Some young children with complex needs living in group homes are being groomed to live with adults who will be paid to stay at home and focus on child care.
A child under the age of 12 has already been placed in the province’s first professional care home, and seven more are due to come home in the next few months.
“Some are ongoing and some are in the training phase,” Social Development Minister Bruce Fitch said.
This marks the official launch of a new tool in the continuation of the department’s services for children who are under the legal care of the minister.
Fitch said professional care homes are more specialized than foster homes. Adults may receive additional training in areas such as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, nonviolent crisis intervention, and suicide prevention.
They also have access to wraparound services to help meet a child’s needs, whether related to emotional, behavioral, medical or mental health or trauma. In an emergency, an adult also has access to a 24-hour crisis line.
More like family than collective homes: Minister
Fitch said professional care homes are more stable and family-like than group homes.
Group homes are run by non-profit agencies that rely on staff and volunteers to care for six children in one residence. Children can stay in homes for a few weeks or more.
The job pays up to $3,500 per month, plus a monthly benefit of $1,729 to cover specific costs for a child care plan.
In its first call for interest, the province said it had received 80 inquiries and 20 applications.
“It’s encouraging that people are willing to put their hands up,” Fitch said. “Because it’s a tough job.”
He said that with the objective of starting the second phase of eight houses, the second round of recruitment has started.
A total of 16 professional care homes are targeted to be operational by 2023.
John Sharp, executive director of Partners for Youth, said he is pleased to hear that a new model of care is being ushered in.
Group homes fill a need, he said, but they are not ideal for young children.
“They don’t provide the best opportunity for kids to really feel like part of a family,” he said.
“They’re shift-model driven. You see new faces three times a day, new employees on the weekends. It’s hard to build long-lasting relationships.”
Sharp said the key to the success of the professional care home model will be “bombing them up” with continued training and support.
“These will be challenging placements,” he said. “It’s going to be a very difficult job but a very rewarding job.”
filling the gap
The new model is a response to problems identified in 2019 by Kim McPherson, who was New Brunswick’s auditor general at the time.
McPherson then said that poor planning and limited placement options were putting some of the most vulnerable children in the province at risk.
“Inadequate care of these children can have disastrous consequences, contributing to suicide attempts, addictions, long-term mental health challenges, and homelessness,” MacPherson said in his report.
She observed that the number of children with complex needs, such as aggression, self-harm, and suicidal tendencies, was increasing.
Meanwhile, the number of foster homes in New Brunswick had dropped by 30 percent in five years.
She found that these conditions were putting pressure on the department to keep children below the age of 10 years in group homes.
This is despite a broad agreement among department personnel, group home operators and other stakeholders that young children are “best served in placements other than group homes.”
She also pointed out that group homes are more expensive. While the annual cost of placing a child in foster care was approximately $10,000 in 2018, the annual cost of placing a child in a group home was approximately $171,000.
The use of special appointments has doubled
McPherson also pointed out that the special placement was the most expensive option of all.
These are special accommodations that are reserved for the most complicated cases in the province. Typically, the province hires a third-party agency to operate the department-owned home. That agency then has enough staff to supervise the youth 24 hours a day.
In 2020, Nation World News reported on a special placement located in a province-owned rural home that required two to three staff members to be on site at all times.
To take care of a boy round the clock, seven days a week, workers had to work several shifts. He was 11 years old when the department transferred him.
In 2018, McPherson said the province was operating 15 special placements at an annual cost of $470,000.
Nation World News filed a request under the Information and Privacy Act, asking for an update on how many special placements were operating last year and what they cost.
The province has given this information recently. In 2020-2021, the Department of Social Development said it operated 30 specialized placements at an average annual cost of $370,000 per placement.
This would suggest that the total cost of operating all 30 homes exceeded $11 million in 2020-2021.