Group Homes

In 1974, three Group Homes were established by the Department “for children who need a more specialised type of family care than can be provided in a normal foster home or boarding placement.  The children placed in these facilities are not necessarily problem children, but because of their circumstances they would find it difficult to settle into a private family.  The Departmental group home can provide a skilled and stabilising environment as a stepping stone to future return home or foster placement.”  Annual Report of the Department for Community Welfare, June 30th 1974.

By 1979, the Group Home model had become embedded practice – and two types of Group Homes were in operation:

Scattered Family Group Homes comprised “those whose grounds do not adjoin those of other family group homes, or other residential child care establishments, operated by the same enterprise”; and

Clustered Family Group Homes, which were those “facilities whose grounds adjoin those of other family group homes, or other residential child care establishments operated by the same enterprise.”  Annual Report of the Department for Community Welfare, June 30th 1979.

In the 1980’s it became obvious that the standards of care and quality of facilities provided in Group Homes were by no means uniform, as noted in the Annual Report of 1981:

“Group Homes provide a small but important part of the Department’s service to children who need care away from home.  Some Group Homes are privately owned and others are contract homes within the Department.  It has been of increasing concern that there have been discrepancies between the conditions under which all the homes have operated.  A review of the Group Homes is taking place and it is hoped that clear guidelines and policy will be developed as a result of this review.”  Annual Report of the Department for Community Welfare, June 30th 1981.

In March 1984, the Department established a policy development committee to develop a clear policy for Group Homes.  The Consultative Committee on Residential Child Care was involved in this process and endorsed the policy submission as being “consistent with the practice in the non-government sector” and that the CCRCC’s involvement had recognised “that group homes are the stock-in-trade of the residential child care agencies and that this experience and knowledge was relevant to [the] policy review.”  The need to provide services that were delivered to a particular standard and appropriate to the children’s needs was also emphasised:  “A child centred focus in group homes which is advocated in the [policy submission] is advanced when professional staff are employed with a primary responsibility to closely monitor and support the care giver’s performance.  Once again this is a strength of the residential agencies” Report on the Activities of the Consultative Committee in 1983/84, November 1984.

By 1985, Group Homes were reported under the heading “Residential Child Care” in the Annual Report, as this was the predominant ‘welfare-based’ model of collective residential care in which the Department was involved, now that the Institutional Services had devolved to a Community Support Hostel model and the Department no longer operated any campuses except for the secure facilities of Nyandi, Riverbank and Longmore.

In 1985, there were nine Group Homes throughout the State which were maintained by the Department to provide for “emergency, short or long term placement of children as a viable alternative to foster care”.  Each Home could take 6 to 8 children, was operated by trained staff and had live-in “parents”.  The referral mechanisms and the way in which children were cared for in these facilities had been under review for some time and would continue to be monitored.  Non-Government Agencies were also involved in the provision of residential care in Group Homes – “some being in the form of campus cottages and others simply suburban homes.”  The past twelve months had seen “a number of innovative developments” in the way these homes were run and managed, with a renewed emphasis on “moving children back quickly to the family environment”, with Group Home staff being “redirected to provide assistance in the form of family support and counselling.”  The overall responsibility for Group Homes resided with the Out of Home Care Project, part of the Substitute Care Programme.  Annual Report of the Department for Community Services, June 30th 1985.

In 1987, the Department had undertaken a “reassessment” of the role of its Group Homes and concluded that this service had the capacity “to accommodate a wide variety of care needs.  The demand to develop this potential is increasing as the limitations of the capacity for foster care to cope with difficult and older children is recognised.”  Annual Report of the Department for Community Services, June 30th 1987.

In its submission to the inter-Departmental Planning Review Taskforce in 1987, the Department described the current operation of its Group Homes: 

“Caregivers in group homes comprise one couple who live-in, ideally caring for up to eight children.  Generally, the husband continues in his existing employment, with the wife paid either an honorarium or wage.  Group homes operate on a model where substitute care is provided until changes in the circumstances of the child’s original caregivers permit their return home.  In some instances a child may move on to other carers on a more permanent basis (as in adoption) or with older youth to semi-independent accommodation.  Departmental group homes are supervised at the local divisional level.  Group care services provided through the non-government sector fall under the mandate of the Consultative Committee on Residential Child Care, and provide cottage care via salaried child care worker staff.  The contemporary trend towards community based group care services for children is resulting in the closure of institutionalized settings and campus-based residential facilities.”  Submission of the Department for Community Services to the Residential Planning Review Taskforce, March 31st 1987.

The Group Home model continued as one of the Department’s operational models and was outlined as part of the Department for Community Development’s Out of Home and Alternative Care (OHAC) Cost Project’s “New Directions in Child Protection Work and Alternative Models for Residential Care” report in 1995.  Group Homes arose from a Family Treatment approach to residential care – an approach which

“emphasises therapeutic intervention, and less provision of concrete and support services.  The theoretical base for treatment is…family systems theory, and has three stages:  assessment, treatment, and termination.  It tends to be less intensive, may be either home or office based, and last on average for 90 days.  Therapists carry caseloads of 11.”

All therapy in the Department’s Group Homes was provided by professional officers.  (OHAC Cost Project, Department for Community Services, June 1995).