May 13, 2009
I have been asked by Ronald Chen, the Acting Child Advocate to provide you with the following information.
William G. Dressel, Jr.
Re: Healing Homes: A Road to Recovery for New Jersey Children
As a leader of your town, it is possible you will face a situation in which an agency decides to open a group home for children in your municipality. When this happens, residents often react with concern, afraid a group home could negatively affect their safety, their property values and the character of their towns.
This puts an elected official in a difficult position. As I am sure you know, these homes are legally protected and closely supervised, but at the same time, elected officials need to be responsive to concerns and questions raised by members of their communities.
To help address these concerns and increase understanding of the issues involved, the Office of the Child Advocate created a public education campaign that will equip local leaders with the information they need to engage in a productive community conversation about these issues. It is our hope that a better educated citizenry will lead to a supportive and positive community reception when a group home is located in a neighborhood.
Healing Homes: A Road to Recovery for New Jersey Children provides facts about the need for these homes, the nature of the care they provide, the children who are served in such settings and the laws that protect them.
Several hundred New Jersey youth currently live in healing homes in towns across New Jersey. Children in these homes often have mental health issues and/or have suffered trauma. More information about how these homes operate is available in our report: Healing Homes: A Road to Recovery for New Jersey Children,available on our website at www.childadvocate.nj.gov.
It is important to know that both state and federal laws protect the residents of these homes from discrimination. New Jersey’s municipal land use laws prohibit exclusionary zoning against group homes. You can find more information about the legal protections in our advisory, Legal Safeguards: Group Homes: State and Federal Laws, Courts Protect Group Home, also available on our website.
The Office of the Child Advocate is an independent state agency dedicated to improving the safety, health and well-being of all New Jersey children, especially those with the greatest need. We hope this campaign will debunk myths about youth group homes and expand understanding of this vital service for New Jersey’s fragile children.
Very truly yours,
Ronald K. Chen
Acting Child Advocate