Providers of maternity group home programs often struggle with high turnover rates among residents. Although maternity group home programs typically allow residents to remain in the homes two years or longer, or until they reach an eligibility age limit, residents often leave much sooner. In many homes, staff reported that although many residents stay in the program for a year or more, just as many leave within a month or so of their initial entry into the home
High rates of turnover are a concern to practitioners and policymakers, for two reasons. First, maternity group home program staff expressed concern that many residents leave too soon to get the full benefit of the program. The homes are not designed as temporary shelters but as longer-term programs in which residents must spend considerable time if they are to take full advantage of the rich set of services the homes provide. Second, high rates of turnover can result in a large number of empty beds in some places. Although it may be useful for homes to have a few empty beds available for new residents, programs are able to use their space and staff most efficiently when operating at or close to capacity. Too much excess capacity can also affect program funding.
How to address high turnover depends on the reasons for it. Anecdotal evidence suggests several factors that may be related to turnover rates and excess capacity:
- Lack of Commitment to the Program. Staff suggested that some residents simply want housing and are not committed to the maternity group home program. These teens often do not follow program rules and do not stay at the home very long. Careful screening of applicants may help minimize the number of uncommitted residents. For example, one home implemented new, particularly challenging application procedures, designed to screen out applicants who are not fully committed to the program. This strategy may be appropriate only for programs where there is high demand, however, since programs that usually have empty beds may not want to turn away any applicants, even those who are less committed and may not stay as long.
- Strictness of Rules. There may be a relationship between the strictness of program rules and the length of stay in the home. Dislike of program rules was the most common reason staff mentioned for residents leaving the home after only a short stay. High turnover rates among residents of maternity group homes reflect, in part, teens' dissatisfaction with program rules that limit their freedom too much. Staff reported that it could be challenging to strike the right balance between imposing necessary structure on residents' lives and allowing them some degree of freedom. Some homes have deliberately relaxed at least some rules to increase resident satisfaction and encourage them to stay with the program. Some programs offer a range of homes with varying degrees of structure to meet the needs of different types of residents, thus allowing more independence for more mature residents, which, in turn, may increase their length of stay. In addition, transitional slots can be a good incentive for regular home residents to work toward.1
- Location. Anecdotal evidence suggests higher demand for maternity group home slots in urban locations. This may be due to the fact that there are more pregnant teens in these areas, and teens entering maternity group homes typically wish to remain in the area they know. In addition, some staff noted that if there is no maternity group home in a teen's hometown, she typically prefers to move to a home in a larger city (where she may have a relative). Perhaps the only solution to the location issue is to conduct a needs assessment before opening a new home, and this way ensure an adequate demand for services in the area.
Policymakers and practitioners might consider these issues both when designing new programs and when making changes to existing programs.