If when you see the phrase “group home,” memories of stories from the news like the police raid at the Davis, California Families First campus in the spring of 2013, you’re missing the much bigger story nationwide. Group-based homes from Utah, Idaho, Georgia, southern California, North Carolina, Florida, and Texas say otherwise. WinGate Wilderness, Liahona Academy, Teen Treatment Center, Zion Educational Systems, Discovery Ranch and Teen Challenge point to countless success stories within their ranks.
“WinGate Wilderness Therapy is one of the leading therapeutic programs in the nation for troubled teens…providing innovative and effective treatment for mental health issues…substance abuse, addiction, and behavioral issues…[our] group homes for struggling adolescents are also able to help teens with…low self-esteem, academic failure, sexual promiscuity, defiance disorder…[and] traumatic experiences.”
WinGate Wilderness Therapy, 2018
A group home, or a group-based home, the way it was intended and is most effective, is a private residence used for children or young people who cannot, for the time being, live with their families. Typically, there are no more than six residents, and there is at least one trained caregiver there 24 hours a day. In some models, there is a house manager, a night manager, a weekend activity coordinator, and part-time teachers to provide academics.1
Another context in which the expression “group home” is used is referring to residential child care communities, providing residential services as part of the foster care system. There is a considerable variety of different group-based home models and organizations who care for children and youth who cannot stay with their birth families.1
There is approximately 500 such group-based home program nationally. This variation of residential treatment is one way for communities to provide much needed therapeutic foster care, family support, case management, crisis-emergency services, outpatient and day services, and home-based services.1
What Sets These Leading Group-Based Home Programs Apart from the News You Hear
Unlike the programs you heard about in the news, programs like WinGate, are staffed by licensed psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors and registered nurses. They know what they are doing. And, regardless of the settings used by these successful group-based home programs, whether they be in the wilderness, school campus, community-based or hospital-like facilities, folks that work there directly with the youth are skilled, knowledgeable, experienced, and genuinely care about the kids.
While there may be as many as 150 or so youths enrolled in successful programs like those listed above, the staff in these programs work with them in individual and small group settings only. Too many struggling youths in one place at one time makes for all kinds of difficulties that compromise any large-scale chances at proper growth and development. Ratios of 2-to-1 are not uncommon, and much more effective when maintaining a safe and productive learning environment.
Further, staff practice targeted therapeutic attention, which is just another way of saying that they provide individualized treatment in carefully crafted plans designed to meet the needs of each and every youth in the program.
And lastly, while being placed in a group-based home program may well be the last resort on a journey of many efforts to help troubled youth, it is not a life sentence or a nightmare that never seems to end. Stays in such programs are meant to be short and very focused, with specific progress monitored as often as is humanly possible.
The Biggest Improvement…What Really Separates Them from the Pack
“Wrap-around programs help coordinate services for children with complex health care needs–including behavioral health issues–and their families.”
Rural Health Information Hub
Instead of traditional case management for youth, or even in addition to, group-based homes are making greater use of the wrap-around service approach. Wrap-around service is an individualized, team-based care planning approach whose intent is to coordinate and integrate the efforts of multiple specialists to help a struggling youth to improve. It is holistic in nature, involving the youth’s family, and is monitored daily. Case management is essentially less intensive than the wrap-around approach and involves one-to-one service delivery between specialist and client. It does not typically involve family members. There is a growing body of research that shows the wrap-around approach is more effective and efficient than the straightforward case management approach.2
1 “Group Homes for Troubled Teens,” Amy Morin, LCSW, 2018.
2 “Wraparound Programs,” Rural Health Information Hub, 2018.