Intercept Community-Based Group Homes evolved to meet the needs of At-risk Children
When Mark Bogert opened Intercept’s first community home in 1996, his goal was to redefine the Group Home experience. Intercept offered adolescents a unique home environment that included the essential components of safety and structure but also incorporated a strong emphasis on developing and promoting the skills needed to live and work independently in the community upon discharge.
Most of the youth placed in community-based group homes did not fit, nor at times, want a foster home but also didn’t need the restrictive setting of a residential placement. These young adults attended and graduated from high school, took college courses, maintained employment, had their own vehicles and ultimately, was an active, contributing member of the community. Over the next 10 years, Intercept would make an impact on hundreds of young men and women towards achieving a successful transition into adulthood.
In 2008, Virginia experienced a shift in the philosophy of how to care for children, especially those involved in the foster care system. Massive childcare reform refocused placement decisions for local department of social services and defined how local, state and federal funds could be used for their living arrangements. Studies showed foster children lived in locked congregate settings for years. The new legislation placed a strong priority on placing children in a foster home setting. The state emphasized these policy changes with financial disincentives to local governments who placed children in congregate settings.
While the intent was to reduce lengths of stay in locked, secure residential settings, it inadvertently impacted youth who had for years, successfully thrived in community-based group homes. These policy changes, with the attached fiscal disincentives, had a significant impact on the number of children who were placed in congregate settings. Additionally, it gave rise to a new living arrangement for young adults: Independent Living - Apartment Based Programs. Young adults 17 and older, who were previously served in a community-based group home, were now being placed in an apartment setting where they would continue working towards independence.
Even with the positive emphasis on reducing lengths of stay in congregate settings, over the last 5+ years the state has witnessed an increase in the number of children being placed in residential care. Many have questioned the contributing factors to the rise in these numbers. Most, if not all, indicate trauma and the associated behaviors that coincide as one of the primary reasons for children who have an unsuccessful experience in foster homes resulting in a congregate placement.
As state policy changed, so did Intercept’s community-based group homes. In 2004, Virginia’s Department for Medical Assistance Services (DMAS) added Level-B Community Based Group Homes to the continuum of approved services. At that time, the community homes adjusted their primary focus from independence and community integration to that of meeting the requirements of Medicaid’s medical necessity criteria. Group Homes would now offer more clinical programming, typically found in residential settings. This new allowance by DMAS was meant to have an impact on the number of children served in residential care. Unfortunately, the numbers didn’t follow and thus the sweeping childcare reform was enacted in 2008.
As the number of children and adolescents entering congregate settings have increased, so have the needs. However, a primary change has been in children who, once served in a residential setting, now are receiving treatment in community-based group homes. Children and adolescents referred and accepted to community homes now present with complex trauma histories accompanied with severe behaviors such as verbal and physical aggression, self-injurious behaviors, and oppositional defiance. While clinical services, albeit at a lower frequency, are offered in the form of Individual, Family and Group therapies to each resident, we have found our children need something different, something more.
Intercept reached another crossroads in 2019. As the needs of children increased, Intercept knew we had to evolve, again. To respond to the needs of our residents and their families, Intercept leadership made innovative changes, turning the community-based group home model upside down, marrying components of the current model with both residential and community-based programming. Intercept revised it’s programming to include evidenced-based models, strengthen clinical expertise while increasing the number of therapies, created more opportunities for family engagement, modified hiring practices, increased training for all staff, and have committed to detraumatizing our children and adolescents by adopting a restraint free behavior management model.
As the foundation, the homes will continue to operate under the belief that it is most important for residents to feel safe, a part of their community, and experience success every day. In conjunction with structure and consistency, residents who feel supported and encouraged will choose to change behaviors that negatively impact themselves and others. Intercept’s Community Homes ACE Program refocuses residents to one simple concept - Action Changes Everything. By incorporating evidenced-based and evidence informed models along with staff working side-by-side, offering support, encouragement and reinforcement, residents are provided opportunities to experience how changing their actions can result in positive outcomes
To assist with achieving successful change, residents will navigate through the (4) tier behavior management model, designed to work congruently with the credit system and address (4) core components of Independence, Health, Community Engagement and Education.
The three models, combined with the Tier System, are meant to provide residents with the education, motivation and reinforcement needed for them to demonstrate improved regulation while displaying competencies in each of the core components. For children who have experienced trauma, compliance is no longer the answer but simply the result of teaching and modeling meaning relationships developed through trust and kindness. The ACE Program will serve as the vehicle to meet those critical needs.
For almost 25 years, Intercept has served as the go-to for community-based group care in Virginia.The successful outcomes achieved by our children and their families cannot be attributed to one single intervention or individual; but instead, to a collaborative process that promotes active involvement by Intercept staff, guardians, family members, human service professionals, guardian ad litems, and natural supports.Without these valued members, success is hard found.We promise to continue to grow, adapt and change to meet the needs of our most vulnerable. Know that, as we look towards the future, Intercept remains steadfast in our commitment to making a lasting, positive impact on Virginia’s children and their families.