Local police, courts overwhelmed with youth group homes as kids from across Ohio sent here (2024)

- Dayton police responded to nearly 3,000 calls for service at these group homes last year, including more than 600 calls to one home. This is a 75% increase from 2022 and more than three times the calls received in 2021.

- Youth in group homes now account for more than a quarter of the cases with criminal charges in Montgomery County Juvenile Court.

- The homes appear to be overwhelmingly in west Dayton, drawn largely by cheap housing and lax zoning regulations, officials say.

- Many children in local group homes come from other parts of Ohio, meaning they may be hours away from their families, friends, communities and the caseworkers and agencies that are supposed to be in charge of their well-being.

The city of Dayton has more than twice as many group homes as Hamilton County, which has the second most group homes in the state, behind Montgomery County. These are group homes licensed by the Ohio Department of Children & Youth where kids and teens are placed, usually by children services agencies, according to state data and officials.

“We do have by far have the largest number of group homes in the state that are located here and I know that puts a strain on your resources — it puts a strain on your hospitals, on your court systems, on your law enforcement agencies, on our mental health services and on our substance abuse system,” said Joel Potts, chief government and external affairs officer with the Ohio Department of Children & Youth.

Dayton officials say the city is looking at zoning changes to try to better regulate these kinds of residential facilities and try to avoid further concentration and oversaturation. The city also may impose some new requirements on them.

Some group home providers say they are concerned about police calls involving their kids but they need help. They say they house kids with serious trauma and complex problems who act out and misbehave and face no real consequences, which means their bad behaviors are unlikely to change.

Huge numbers of calls

Dayton Mayor Jeffrey Mims Jr. convened a meeting May 29 with officials from group homes, the city, law enforcement and the courts. The Dayton Daily News obtained a recording of that meeting and presentation materials.

Dayton police presented data showing they received more than 600 calls for service last year related to one group home on Oxford Avenue in northwest Dayton. Police also responded 125 times to a group home located a couple of doors down from there.

ExploreMore than 1/3 of juvenile group homes in Ohio in Montgomery County

Officers also received more than 300 calls for service for a group home on Standford Place, nearly 275 calls to a group home on Beechwood Avenue and more than 150 calls for a group home on Burroughs Drive.

Through May of this year, the Dayton Police Department received more than 1,080 calls for service for group homes across the city.

“Police Departments calls to children’s group homes continue to increase significantly ... resulting in the depletion of resources that are needed elsewhere,” according to a report from the city.

Most citizen-generated police calls related to group homes are for missing and runaway children and for children who return after going AWOL, the data show.

A resources drain

Issues that arise at group homes can be very time-consuming for officers to handle and try to address, Dayton police Major Jason Hall said during the mayor’s meeting in May.

When juveniles go missing, police have to respond, take reports, make broadcasts over the radio or computer and enter information about the missing kids into a law enforcement data system, Hall said.

When the juveniles return or are located, police have to complete an additional report, cancel broadcasts and take other steps.

ExploreState, local proposals to address problems caused by juvenile group homes in region

If the child who is missing from a group home is under the age of 13, police have to stay on that call until the child is found, Hall said, adding that this can tie up multiple police crews.

“We want to make sure we take care of children in the absolute best way possible, we want to safeguard them, we want to nurture them and see them grow but we have to realistic about how it’s impacting our resources,” Hall said.

Most of the calls are for kids who run away, Hall said, but some are for kids who misbehave and resist authority.

Mayor Mims at his meeting in May said young people in group homes are not there by choice.

Mims said kids in group homes in Dayton are not getting enough help, their needs aren’t being met and they deserve a better quality of life.

‘No one is helping them’

A significant number of children in local group homes come from other parts of the state and are hours away from their families, communities, schools and the lives they knew, said Montgomery County Juvenile Court Administrative Judge Helen Wallace.

Wallace said youth are being sent to this area because of the wide availability of group homes — which evidently is not the situation in other counties.

“When we met with owners of local group homes, some people cited the availability of affordable housing as a primary reason, as well as the relative flexibility of local zoning rules about group residential facilities, as compared to those in other communities,” Wallace said. “However, it’s my understanding those zoning regulations are currently under review in the city of Dayton.”

Group home kids make up a growing share of the children with criminal cases in Montgomery County Juvenile Court.

And kids from outside of this area account for the majority of criminal cases in juvenile court involving group home children.

Wallace said when out-of-county youth are brought to juvenile court for first-time offenses they often have no one who is willing or able to pick them up.

She said that means the children have to be placed in detention, which is distressing and traumatic and can strain community resources. She said many of the kids in the custody of children services have already experienced significant trauma.

Kids from outside of the county have caseworkers who are also outside of the county who often can’t come here quickly or easily when problems arise. Often, these kids do not have an adult with them when they have juvenile court hearings, Wallace said.

“No one is coming for them, no one is helping them,” Wallace said.

Wallace said these group home kids need more supports and services.

Group home official: We need help

Some group home providers and staff say they are struggling to deal with kids who reside in their facilities who have complex problems and significant trauma and who often misbehave.

Providers say by law they have to call police when their kids run away or go missing or they risk losing their licenses.

Sheri Aldridge, CEO of New Beginnings for You Inc. who attended the mayor’s meeting, started off as a foster parent and later became a group home provider and consultant.

New Beginnings for You is a social service organization that manages three group homes in Montgomery County.

Aldridge said there were a small number of group homes in Montgomery County when she first got involved in the foster care system.

She said the number of group homes has increased likely because there are fewer local regulations on these facilities than other communities in Ohio. She said there’s also an ongoing shortage of foster homes with foster parents and a lack of residential treatment facilities for kids who probably need higher levels of supervision and care.

Most police calls stem from kids going AWOL, but group homes cannot lock kids inside and staff can only restrain children when they are a danger to themselves or others, Aldridge said.

Aldridge said it might be helpful to create a new law enforcement task force focused specifically on group homes and the issues that arise involving their kids.

She said officers would then have good relationships with the group homes’ staff and kids, especially the “frequent flyers” who often run away.

Aldridge said group homes are contracted to provide a service and they could use some help figuring out how to better deal with kids who misbehave and run off. She said group homes want to be less of a drain on police and other services but they need help finding ways to do that.

No consequences

Aldridge said one issue is that group home kids who have done bad things often face little to no consequences, even if they steal a car and attack other children.

She said authorities have called group home staff to come retrieve kids just hours after they committed acts that would get an adult arrested and jailed.

Aldridge said staff at her group homes only call police when there are serious incidents.

“You lose your leverage after you say, ‘I’m going to call the police on you,’ and then you call the police and you know nothing is going to happen,” she said.

Multiple group home providers say some kids have learned to game the system and they know there’s only so much group home staff can do to try to get them under control.

Aldridge said she thinks there probably could be better communication and coordination among agencies that deal with group home kids.

“The fix is going to be all the systems working together,” she said. “I hope ... we can start these conversations about how to get everyone working on the same page.”

Local police, courts overwhelmed with youth group homes as kids from across Ohio sent here (2024)
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