Residential child care community

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Residential child care communities are part of the foster care system and combine several aspects of ways and means to raise a child.

It is a type of residential care, which refers to long-term care given to children who cannot stay in their birth family home. There are two different approaches towards residential care: The family model (using married couples who live with a certain number of children) and the shift care model.

A community (origin: Latin communis, "shared in common") is a social unit of people who share e.g. norms, religion, values or identity. It is often tied to a specific geographic or virtual area. Residential child care communities operate on one or more than one campus, which connects the different units within the program. House parents/ social workers, therapists, caseworkers, teachers, management staff members as well as other staff members that contribute to the program of the specific organization cooperate to ensure a positive environment for every single child. By sharing a campus, additional aspects such as work programs, leisure activities, therapy and tutoring can be offered, which is not possible for foster parents due to a lack of resources. These communities are also well connected with their environment, their donors and other residential child care communities and keep in touch with and support their alumni.

A residential child care community might also be referred to as a group home or a form of congregate care. When using these terms one has to be careful not to confuse this concept with that of a residential treatment center (which is highly restrictive and established for children with severe behavioral issues) or an orphanage.

US History[edit]

In the United States, residential child care communities originate from almshouses and orphanages. These institutions were established due to increasing poverty by Dutch and British churches around 1500, and taken to North America when emigration began. The Dutch opened their first almshouses on American soil in the 1650s, in what is known today as New York City and Albany.[1]

By the early 1900s, about 150,000 American children were accommodated by 1,150 child care institutions, which fulfilled their purpose at that time, but were not always the best and safest environments for a child to grow up in. Still it has to be considered that a child’s life back than was, even when living with their biological family, dominated by poor health conditions, child labor, delinquency, poverty and failed families. However, the 20th century brought a stop to these developments. As industrialization proceeded, children were suddenly seen as what they are instead of “short adults”, reformers started to participate in “child saving movements”, education was recognized to be the key to social change and policies regarding the welfare of Americans were established. In 1909 the first white house conference dealing with “The Care of Dependent Children” took place under President Theodore Roosevelt, throughout which the government came up with the solution of establishing a foster care and adoption program as well as creating a federal Children's Bureau.[2] It was not until 1990 that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child came into effect.[3]

These positive developments regarding child welfare allowed residential child care communities to thrive and develop in the early and mid-1900s (see positive examples). Throughout the past decades thousands of children could be served by several organizations that have managed to develop a loving environment, created by motivated staff members, trying to make a difference in children’s lives. They keep children who are too broken to “function” in a foster or adoptive family environment, but yet not mentally instable enough to necessarily be labeled by a treatment facility, from falling through the gap as well as help keeping siblings together. In cooperation with the foster care and adoption system, residential child care communities today can add to a high-quality out-of-home care and child welfare system.[4]

Changes do take their time and there are certainly organizations that still do not operate perfectly ethical today. A means of identifying whether an organization is qualified for taking care of children or not can be to look at their accreditation (e.g. offered by the Council Of Accreditation), which due to high costs and effort, strict regulations as well as on-site assessments ensures the quality of a program.

Types of Care[edit]

When talking about residential child care programs, two types of care must be considered: The Family Model and the Shift Model. Both types of organizations can vary in size, number of children per unit, number of staff per unit, number of units and educational/therapeutic services.[5]

The outcome goal depends on the child in care and can be unification with the child’s family and therefore preparation of the child for life at home, preparation for living with a new family or long-term care.[5]

Family Model[edit]

Related literature refers to the Teaching Family Model which was originally implemented in 1967 and used in juvenile justice.[6] Several organizations had been using an advanced version of this model before (see positive examples).

Organizations using this model employ married couples, also referred to as house parents or cottage parents, who are living in a dwelling on campus, together with a certain number of children. These couples must go through in depth and continued training each year. The goal is to model a positive family life and thereby teach children life, communication and interaction skills.[6]

Several studies show the positive outcomes of this type of care. Significant improvements in academic achievements, behavior, psychiatric symptoms, relationship with the parents as well as a decrease in offense rates were found.[7][8][9]

Shift Model[edit]

Organizations using the shift model usually consist of four to five units with four to five staff members rotating care in shifts for six to eight children (these numbers can vary).[5]

They may do so by utilizing different models, such as:[10]

The Sanctuary Model (USA) – This model highlights trauma and the fact that change has to be implemented at a systems level. It focuses on SELF (safety, emotion management, loss, future).

