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Star
03-04-2008, 07:28 PM
Greetings Fellow Writers,

Have you, or someone you know, ever lived in a group home (mainly for foster children)? If so, can you share your experience? I need to know who is in charge 24/7, the typical number of staff on board, who cooks the meals, etc.

Also, group homes are understandably restrictive to outsiders. How would I get to tour the home without super credentials?

dolores haze
03-04-2008, 07:43 PM
I've worked in several group homes for children and adults with developmental disabilities. Staff numbers vary depending on the number of residents, how well run the place is, and how "needy" the residents are. Only one place I worked (with twelve kids) actually had a cook. Foster homes may have "house parents"; group homes would have a house manager. Everywhere I've worked had a designated "beeper person" - a manger type that you could call in event of a major problem or emergency.

You could certainly ask for a tour, but maybe a better way to learn about your subject is to do some voluntary work. You're in NY - even volunteers have to undergo a background check, complete with fingerprinting.

If you have any more specific questions - ask away.

Star
03-04-2008, 07:56 PM
Thanks so much for the offer. Now let me ask away!
(The kids in my story aren't disabled)

1) What do you think the curfew is for 15 year olds?

2) Who opens the door when someone visits the Group Home?

3) Is there an actual office inside of the home?

4) When the children go to sleep, do they close the doors to their rooms, or must they leave it open?

5) Are the children required to eat together at mealtime?

6) Any other insights on daily life to give my story the ring of truth?

blackrose602
03-04-2008, 08:02 PM
Hi Star,

I don't know what state your group home will be in, and state laws tend to vary in particulars (client to staff ratio; food safety guidelines, which determine who is allowed in the kitchen; the level of training staff must have; etc). That being said, I can give you some general information about how things work in Florida, from a staff perspective.

I've worked in a variety of facilities for children/teens, and they are anything but standardized. At least here in Florida, though, they fall into two main types. The first is a sort of private home setting. A married couple (there are occasional exceptions, but they're rare) are in charge. They basically serve as "Mom" and "Dad" to a rotating group of kids (usually same-sex) that are awaiting placement. Normally six to eight kids live in the home at any one time. The house is provided by the state and is modified to meet state guidelines regarding number of bedrooms, commercial-style kitchen, etc, and is normally located on a semi-secure piece of state property out in a rural area. A lot of times the kids that end up in this environment are transitioning out of the juvenile justice system, and the state feels that they need the extra security/stability.

The environment is rigorously scheduled, the adults are expected to establish a routine and the kids get very little free time...though it's not a workhouse, a lot of their time is spent on sports and activities, but they are expected to maintain a chore schedule. There are three or four relief workers to provide days off for the married couple and to help out if kids need transportation to doctors, court appointments, things like that.

The second type of facility is more of a warehousing situation, with kids of both genders and all ages awaiting placement. Kids who end up there come from all sorts of backgrounds -- temporary or permanent removal from the home, newly out of juvenile justice, awaiting foster placement, coming off addictions, coming out of a secure mental health facility...you name it.

This type of facility, as you might expect, has a lot more staff. There's a program director in charge. There are generally three or four therapists, a few teachers (few, if any, of the kids are permitted to go off-grounds to school), and five or ten direct-care staff. There are also a couple of nurses and a few case managers. The exact number of staff varies according to the number of kids and the state's client to staff ratio guidelines.

There is normally a food service worker supervising the kitchen, but staff and kids are allowed/expected to help out here in FL. In some states, no one without a food handling license is allowed in the kitchen at all.

The kids sleep in single-sex dorms, and there are at least two overnight staff that position themselves between the dorms to prevent late-night escapes or dorm-shuffling. During the day, they go to classes, participate in activities, sometimes go on field trips (depending on the circumstances). They see a therapist regularly, along with a case manager (who handles practical matters such as lining up doctor visits, managing court dates and visits with their parents, things like that).

As for touring a facility, your best bet is to call your local Department of Children and Families (or whatever they're called in your area) and explain the situation. Some facilities are more secure than others, and they can guide you to one that would be appropriate to visit. It's basically the children's identities that they want to protect, so you may be able to tour the grounds with the Director while the kids are in class or off on a field trip. Stress that you're not a reporter, and you have no interest in taking pictures (pictures are generally a big no-no).

Good luck! Feel free to let me know if you need any more information!!

III
03-04-2008, 08:15 PM
Great responses so far. I've volunteered at group homes and my best friend worked at one for a while. I used to volunteer at the Waco Center for Youth which was a large "group home" with several cottages and about 100 - 150 children. There was a school, administrative offices, gym, chapel, and meal hall on campus. Each cottage had 3 - 4 adult supervisors 24 hours a day. Visitors were required to sign in and out.

