Program Has Success Transitioning Group Home Teens Into The Community And Workforce

Feb 3, 2020

One of the difficult things for children who are placed in group homes is how to manage when they leave that setting. It used to be that when those 18-year-olds left a group home, they would essentially have to fend for themselves. In Laramie, Cathedral Home for Children has the Extended Families Program that tries to help young people navigate the so-called real world.

A version of Cathedral Home for Children has been in Laramie for more than 100 years. It deals with children who have had to leave their homes, like Dustin. He entered the program at the age of 15 and admits he was a handful.

Dustin left and returned to Cathedral Home three times until he was 18 and graduated out of the program. In the past, these young people would face the world on their own. Marketing Director Cassidy Biggs said those who come to Cathedral Home have a variety of challenges.

"We work with kids who have had extensive trauma, such as drug abuse, drug addiction, they've experienced abuse…both physical and emotional. A lot of them have been neglected, and a lot of them have experienced abandonment," said Biggs.

The children are given a treatment plan and typically spend six to nine months at the facility. Some return home, but if home is not safe, they might stay longer, or end up in a foster home. Sometimes they come back.

Biggs said the goal is to try and get children counseling support and other types of treatment so that they can begin fitting into society. Some of the teens, like Dustin, will go directly from Cathedral Home to living alone. Most people have parents that will train their children for that time in our lives. They can return home when we want to and even borrow money. But group home kids don't always have that safety net, so Biggs said they start preparing them as soon as possible.

"We start that transition plan before it's even a notion that they're going to be out on their own. "We work with them from early on in their placement in our residential treatment program to what we can identify to see what a need will be once they go out on their own,"she said.

Biggs said they try to cover a wide range of issues.

"To help find jobs, we help them to find places to live. We teach them how to go shopping, how to do the everyday daily tasks."

Misty Langwell Extended Families Coordinator
Credit Bob Beck

Misty Langwell is the extended families coordinator. Her job is to oversee the effort to teach the young people how to take the next step.

"Teaching them skills with how to communicate with others, get jobs, work on their hygiene, all kinds of things."

Langwell said they get into rental agreements, buying cars, how to make do if your budget doesn't balance. Unlike in the past, they can provide some financial help if someone gets into a bind. But the goal is to get the person mentally ready to move on with the rest of their life.

"Help them identify what their needs are, what their strengths are, and what they want their life to look like. Not everybody's life is perfect, but we want to help them, so it's perfect for them," said Langwell.

Dustin is now 20 and while he's excited to be out on his own, he admits it was daunting at first to leave the structure of Cathedral Home, especially since he has had to overcome temptations in the past.

"It was definitely hard to transition from facilities, because I was in a facility, not just Cathedral Home, a number of facilities from 14 to 18," said Dustin.

But so far so good.

"I am currently a cap two stocker at Walmart, and I am trying to get everything situated for entering back into my HiSET, which is the new word for GED classes these days."

Dustin said his plan is to eventually go to college. Cassidy Biggs admits she gets a little emotional when she thinks about the great odds some of these young people have to overcome.

" They deal with a lot of emotional instability, a lot of hardship, tumultuous relationships that continue to be a component of their life. And I think that's a lot of stuff to deal with on top of figuring out how to pay rent, how to get a job and how to go out and be self-sufficient," said Biggs.

That's why it's such a thrill watching them succeed, she said.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Bob Beck, at btwo@uwyo.edu.