What Is a Group Home?

Group homes provide teens with intensive therapeutic treatment.
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What Is a Group Home?

Group homes provide therapy, 24-hour supervision, and support to people with complex health needs in a home-like setting. This approach is sometimes used to treat teens experiencing mental health or behavioral issues.

Unlike large residential treatment facilities or psychiatric hospitals, group homes serve a small number of teens. Residents live in a family-like setting with trained staff.

In addition to group homes for teens, this model of care is also available for those with medical conditions, intellectual disabilities, and for older adults who need supervised care.

This article discusses how group homes work and signs that a teen may benefit from this type of treatment. It also explores some of the uses, advantages, and possible pitfalls of group homes for teens.

Signs a Teen Might Benefit from a Group Home

No parent wants to imagine having to place their child in a group home. But sometimes, a residential setting is the best place for a teen who needs intensive help.

Teens that may benefit from a group home setting include those who have:

  • Co-occurring conditions that make treatment more complex
  • Inadequate support at home
  • Poor results from previous experiences in outpatient programs
  • Safety concerns due to threats of violence, self-harm, or suicidal thoughts
  • Repeated substance use relapse

A mental health professional may also recommend a group home if a teen has experienced severe mood or behavior changes or has disciplinary problems at school or in the community.

If a teen is struggling with mental health issues like an eating disorder, substance abuse problems, or self-harm issues, a group home can provide a structured, therapeutic environment and help teens make emotional and behavioral changes.

Group homes can also provide a transition from a higher level of residential care. After a short stay in a psychiatric hospital, or after being released from a juvenile detention facility, a teen may be moved to a group home to continue working on their goals.

Usually, a teen's goal is to eventually return home. The length of stay in a group home may vary between a month and several months (or perhaps even years).

How Group Homes Work

The daily schedule for group home residents is structured to include active participation in therapy, school, self-care, and learning activities. Clear rules and consequences are enforced by staff to create a safe environment that helps teens create positive changes.

Residents usually attend local public schools with group home staff maintaining close contact with teachers to monitor behavior and academic progress.

While living in the group home, teens often earn privileges through a level system or token economy system. Teens who follow the rules will be granted access to more privileges, such as electronics time or opportunities to go on outings.

Teens living in a group home are actively involved in the day-to-day activities of the home, such as shopping and preparing meals, cleaning the house, and planning group activities. 

Within the context of living and learning together, the group home setting provides opportunities for teens to learn new skills. Staff provide ongoing coaching and look for teaching opportunities when problems arise. Teens may learn skills, from how to do laundry to how to manage their anger, in preparation for independent living. 

Recap

Group homes can help teens practice skills in a safe and supervised environment. In addition to utilizing behavioral management strategies such as token economy systems that allow kids to earn privileges for good behavior, group homes also help teens develop life skills that will allow them to live independently in the future.

Uses of Group Homes

The treatment provided in a group home focuses primarily on improving self-esteem, teaching new skills, and holding teens accountable for their behavior. Some of the conditions or issues that may be addressed in a group home setting include:

  • Abuse and trauma
  • Anxiety
  • Behavioral issues
  • Criminal behavior or violence
  • Depression
  • Eating disorders
  • Mental disorders
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Social issues
  • Substance use

Some group homes offer specialized treatment for specific issues, like autism or inappropriate sexual behavior.

Most group home programs include:

If the goal is for a teen to return home, family involvement is critical. Participation in family therapy is essential to helping the family be prepared for a teen's return home.

Impact

Group homes offer a small therapeutic setting where each teen becomes well known to the staff. Each teen's individual needs can be addressed.

The home-like environment is comfortable and familiar and, in this setting, teens learn skills to get along with family members. With strong family support, a group home may be a good choice for many teens having emotional or behavioral problems.

Group homes are often good solutions for teens who need more support. While their teens are getting help, parents can learn new strategies for helping teens cope with the eventual return home.

Research suggests that teens do experience positive changes in their behavior while they are in a group home setting. However, there is little research to suggest that these positive effects are sustained over the long term.

More research is needed to better understand the efficacy of group homes for teens. In particular, further studies are needed to explore which treatment models may be most effective for specific problems that teens might be facing.

Potential Pitfalls

It can be difficult to get a health insurance company to cover the cost of living in a group home. Since they serve only a small number of teens, the costs can be quite high.

It can be difficult to find an available bed in a group home as well. Many of them have long waiting lists and quite often, it can be difficult to find a group home located within the teen's same school system.

Children and teens in foster care may be placed in a group home setting. This can be very restrictive in comparison to living with a foster family. And when a group home becomes a long-term placement, the rotation of staff can interfere with a child's ability to develop healthy attachments.  

Recap

While group homes for teens can be helpful, they are not the right choice for every child. It is important to talk to your child's healthcare provider and therapist to determine what treatment approach is best suited to your teen's needs.

2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. James S. What works in group care? - A structured review of treatment models for group homes and residential careChild Youth Serv Rev. 2011;33(2):308-321. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2010.09.014

  2. Pane Seifert HT, Farmer EM, Wagner HR 2nd, Maultsby LT, Burns BJ. Patterns of maltreatment and diagnosis across levels of care in group homes. Child Abuse Negl. 2015;42:72-83. doi:10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.12.008

By Amy Morin, LCSW
Amy Morin, LCSW, is the Editor-in-Chief of Verywell Mind. She's also a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and international bestselling author. Her books, including "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do," have been translated into more than 40 languages. Her TEDx talk,  "The Secret of Becoming Mentally Strong," is one of the most viewed talks of all time.