Care (USA) – This model focuses on the development of a curriculum to improve the support provided by leadership as well as consistency among the way direct-care staff members deal with the children in care.

Social Pedagogy (Europe) – This model focuses on values, the diversity of cultures and a good relationship between direct-care staff and child by using the opportunities everyday tasks and events offer to encourage development.

ARC (USA) – This model provides a flexible framework for direct-care staff, allowing them to choose from several intervention methods addressing three key areas: attachment, self-regulation and competency.

MAP (NI, Canada) – This model helps direct-care staff understand children’s behaviour by consideration of attachment theory and neurodevelopment. Staff should act, not observe, recognize the importance of authoritative parenting as well as the emotional demands they have to deal with themselves by doing this job.

Positive Examples[edit]

Organization Founded in Where? Current President Webpage
The Methodist Home 1872 Macon (Georgia) Alison Evans
Boys Town 1917 California, Florida Louisiana, Nebraska, Iowa, New England, New York, Nevada, Texas, Washington, D.C. Rev. Steven E. Boes
SOS Children’s Villages 1949 International Siddhartha Kaul
Baptist Children’s Home 1955 United States, India, Southeast Asia and Liberia Bill Brittain
Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, Inc. 1957 Florida William A. Frye


In the early 2000s, Florida tried to preserve families by providing wrap-around services and not taking children away from their parents. This resulted in the death of 477 children, as social workers cannot possibly provide a 24h-service to all the families they are responsible for.[11] Additionally, the child maltreatment report of 2016 states a number of 1,539 children that have been maltreated by their foster parents that year, within 51 reporting states.[12]

Within a residential child care community, it is less likely for things like that not to go unnoticed. As the word “community” indicates, there are always multiple people around, ranging from other house parents, teachers, office employees, therapists and caregivers to peer foster children. Frequent internal as well as external audits and quality controls aim at identifying and eliminating deficits of any kind. As soon as word spreads out about the abuse of a child, the staff member concerned will be removed immediately and no further harm will be made.

The required hours for foster parents vary between the states, ranging from 4 to 30 hours. Still, there are holes regarding documentation as well as several means of “waiving and modifying” training requirements. This is the case, even though a vast majority of foster children come from places of neglect and maltreatment, showing a variety of behavioral problems and (mental) health issues.[13]

Qualitative residential child care communities have established their own quality standards including a training plan for their staff members, whose extent depends on their position. The adherence of this plan is monitored which makes waiving and modifying impossible and ensures that staff members stay up to date.

Studies show that sibling relationships are crucial, especially in foster care, when family relationships are damaged and a child has only his/her siblings to rely on.[14] Still, studies estimate that more than half of US children in foster care have one or more siblings in the system, but between 60 and 73 percent of sibling groups are not accommodated together.[15] This can be due to too many siblings (no foster family that is willing to accommodate all of them available), different entry dates in foster care, a case worker that did not care to or could not find a placement that would allow the siblings to stay together (entering the foster system together often means staying together and vice versa), different (medical) needs as well as foster parents only taking in a certain age group or sex.[16]

Some residential child care communities have identified the need of sibling placements and made room for sibling groups. As these communities have more room available than a foster family does and employ well-trained staff as well as offer more opportunities for adapting to the needs of each individual child, these facilities have the chance to keep siblings together.

Many children have difficulties with adapting to their foster or adoptive families, which is due to their experiences (multiple movements, abuse, neglect, etc.), but their behavioral issues are not severe enough to necessarily put them into restrictive placements, labeling them for the rest of their life.[4]

Residential child care communities are not restrictive placements in any way. Staff members do not expect immediate love as some adoptive parents do and are trained to identify, accept and deal with difficult behavior. This makes coping with the new environment easier for many children that are not used to a “normal” family life.

Residential child care communities often have a big network of donors and supporters as well as the possibility to build up a variety of facilities and opportunities, as there is not one single family, but several “families” and staff members cooperating to achieve their goal. This can provide the children in their care with unique opportunities, such as a work program (including learning how to apply), special events and leisure activities sponsored and/or provided by supporters, scholarships, mentoring programs and many other opportunities. This ensures that “lives are turned around”, increasing the probability of these foster children to succeed and teach their own children how to succeed in life.


There is a number of negative voices regarding residential child care, as well.

