Most of the homes in this study are part of state- or county-wide networks of similar homes. In addition, many of the homes are operated by larger social service organizations, which may also operate other maternity group homes and typically have broader missions as well. Network managing agencies and parent organizations can assist maternity group homes in several different ways. Providing such assistance, however, uses financial resources and may limit homes' flexibility to tailor their programs to meet local needs. Agencies and organizations should take these tradeoffs into account when considering opening a maternity group home program or creating a network.
Networks. State policymakers who are concerned about the needs of teenage parents and their children may want to consider establishing a state network of maternity group homes. Where such networks are established, local social service providers will need to decide whether to operate homes within a network. Networked maternity group home programs can offer several advantages to participating homes. One of the most important ways in which many networks support their member homes is by providing funding. In addition, network agencies typically have network-level staff devoted (at least part-time) to providing technical assistance, support, and advocacy for the homes. These types of assistance may be particularly important for creating and fostering new programs. However, even staff of established homes in some networks cited the ongoing support of the network-level agency as central to their operations.
Besides providing top-down assistance to their individual homes, networks facilitate cooperation between the homes within the network. Being part of a network can also offer homes the opportunity to learn from each other, typically through regular meetings of home directors sponsored by the network agency. These connections between homes can also inform those operating at capacity about other locations with openings, so they can refer new applicants. Networked programs often have formal or informal mechanisms for transferring residents from one home to another within the network, to find the best match between residents' needs and homes' specific service offerings.
Creating networks also enables state and local government agencies to ensure that all homes within their purview conform to certain rules. In return for providing various types of assistance, networks typically require their homes to follow at least some, often broad, rules concerning program features. For example, homes may be constrained to accept only residents who are eligible to receive other services from the network agency, such as TANF or child welfare. In some cases, network agencies are involved in the referral process, and homes are even required to accept every resident referred by the network agency. Networks may also dictate certain services that all homes must provide, as well as particular levels or types of staffing. While agencies that manage networks may consider it important to be able to focus services in certain directions and/or standardize key program elements across all of their different homes, some individual homes (and some networks) may consider the resulting loss of flexibility a disadvantage. For instance, a network that is overly centralized might limit the ability of individual homes to respond to local needs and work with the community. Specifically to avoid this type of situation, the maternity group home network agency in New Mexico designed a decentralized network that gives local organizations considerable independence in operating their homes.
On the other hand, working with a number of different homes can make it possible for networks to create deliberate variety among the homes within its service area. Some networks include different types of homes that offer a continuum of care for different types of residents. In addition to the two types of maternity group homes discussed earlier in this report — congregate and apartment model homes — the Massachusetts network includes a few transitional facilities that provide considerably lower levels of supervision than the network's other homes. These homes provide only limited adult supervision and are targeted to older, more mature teens program staff have deemed ready to move from a maternity group home into a more independent setting. Another example of this model is Rhode Island's small statewide network (not included in this study), which also provides a continuum to help residents move toward independence. Young teen residents enter the program at the first level — living in a congregate home with 24-hour-awake supervision — and move to apartment model homes with less supervision over time.
The many benefits of network support come at the price of higher program costs, however, since adding a layer of network-level staff to perform these functions increases the cost of the program. Not surprisingly, the networks that provided the greatest amount of technical support and assistance to their member homes also dedicated the most network-level staff time to overseeing the network.
Parent Organizations. Policymakers interested in funding maternity group homes or establishing networks must consider who will be responsible for actually operating the homes, and social service organizations interested in this role must consider whether they are up to the task. Active parent organizations serve many of the same functions as network agencies: providing their homes with funding and technical assistance, facilitating interactions between different homes, and encouraging standardization or deliberate variety among their homes.
In addition to the types of assistance that network agencies provide, homes can benefit from having access to the management, administration, and other staff of established parent organizations. Parent organizations often take responsibility for all financial matters — including fundraising, budgeting, and accounting — and have direct authority over all expenditures. In some cases, parent organizations own the buildings in which maternity group homes operate. Parent organizations also are often involved in hiring at least some of the staff — such as the home's director and other key professional staff — who work at the homes. In some cases, staff from the parent organization come to the homes to provide specific direct services to residents. Such arrangements can help homes access specialized staff — such as mental health professionals — that a single home may not be able to support on its own. In addition, two or more homes with the same parent organization may share a program manager, a pool of on-call relief staff, or a set of partners.
These roles are especially important for homes that do not belong to a network, although many homes benefit from the assistance of both parent organizations and networks. Parent organizations experienced in offering services to pregnant and parenting teens or operating other residential programs for adolescents in need may be better prepared for many of the challenges of operating a maternity group home, and thus have less need of the kinds of support a network can offer. Policymakers should seek out such providers to operate maternity group homes, particularly in the absence of networks. Social service organizations with less comprehensive experience in this area may want to join a larger network of homes, if this is an option in their area.