A group home is a residential placement for juveniles that operates in a homelike setting in which a number of unrelated children live for varying time periods. Each home typically serves 5 to 15 clients, who are placed there as result of a court order or through interactions with public welfare agencies. The homes may have one set of "house parents" or a rotating staff. Some therapeutic or treatment group homes also employ specially trained staff to assist children with emotional and behavior difficulties.
Group homes of many different kinds have been a popular intervention for juvenile offenders ever since Father Flanagan established his famous Boys Town in 1917. However, there is little research to support their overall effectiveness (Daly, 1996). Indeed, many researchers believe that small group settings that encourage fraternization among delinquents may actually promote disruptive and deviant behavior (Dishion et al., 1996). In the 1980s and 1990s, some group homes were also accused of fostering physical and sexual abuse (Rosenthal, 1991).
The dominant treatment approach being used in therapeutic group homes today is the Teaching Family Model, which was developed at the University of Kansas in the 1960s and replicated at Boys Town in the early 1970s (Phillips et al., 1974). This model relies heavily on structural behavior interventions and highly trained staff who act as parents and live in the group homes 24 hours a day. Other group homes rely more on individual psychotherapy and group interaction (Surgeon General, 1999).
Studies suggest that adolescents placed in therapeutic group homes do experience positive effects on their behavior while they are in homes , but there is little, if any, evidence to suggest that treatment outcomes are sustained over time (Kirigin et al., 1982). In addition, two controlled studies (Rubenstein et al., 1978; Chamberlain and Reid, 1998) comparing the benefits of therapeutic group homes with therapeutic foster homes have clearly demonstrated that foster homes offer several important advantages (lower costs in the first study; fewer criminal referrals and more frequent reunifications with families in the second study).
One explanation for the disappointing long-term outcomes of therapeutic group homes may be the psychological profiles of their clients. Group homes are frequently seen as the "last stop" before secure detention, and the youth referred to them often suffer from serious mental or behavioral problems that have prevented successful placement in foster care (Surgeon General, 1999). To increase the likelihood of long-term positive effects, it is important for group homes to be seen as only one step in a continuum of care-a continuum that emphasizes sustained treatment after discharge from the home (Lipsey and Howell, 2004).
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