One part of this debate is due to negative examples of residential child care programs. Throughout the past decades, several cases of abuse within residential child care have been detected all over the world, putting this type of care into a bad light.[17] Horror stories of abuse and neglect have been published, as well as articles describing “lock-away” facilities, “staff that cannot control the children”, runaways and regular police visits.[18] Additionally, residential child care is often confused with treatment facilities, making the term look very restrictive, like every child is mentally ill and locked away.[17]

The other part of the debate is more financially motivated, as residential child care facilities are more costly than foster care, adoption, wrap-around services and kinship care.[17] Studies show that the foster system can cause and enforce mental issues, as every additional movement a child has to go through increases the probability of these. Thereby, the financial burden grows too, as medical dispenses increase.[19] The vast majority of organizations providing residential child care services are nonprofit-organizations and therefore donor-funded, meaning that the state does not invest a lot of money in that kind of care.[17]

Example Australia[edit]

Australia is the best example for a country that let itself be driven by the horror of abuse stories and costs, resulting in the closure of residential child care facilities in the 1980s and 1990s. This development brought about that many of these children ended up in the homeless program SAAP (Supported Accommodation Assistance Program) as well as in juvenile justice.[20]

Then, in 2004, the Crime and Misconduct Commission published a report with the title “Protecting Children: An Inquiry into Abuse of Children in Foster Care (the CMC Report)”. In response to the findings of this report, the government decided to reverse and reestablish residential child care facilities, this time focusing on quality standards. Queensland has found that closing residential child care programs is not the best idea, as there is a need for such organizations.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Huey, P.R. International Journal of Historical Archaeology (2001) 5: 123. (
  2. ^ Yarrow, A. L. (2009). History of U.S. Children’s Policy: 1900-Present.
  3. ^ Blanchfield, L. (2013). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Washington.
  4. ^ a b Little, M., Kohm, A., & Thompson, R. (2005). The impact of residential placement on child development: Research and policy implications. International Journal of Social Welfare, 14(3), 200-209.
  5. ^ a b c Babic, B., & Pluto, L. (2007). Participation in residential child care in Germany. Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care, 6(2), 32.
  6. ^ a b James, S. (2011). What works in group care?—A structured review of treatment models for group homes and residential care. Children and youth services review, 33(2), 308-321.
  7. ^ Thompson RW, Smith GL, Osgood DW, Dowd TP, Friman PC, Daly DL. Residential care: A study of short- and long-term educational effects. Children and Youth Services Review. 1996;18(3):221–242.
  8. ^ Larzelere RE, Daly EL, Davis JL, Chmelka MB, Handwerk ML. Outcome evaluation of Girls and Boys Town s Family Home Program. Education and Treatment of Children. 2004;27(2):130–149.
  9. ^ Slot NW, Jagers HD, Dangel RF. Cross-cultural replication and evaluation of the Teaching Family Model of community-based residential treatment. Behavioral Residential Treatment. 1992;7(5):341–354.
  10. ^ Millen, Sharon. (2012). Therapeutic approaches to social work in residential child care settings. 10.13140/RG.2.1.3690.4483.
  11. ^ Miami Herald (2014). Innocents Lost. Preserving Families but losing children. Accessed at
  12. ^ U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2016). Child Maltreatment 2016 (No. 27). Washington.
  13. ^ Dorsey, S., Farmer, E. M., Barth, R. P., Greene, K. M., Reid, J., & Landsverk, J. (2008). Current status and evidence base of training for foster and treatment foster parents. Children and youth services review, 30(12), 1403-1416.
  14. ^ Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2013). Sibling issues in foster care and adoption. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Children's Bureau.
  15. ^ Children’s Rights, article about the success of their campaign on keeping siblings together, found on 2/26/2018,
  16. ^ Shlonsky, A., Webster, D., & Needell, B. (2003). The Ties That Bind: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of Siblings in Foster Care. Journal of Social Service Research. (29(3)), 27-52.
  17. ^ a b c d Smith, M. (2009). Rethinking residential child care: Positive perspectives. Policy Press.
  18. ^ Sergeant, H. (2006). Handle with Care: An investigation into the care system. London.
  19. ^ Rubin, D. M., Alessandrini, E. M., Feudtner, C., Mandell, D. S., Localio, A. R., & Hadley, T. (2004). Placement Stability and Mental Health Costs for Children in Foster Care. Pediatrics.
  20. ^ Ainsworth, F., & Hansen, P. (2005). A dream come true–no more residential care. A corrective note. International Journal of Social Welfare, 14(3), 195-199.
  21. ^ Department of Communities (2010). A Contemporary Model of Residential Care for Children and Young People in Care. Queensland.