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The time for group homes like the one Bedford County operated has gone, according to Andy Crawford, the county’s director of social services. The county closed the home in January.
“The last day the kids were there was the 31st,” Crawford said.
The home closed because it had been set up to pay its own way but had reached the point where it was no longer able to do that.
The group home actually consisted of three parts; the homes themselves, a school and an independent living facility.
The independent living facility was for former group home members, ages 18 to 21, who were going to college but still receiving foster care services. It served to help them make the transition.
Fees for housing youth in independent living helped pay for the group home. By October, there was no one in independent living.
This raised the minimum census required at the group home to keep it self-sustaining. Crawford said that there were 18 at the group home by December. This was more than the home’s census last February, but not enough for it to remain self-sustaining without the independent living income.
“It wasn’t good enough to pay the bills,” Crawford said.
Not everybody at the group home was enrolled in the school, and not everybody in the school was living at the group home. It provided services for youth being looked after by social services that needed them. The break even enrollment for the school is 22, but school referrals had dropped and there are 17 currently there. Crawford said that the school will remain open until the end of the school year.
Crawford said that outcomes from the group home were good.
“We had several kids who went to college,” he said. One eventually earned a PhD.
“We did it better than a lot of group home settings because we weren’t for profit,” he went on to say. Crawford said that this meant that the fact that they only had to break even meant that there was more money available for staff.
They also had a stable staff.
“Most group homes have a lot of [staff] turnover,” Crawford said. Bedford County’s had virtually none.
“The staff out there were great,” he said. “They really understood kids’ behavior.”
The group home was initially set up in 1996.
“I placed the first kid there,” said Crawford.
Crawford was a social worker here at the time.
Operating a group home meant that children sent to residential facilities could be kept in the community. This made it possible for the children’s parents to visit them, which made it easier to eventually return them to their families. It also saved the county money because court ordered residential placements under the Comprehensive Youth Services Act, could be enormously expensive.
It moved to a brand-new facility on Falling Creek Road in 2007. By that time, however, the thinking on foster care was changing.
“The philosophy was that kids needed to be placed with families,” Crawford said.
According to Crawford, there was more of an emphasis on keeping children in their families, or in the families of relatives, and providing services to those families. There was also a shift away from placing youth in institutions. Localities get less state funding if they place a child in a group home and Crawford said that this was done to encourage localities to place them in foster families if it was necessary to take them out of their own families. Many group homes closed.
Now, Bedford County’s has closed.
“It’s sad,” Crawford said.
But, there is good news. Crawford said that the county had 40 children in foster care in 1995. By 2000, that number had surged to 103 and eventually reached 170. Now, it’s back down to 40.
“The good news is we are doing better with families,” he said.