The home my friend used to work at was a single home which housed 10 boys and was run by an administrator with 2 - 3 workers there at all times. The kids were accompanied anytime they left the house. All of them were sex offenders.

I think most facilities are happy to tell you about their programs and even give you a guided tour, but the identities of the children are confidential so you need to make very sure you don't use any real-life examples in your books.

In my last book, one of the characters was living in a group home and I found it very helpful to have experienced it firsthand to understand just how difficult it is for these kids, most of whom have been abused, who are all trying to figure out life and deal with medications and loss of freedom and living in close quarters with other troubled youths.

dolores haze
03-04-2008, 08:21 PM
Thanks so much for the offer. Now let me ask away!
(The kids in my story aren't disabled)

1) What do you think the curfew is for 15 year olds?
My hubby works in a residential school. None of the sudents are allowed to go off grounds unattended. In the group homes I worked at, maybe a walk around the block was about as much freedom as we could allow. The staff/home/agency is in 'locis parentis' and would be held liable for whatever happened to the child if left unattended.

2) Who opens the door when someone visits the Group Home?
We encouraged the residents to treat the place as much like home as possible. If they were capable of answering the door appropriately, they were encouraged to do so.

3) Is there an actual office inside of the home?
All of the places I've worked had an office within the home. There needs to be lockable places for confidential records, lockable places for medications, and a place where confidential conversations can be had.

4) When the children go to sleep, do they close the doors to their rooms, or must they leave it open?
There's been a couple of people who had to have their doors open for various reasons (cutters, PICA, seizures). For most people doors were closed for their privacy.

5) Are the children required to eat together at mealtime?
Family style meals were encouraged. If someone insisted on eating alone they were accommodated up to a certain point.

6) Any other insights on daily life to give my story the ring of truth?
Living with a large group of people can be stressful. Being so thoroughly supervised can be a pain. Some staff are excellent, some are average, some are awful. A lot of the kids who have been placed in foster care may have a lot of anger issues, post traumatic stress; may have been removed at their parent's request, or been removed from abusive parents. In short - group homes can be a tough place to live and work in.


Good luck with your story!

Star
03-04-2008, 08:29 PM
Wow, you guys are so freakin' awesome! Thank you so much for sharing. I promise not to overdose on questions, but I need to make my novel as realistic as possible.

I just want to give you a few scenarios. You tell me if they sound believable!

1) My group home will be in a home-like setting with eight girls living there

2) My character is 15 and is sneaking around to date at 22 year old.

3) My character works and goes to summer school. She's admired by all staff so she gets extra privileges.

4) My character has no other family, she's a ward of the state. I need her to sneak out to stay at her boyfriend's house. Can she lie and say she's with a friend? I know that foster children living in foster homes are allowed to stay over a friend's house if they have the social worker visit the home first.

5) Does a foster child stick with the same social worker after they're moved from a foster home to a group home?

6) One of my secondary characters gets killed on the steps of the group home by her abusive boyfriend. Sounds super extreme, but this is a cautionary tale about dating violence. Can you imagine this? Or is this overkill - no pun intended.

7) How does use of the phone work? If my character is dating this 22 year old, is it crazy and farfetched for him to disguise his voice like a girl's so he can talk to her? (I read somewhere that 15 yo aren't allowed to date when they're living in a group home.)

All of your answers and feedback and tidbits will be greatly appreciated. :)

Star
03-04-2008, 08:45 PM
Thank you so much Dolores. :)

johnnysannie
03-04-2008, 10:04 PM
Thanks so much for the offer. Now let me ask away!
(The kids in my story aren't disabled)

1) What do you think the curfew is for 15 year olds?

2) Who opens the door when someone visits the Group Home?

3) Is there an actual office inside of the home?

4) When the children go to sleep, do they close the doors to their rooms, or must they leave it open?

5) Are the children required to eat together at mealtime?

6) Any other insights on daily life to give my story the ring of truth?


I worked in group homes a few years ago; although I was assigned primarily to one home, I often filled in at several others owned by the same folks. One home catered to youth while the others had all ages but I'll answer the questions from what I experienced.

1. The curfew at the one home that had youth was 9pm but they could only go within the neighborhood unless they had specific permission.

2. Staff or some of the more capable residents.

3. There was in each of the homes that I worked in.

4. Our residents were required to leave them open so staff could occasionally check on them during the night.

5. Yes, at a big communal table.

6. You asked about number of staff. The homes I worked at all had the following:
A home manager
A cook/housekeeper
One overnight aid/employee who also prepared breakfast
Minimum of two aids on the evening and/or weekend shifts
Auxilary staff who took residents one on one out in the community for shopping, dining, or medical appointments.
One nurse who split her time between all homes

Star
03-04-2008, 10:07 PM
Thannnnnnkkks Johnny! :)

III
03-04-2008, 10:17 PM
I'm no expert, but here are my opinions:

1) My group home will be in a home-like setting with eight girls living there
Sounds fine.

