Juvenile detention centers and therapeutic treatment facilities are at the forefront of rehabilitating youthful offenders. But group homes, known for easing the transition between incarceration and return to normal life, help re-set the emotional compasses of troubled children. You’ll need patience and fortitude, but if you understand that the youth you’ll care for need the strength and the structure your facility will offer, you’ll turn some lives around.
Contact your state's Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) to ascertain the need for another group home in your community. Explain your intentions and learn what you’ll be required to do to open a licensed group home facility in your area. Borrow or purchase a guide written for folks wishing to start a group home for youth (see References) to help focus your mission.
Write a business plan that includes a budget for buying or renting a facility, furnishing and equipping the residence. Determine, based on your state’s occupancy limits for group homes, how many children you will legally be able to domicile. Apply for grant funds, loans or other financial help to underwrite the establishment of your group home.
Shop for and acquire a facility that meets the space requirements you’ll need to establish your group home for youth. Have the building inspected before you commit so there are no structural surprises awaiting you down the line. Seek a variance if the property isn’t zoned for multiple occupants. Anticipate resistance from neighbors who may not wish to have a youth group home in their backyard.
Hold a fundraiser to solicit in-kind gifts and cash. Apply for occupancy licenses and permits as required by your community while you await permission to occupy the residence. Work through leasing or mortgage acquisition steps. Take possession of the facility. Fill in the remainder of your needs list by obtaining new or used furnishings, kitchen and laundering equipment, linens and household necessities.
Solicit volunteers to serve on your group home's board of directors. Ask board members to draft and ratify rules and regulations residents must follow while they’re housed at your group home (DCFS can help you with this task.) Submit to occupancy inspections from local authorities.
Hire staff to run your group home for youth. Collect resumes, look for previous experience with youthful offenders, run criminal background checks and hold an orientation to familiarize staffers with the facility’s rules, regulations and operational protocols. Ask staff to submit suggestions for programming ideas that will help transition residents to mainstream living while residing at your group home.
Commit your group home to providing the quality of rehabilitative help that's known to turn lives around. Offer a safe, stable living environment. Teach basic skills like budgeting and household maintenance tasks. Work on interpersonal relationships. Promote educational opportunities and offer career and job counseling. Help residents learn to balance their physical and emotional needs so future visits to your group home will be to thank you for being there when they most needed you.
Take advantage of the training and mentoring help offered by local and state youth-focused agencies committed to making certain new group home facilitators like you are supported from the time they declare their intention to start a group home. Find time to attend workshops and in-service courses devoted to administrative and therapeutic topics so you're always in the loop about new trends and developments.
Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.