Nestled in a picturesque north Baltimore suburb are two houses joined by a courtyard, one home a cheerful yellow, the other brick. While they appear no different than any of the other neighborhood middle-class homes, with well-manicured lawns, inside you’ll not find your typical family.
Kanner and Debuskey Houses are two of The Children’s Guild’s therapeutic group homes. Incognito in the suburban neighborhood, few people know of the role these homes are playing in changing the life course of some of Baltimore’s most troubled youth.
The boys who arrive at Kanner and Debuskey Houses have witnessed more upheaval and conflict in their lives than the average adolescent. They have developed mindsets and behaviors to survive violence, poverty and family dysfunction. And these survival-oriented thoughts and behaviors, unfortunately, have kept students from developing healthy, pro-social ways of thinking and living that ensure success in life beyond survival. Which is where The Guild steps in.
Group home students come to The Guild from more restrictive settings such as residential treatment centers or the juvenile justice system. The idea is for students to “graduate” and move on to less restrictive settings. Many of the older students leave for a life of independence while others return to their families or foster care after a stay of about 18 months.
During the time the boys reside at Kanner and Debuskey Houses, they are treated as if they were in an exclusive boarding school for boys. We do this in part by modeling a lifestyle which we hope they will emulate. This includes everything from providing them with an attractive home which they can learn to take pride in, exposing them to culturally enriching activities such as arts festivals and exhibitions to teaching them proper etiquette and allowing them the opportunity to develop their own sense of spirituality.
In addition to the deeper cultural and spiritual connection the homes work to provide, they also teach practical life skills such as cooking and shopping.
While the two homes are designed to reflect a private boarding school environment, the idea is to model a middle class lifestyle for which the students can become familiar. The idea is for them to become aware of how to achieve success in a business class culture.
Statistics show their approach is working. The proof of the group homes’ success is in the number of students reuniting with their biological families, moving to lower-cost, less restrictive settings or on to independent living. The group homes also see a very low percentage of annual turnover of staff and register very few incidents of property destruction.
We have many students who tell me they don’t want to leave when their time to move on arrives and it is extremely gratifying to hear from a student that they are grateful for the experience we’ve provided.