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Home > Practice Areas > Residential Group Care > About the Program


National Survey of Public and Private Residential Group Care Facilities and Their Capacities


In March of 1998, the Child Welfare League of America initiated a National Survey to determine the total capacity of private and public residential group care facilities. The private and public residential group care facilities included those serving the Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice, Mental Health, and Developmentally Disabled populations. The survey focused exclusively on collecting data on the total number of facilities and their licensed capacity. The major reason for conducting the survey was the increasing realization that no survey of this magnitude had been successfully completed and that no one knew the size and scope of the field. Other surveys tended to focus on one of the many systems through which children and adolescents receive services (i.e., Child Welfare, Education, Juvenile Justice, Mental Health, Developmentally Disabled, etc.). Others attempted to provide a point-in-time census. Still others looked only at group care by type of setting, i.e., emergency shelter, long term treatment facilities, etc.

Within the last 20 years numerous League members have acknowledged that they were increasingly providing residential and group care to more than one of these systems in a variety of group settings. The movement away from large institutions to smaller community based programs has resulted in increased numbers of facilities providing residential and group care.


The first phase of the survey involved identifying the number of licensed or approved facilities and their capacity in each state. This was accomplished by contacting those state agencies responsible for licensing or regulating residential and group care facilities for children and adolescents.

Based on our survey we realized that there were very few states where licensing or regulation of residential and group care was centralized under one state agency. We discovered that many of the major systems in each state are responsible for their own client populations, frequently with subdivisions and overlapping responsibilities. States with large county and/or municipal governments further complicated the problem. In many of the states, the state operated facilities are not subjected to the same standards or regulations as private agencies. Further, it's clear that several states allow unregulated group care where public monies are not used to pay for services.


The goal of this survey focused exclusively on collecting data on the number of facilities and their licensed capacity. Our numbers are based on state reported capacities and not the actual numbers of children and adolescents currently placed. No data were solicited with respect to the types of services, the length of placement, or any specific demographic information such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, etc.

The survey was not designed to include family or therapeutic foster care, independent living, residential education, medically impaired, or privately placed categories. However, the data from some states included some of these populations.

In some states we were not able to acquire the requested information in all areas (Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice, Mental Health, or Developmentally Disabled). It's also evident that in some areas we have duplication in cross system numbers and under-reporting in some others. There are still other areas in which no data are available.

While some states indicated under-utilization of licensed capacity in the Child Welfare System, many others indicated over population in the Juvenile Justice System. This seems to be an increasing trend.


The outcome of the survey consists of two major items:
  • First is the number of facilities in each state based exclusively on the information received from the states.

  • Second is the total licensed capacity in each state based on information received or, where no information or partial information was received, estimates from earlier studies.
Click here to view the outcome

The Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice, and Developmentally Disabled systems appear to include children and youth whose placement is partially or entirely provided with public funds. The Mental Health system appears to include both publicly and privately funded placements.


Based on the National Survey of Public and Private Residential Group Care Facilities and Their Licensed Capacities we estimate that there are approximately 10,000 facilities nationally. These facilities range from four-bed group homes to 250-plus bed-institutions, serving over 200,000 children and youths ranging in age from infant to age 21, depending on state regulations.

If you have any questions about the survey or would like additional information, please contact Floyd Alwon at 617/769-4008 or

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