Highlights of The Baby Fold’s first century of
Baby Fold began through the generosity of Nancy
Mason, a churchwoman in Normal, who donated her
residence to the Methodist Episcopal Deaconess Society
in 1899. Mrs. Mason intended for her home
to be used to house both active and retired deaconesses.
Deaconesses were women who were trained as nurses,
educators, evangelists, social workers, and administrators
to perform mission work, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Methodist Deaconesses operated the Bloomington Deaconess
Hospital from 1897 to 1901. The Mason Deaconess
Home for Aged was incorporated as a not-for profit
institution of the State of Illinois on May 1, 1902.
From 1902 to 1905 the Mason Deaconess Home was devoted
largely to caring for retired deaconesses, although
some young children were referred by the McLean
County court and were cared for on a temporary basis.
In 1904 the agency changed its name to N. A. Mason
Deaconess Home and School. By this time the home
was already being referred to as a “baby fold,”
a biblical reference to Jesus as the Good Shepherd.
The agency changed its name again in 1908, this
time to Mason Deaconess Home and Baby Fold.
The final name change occurred in 1941 when the
agency officially became The Baby Fold.
the agency’s history children have been housed at
The Baby Fold. Initially infants and young
children stayed at The Baby Fold because there was
nowhere else for them to receive care if they were
orphaned or otherwise dependent. An infant
nursery remained one of The Baby Fold’s programs
until it closed in 1971. In 1961 The Baby
Fold began caring for children with mental disabilities.
A residential program for children with emotional
disabilities was established in 1966, a precursor
to the present
for children ages 3 to 12 years old with severe
emotional and behavioral disabilities.
Adoption is another core service of The Baby Fold
that has continued throughout the agency’s existence.
evolved from a rather informal home-finding service
for orphaned and dependent children to a highly
regulated service that has earned recognition for
the quality and range of services provided to both
children and families. When William A. Hammitt
was the superintendent of The Baby Fold, he was
instrumental in leading the way for legal reforms
in adoption and child welfare in Illinois that occurred
in the 1940’s. The Baby Fold aggressively
sought adoptive homes for children with special
needs due to their age, race, sibling status, or
physical, mental, or emotional condition long before
most other agencies considered these children “adoptable.”
In the 1990’s The Baby Fold was recognized for its
ability to find adoptive homes for children with
severe disabilities. Beginning in 2001 The
Baby Fold offered inter-country adoption services
in response to the plight of homeless children around
the world and the desire of local families to adopt
these children. Post
adoption services are available to anyone who
received adoption services through The Baby Fold
as a birth parent, adoptive parent, or adopted person.
| Special education services, now
offered through Hammitt
School, were a natural outgrowth of the
educational components that were formerly provided
to children in residence at The Baby Fold.
As The Baby Fold began to serve children with severe
disabilities it was only logical to offer day treatment
services to children who were able to live at home,
but required special education services that were
not available in their local public schools.
Special education services were first offered through
the Child Development Center in 1971. Following
expansion of the Child Development Center in 1983
the program was renamed Hammitt School, in honor
of Dr. William A. Hammitt and Gwendolyn Hammitt,
who were superintendents of The Baby Fold from 1939-1974.
Hammitt School provides a therapeutic setting for
children with behavioral and emotional disabilities.
Emphasis is placed on the learning of positive behaviors
and carryover into the home environment. Hammitt
High School opened in 2002 to provide
high school students with severe behavioral disabilities
the specialized setting and instruction to help
prepare them for adult living.
| From its early history The
Baby Fold recognized that children flourished best
in a home setting. That is why adoption was
sought for young children who could not be returned
home. As the number of infants in the nursery
declined, The Baby Fold acted on its conviction
that young children could best be cared for in foster
homes rather than in an institutional setting.
The Baby Fold’s foster care program expanded significantly
in the 1980’s through a contract with the
Illinois Department of Children and Family
As The Baby Fold’s foster care program developed,
several distinct types of foster care emerged.
Home of relative foster care allowed children to
remain with relatives who could ensure their safety
and became the most prevalent in The Baby Fold’s
care services. Specialized and professional
foster care focused on providing therapeutic services
for children with severe behavioral, emotional,
or medical needs.
services have existed throughout The
Baby Fold’s history, but were first formally recognized
in 1957 when The Baby Fold approved the provision
of services to unmarried mothers. This program
evolved into the
Counseling program that continues today,
assisting expectant parents with the necessary plans
and decisions related to pregnancy and birth.
In the 1990’s several other family-based and preventive
services emerged. Adoption and Subsidized
Guardianship Preservation Services help maintain
families that are struggling due to the unique challenges
of how their families were formed. Healthy
Start educates and supports new parents in caring
for their children. Family Services Initiative
provides resources, referrals, and supports to families
that are at risk for child abuse and neglect.
Safe Child helps young children, their parents,
and teachers recognize and avoid potentially abusive