Boys Town at 100 Considers Its Best Programmatic Course

By Harris & Ewing, Inc. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

August 28, 2017; Omaha World-Herald

Nonprofit program approaches change over time, but can those changes at times entail an overcorrection? We have certainly seen such things in our years among nonprofits.

On its hundredth birthday, the storied Nebraska-based nonprofit Boys Town is closing its signature residential care sites in New York, Texas, California, and Florida. Nine residential sites remain in six states and the District of Columbia, down from 16 in 2000. But, as the Omaha World-Herald reports, the Boys Town move away from residential care is at the tail end of a whole field shift to in-home services for youth.

Some readers may have a very vivid impression of the Boys Town model as portrayed in the 1938 movie starring Mickey Rooney and Spencer Tracy. But, that was then and this is now. The residential model where children are housed together and away from their families has largely been replaced by one that focuses on services that help children in their own family settings, which are both less expensive and more effective. In this case, Boys Town says they helped nearly 9,000 children nationwide last year through family consultants, compared with 1,100 children in the residential care model.

The organization is not planning to close its residential sites entirely; in fact, it is doing so mainly in states whose protocols are unfriendly to such models. They may have fewer sites, in other words, but they may be larger than in the past. Still, closing these sites will free up $3.7 million, money that will be reinvested in the organization’s neurobehavioral research, which is intended to improve program models.

Boys Town may be one of the few still committed to residential care, according to Polina Makievsky with the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, which has been helping programs to make the transition to home based care. Much of the field has long moved on. Still, she cautions against any one-size-fits-all program model, saying that residential care is the “best solution and a critical solution” in certain situations.

“We do caution against the pendulum swinging too far away from residential care,” she said.—Ruth McCambridge