2) My character is 15 and is sneaking around to date at 22 year old.
Sounds reasonable.

3) My character works and goes to summer school. She's admired by all staff so she gets extra privileges.
Sounds reasonable. Workers focus on the "problem kids" and are happy to have a kid they don't have to watch constantly, especially if that kid is a leader and setting a good example.

4) My character has no other family, she's a ward of the state. I need her to sneak out to stay at her boyfriend's house. Can she lie and say she's with a friend? I know that foster children living in foster homes are allowed to stay over a friend's house if they have the social worker visit the home first.
If she's living in a group home, I doubt they'd let her stay overnight someplace regardless of how "good" she is. Maybe she could sneak out the window. Depending on the type of group home they might not check on them too frequently during the night. Could she fake an illness at work or talk her manager into giving her a few hours off and sneak over to her boyfriend's house?

5) Does a foster child stick with the same social worker after they're moved from a foster home to a group home?
I think typically they stick with the same social worker unless they move geographies or there's a change with the social worker. I'm not 100% on this though.

6) One of my secondary characters gets killed on the steps of the group home by her abusive boyfriend. Sounds super extreme, but this is a cautionary tale about dating violence. Can you imagine this? Or is this overkill - no pun intended.
I can totally imagine this. There are all sorts of violent crimes that take place in and around group homes. The caregivers simply can't police each child 24 hours a day and many kids spend 24 hours a day trying to sneak away or break the rules.

7) How does use of the phone work? If my character is dating this 22 year old, is it crazy and farfetched for him to disguise his voice like a girl's so he can talk to her? (I read somewhere that 15 yo aren't allowed to date when they're living in a group home.)
He might pretend to be her employer or he might have a female friend initiate the call or the girl might have a cell phone. That's very believable.

Star
03-04-2008, 11:20 PM
III, will you accept this rose?
Thank you so much! :snoopy:

blackrose602
03-05-2008, 05:12 AM
think III's answers are pretty solid. Here are mine, which disagree only a few minor points.

1) My group home will be in a home-like setting with eight girls living there
That works.

2) My character is 15 and is sneaking around to date at 22 year old.
Difficult but not impossible.

3) My character works and goes to summer school. She's admired by all staff so she gets extra privileges.
What is her background? No matter how well-liked she is by the staff, it's ultimately the state, not the group home, that decides if she can hold a job or attend school off-grounds. If she's been a problem child, you might need a meeting between her, the group home director and her state liaison granting permission. If she's solely there due to parent problems (no arrests or behavior problems for her), then it shouldn't be a problem.

4) My character has no other family, she's a ward of the state. I need her to sneak out to stay at her boyfriend's house. Can she lie and say she's with a friend? I know that foster children living in foster homes are allowed to stay over a friend's house if they have the social worker visit the home first.
III has great suggestions. Overnight stays are extremely rare with anyone but family (after the family member is thoroughly scrutinized). Go with the skipping out on work, but keep in mind that the employer may be bound to account for the times that she signs in/out of work, so she's likely to get caught unless she bribes the boss. If you need her with the boyfriend overnight, she'll need a fake body in the bed and collusion with her roommates. Rounds are common overnight, but many staff don't look too closely.

5) Does a foster child stick with the same social worker after they're moved from a foster home to a group home?
She would have the same state caseworker, but would probably switch to a social worker who is affiliated with the group home. This can go either way though, so if it works better to stay with the social worker, no worries.

6) One of my secondary characters gets killed on the steps of the group home by her abusive boyfriend. Sounds super extreme, but this is a cautionary tale about dating violence. Can you imagine this? Or is this overkill - no pun intended.
Depends on the scene. III is right that violence is common in these kids' lives -- but just like your MC isn't supposed to date, neither are the secondaries. Either he's an ex from pre-state custody, or there needs to be a backstory on how she got him. Once she has him, though, entirely plausible.

7) How does use of the phone work? If my character is dating this 22 year old, is it crazy and farfetched for him to disguise his voice like a girl's so he can talk to her? (I read somewhere that 15 yo aren't allowed to date when they're living in a group home.)
I agree with III, have a female friend make the call. Keep in mind that phone use is usually monitored, so make her sneak around to talk to him and keep conversations short.

Hope this helps!

Star
03-05-2008, 07:21 PM
Wow Blackrose, you rock! Thanks so much. :)