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Eliminating Residential Care a Bad Idea

Ken Bender, Boys Town North Florida Executive Director

This editorial is written by Ken Bender, ​Boys Town North Florida Executive Director. It was posted on January 26, 2015.

Boys Town is one of the largest nonprofit child care organizations in the United States, with sites across the country. With nearly 100 years of experience caring for children and families, we are a national leader in the field, providing a wide variety of effective services that are backed by research and positive outcomes.

I offer the following response from Boys Town to the recent article on group homes (“Study questions group homes for children,” Jan. 11).

Unfortunately, the critics of residential care do not differentiate between poor-quality and high-quality residential care. High-quality residential programs, especially those that have a family-style focus, have high levels of youth and family engagement and consistently demonstrate positive outcomes. There are a wide variety of group home programs in operation, and to lump them all together and evaluate them as one is like giving a single grade to a student for all the subjects he or she takes during a semester.

Critics also often ignore research that shows that quality residential care is the best option for a subset of at-risk, high-needs children whose treatment needs cannot be met through less restrictive approaches like foster care and family-based programs.

Foster care cannot be the only out-of-home option for youth who face emotional and behavioral challenges. It is unrealistic to expect foster parents to manage extreme youth behaviors, and when foster care fails, many youth eventually end up in some form of negative living situation (homeless shelters, juvenile justice programs). This only transfers responsibility for the most vulnerable children to less-capable services.

High-quality residential care has been demonstrated to be effective for youth with high needs, especially those who have repeatedly been failed by attempts to help them in less-restrictive interventions. And although quality residential care costs more in the short term, it results in long-term personal and economic benefits for youth, their families and society.

To improve outcomes for at-risk youth in care programs, the focus must be on providing the right services, at the right time, in the right way. For some youth, whose needs cannot or have not been met in less-restrictive settings, quality residential care must be a placement option. Residential care is an essential element of any continuum of care, and oftentimes can be the treatment approach of choice for stabilizing a child, teaching the skills he or she needs for success, and helping to prepare the child for placement in a permanent family.

We agree that at-risk youth whose needs can be met through services like foster care or family-based programs should receive help in that manner. But eliminating quality residential care is not the answer.

Ken Bender is the Executive Director of Boys Town North Florida.

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