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Our History

Thom Child & Family Services
90 Years of Community Caring for Young Children andTheir Families

Thom Child and Family Services was founded in 1921 by Dr. Douglas Thom (1887-1951), who established a “habit clinic” at the South End Settlement House in Boston. Although ideas about the root causes of and interventions for developmental and social emotional problems of early childhood have changed during the ensuing 90 years, Dr. Thom’s name is remembered today as a pioneering early interventionist whose mission was, in many ways, similar to ours today.

Dr. Thom founded his Habit Clinic as an outgrowth of the Baby Hygiene Movement of the early 20th Century, to help parents cope with their children’s behavioral and developmental difficulties. He believed that preventing infant mortality and morbidity was essential, but there was also a critical psychological component to healthy child development. With his understanding of the latest theories of human personality development and its expression in childhood, Dr. Thom was, in 1921, recruited by the Boston Baby Hygiene Association as a consultant. Dr. Thom’s work gained both local and national recognition. In addition to his consultations with parents and children, Dr. Thom authored a series of federally supported publications on child rearing practices and children’s social emotional development. More than a million copies of his Habit Clinics for Child Guidance were in circulation by the late 1930s.

Dr. Thom’s work was rooted in the Settlement House Movement of the early 20th Century. His Habit Clinic operated out of the South End Settlement House for its first thirty years. According to Dr. Eveoleen Rexford, Director of the Thom Clinic from 1949-1965, the staffing for Dr. Thom’s Habit Clinic included a full time secretary, a part-time psychiatrist and psychologist and a full-time social worker. One or more of these made home visits in consultation with a community health nurse who worked for the Settlement House. The psychiatrist evaluated the child to determine why the child’s development was not progressing smoothly and “prescribed” what the parent (in those days, assumed to be the mother) should do to help the child. The social worker made a follow-up visit within 6 weeks to see how things were progressing and follow-up office or home visits were often arranged. According to Dr. Rexford, children referred to the Habit Clinic in those days, ranged in age from less than 2 to13 years, with most in the 3-4 year old range at referral.

By the early 1950’s, the Habit Clinic was in transition from a child guidance clinic serving inner city Boston families to an outpatient children’s mental health facility. Eventually, it became a leading training center for Boston area mental health clinicians. In 1952 the Habit Clinic purchased the Hollis Hunnewell house on Dartmouth St. in Boston and was renamed the Thom Clinic in honor of Dr. Thom.

By the 1970’s Thom Clinic services had expanded beyond traditional clinic based mental health services and beyond the geographic boundaries of the City of Boston. In 1976, the Thom Clinic took on contract administration of three pioneering Integrated Preschool Programs and one of the first Early Intervention Programs in the Commonwealth: Anne Sullivan Center Integrated Preschool, Tewksbury; Dimock St. Integrated Preschool, Boston; East Mountain Center Integrated Preschool, Westfield; Westfield Infant Toddler Services, Early Intervention Program, Westfield. The state’s six Regional Integrated Preschool Programs predated Massachusetts’ landmark Chapter 766 legislation and were, from their inception by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health in the early 1970s, a statewide model for inclusion of children with significant disabilities in “regular” preschool classrooms. During this time, the Department of Public Health developed Regional Outreach and Training Teams (associated with their Integrated Preschools) to provide consultation to school systems and preschools who were attempting to integrate children with disabilities. Thom operated two of these programs, in the Northeast and Western regions.

Thom Child and Family Services’ association with Early Intervention and its focus on infants and toddlers birth to three, began in the 1970’s when the agency took on the operation of Westfield Infant Toddler Services, the first Department of Public Health funded Early Intervention Program in Massachusetts. During the 1980s, Thom added additional Early Intervention Programs to its services system while retaining its Mental Health Clinic and facility.  In 1993, the mental health facility in Boston closed and became exclusively focused on serving young children and their families through Early Intervention and Early Intervention linked programs such as the Regional Consultation and the Pregnancy and Newborn Support programs.

Since this time, Thom Child and Family Services has undergone a period of expansion as the Massachusetts Early Intervention population has grown and other agencies have experienced difficulties which prevented them from continuing to operate their EIP(s). Today, Thom Child and Family Services operates fourteen programs across the state - providing critical prenatal and newborn support, Early Intervention to children and families, and training and consultation to others in the early childhood community.  We are proud to be the largest provider of Early Intervention services in Massachusetts and are committed to continuing to meet the needs of infants, toddlers, and families.