with severe behavior problems. There was no place for these children to go. There had been children at the hospital before, but nothing like the new numbers. By 1962, there were 175 children, between the age of six and seventeen, living in the old South Wards, a building that dated back to the Civil War. Some were delinquents, but others came to Fulton because they were neglected, abused, abandoned, or could not adjust to foster homes.
One aide remembers, “We had retarded kids, autistic kids, kids with psychiatric disorders, kids with behavior problems . . all mixed together.”
The old buildings looked menacing from both the outside and the inside. One social worker remembers the kids taking advantage of their horror movie accommodations. “The kids used to go into the bathrooms and turn off the lights and scare each other.”
In 1971, the Warren E. Hearnes Child and Youth Center opened. The six building complex included a residential unit, a school, a gymnasium, a recreational center, and an outpatient center. Children as young as three or four came to the outpatient center.
It was a brief experiment. The school closed in the mid-eighties, and the last children left Fulton State Hospital in 1991.