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How to Start a Group Home for Teens

by Gail Cohen

Group homes serve many purposes--from monitoring a troubled teen’s day-to-day activities to offering peer support in a residential therapeutic setting that allows children to reset their moral compasses away from bad influences. If your idea of a great way to help troubled teens is to start a group home, you’ll have the respect of your peers, the gratitude of your community and the thanks of the teens who are turned around as a result of the haven you have provided.

Research the current availability of group homes for teens in your community. Find out who underwrites these group homes, what criteria are used to qualify a child for admission, the living structure under which a child must abide and the ratio of teens to caretakers in the home.

Write a mission statement and a business plan. Your mission statement should consist of a single sentence that outlines what your teen group home hopes to accomplish once it's up and running. The business plan outlines how the facility will operate, where funding will originate, rules and regulations under which it will be managed and oversight to which the home will be subjected over time.

Appoint a board of directors. Mix influential community members with professionals focused on teen mental health. Add ordinary citizens with an interest in teen rehabilitation and educators. The right board mix will help you get cash, build the facility and keep the community’s focus on the residential setting by continuing to raise money and awareness over time.

Find funding for your teen sanctuary. Resources for group homes for teens may fall under numerous categories, and thus the home may qualify for a variety of grants and loans. The umbrella may be mental health, but beneath this standard you may also be able to tap education, health and other children-centered granting agencies.

Apply for licensing, nonprofit tax exemption, incorporation and other legal protections and sanctions your board recommends. As a 501(c) 3 charity, the home will benefit from an impressive number of tax exemptions the IRS offers. You'll be able to raise funds more efficiently as a nonprofit. Your Secretary of State can give you all of the information you need to consider many of these steps, so visit their website or call. Legal oversight will be required as well.

Buy an existing building and hire a contractor to refurbish the structure, or purchase property on which your group home will be built. You’ll be required to adhere to zoning laws created to mandate where group homes can be built in your area. If necessary, apply to your zoning board for one or more construction or occupancy variances.

Solicit community help to build your teen group home so you can save money on construction. Local carpenters, brick layers, plumbers and electricians may be willing to lend a hand to get your project off the ground. Ask your board of directors to help find pro bono labor and assistance.

Get occupancy permits and submit to inspections from village, city, township and/or county authorities. Once approved, you can begin to furnish and decorate the group home. Again, this is where fundraisers and donations of in-kind goods like beds, linens, chairs, kitchen appliances, tabletop and linen supplies and other household necessities can help outfit your facility.

Hire staff and conduct criminal background checks. On-site employee numbers may be mandated, so adhere to the teen-to-adult ratio that's stipulated by law. The group will also require insurance on the building and contents and liability coverages. Premiums for high-risk populations can be steep, so get help from an insurance broker to sample various carriers.

Keep a wait-list of clients to fill beds as residents age out, move out or leave. Creating and maintaining a handbook on the rules and regulations teens must obey while living in your group home will go a long way to keeping residents on the straight-and-narrow while legally protecting you and your board.

Items you will need
  • Mission statement
  • Business plan
  • Board of directors
  • Funding
  • Legal and financial filings
  • Facility and furnishings
  • Donations
  • Staff
  • Licenses and insurance

About the Author

Based in Chicago, Gail Cohen has been a professional writer for more than 30 years. She has authored and co-authored 14 books and penned hundreds of articles in consumer and trade publications, including the Illinois-based "Daily Herald" newspaper. Her newest book, "The Christmas Quilt," was published in December 2011.

Photo Credits

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