The Odyssey Project: A
Descriptive and Prospective Study of Children & Youth in Residential
Treatment Group Homes & Therapeutic Foster Care
Neil B. Guterman, Ph.D.
The Odyssey Project is the first national-level study in the U. S. detailing
the psychosocial characteristics of children placed in residential care
and the outcomes of their treatment. Earlier work in the field of residential
treatment has documented the demographic characteristics of children in
residential placements (Dore, et al., 1984; Pappenfort, 1983; Pappenfort,
et al., 1973), factors that appear to be associated with positive outcomes
such as post-discharge supports and family involvement (e. g. Wells, et
al., 1991; Guterman, et al., 1989), and ecologically-based factors in a
child's life that shape the course of residential treatment and its impact
on the resident (Whittaker, 1995; Guterman & Blythe, 1986). However,
sorely lacking in the empirical literature is fundamental information on
such pressing questions as: What is the present psychosocial profile of
the children and youth entering residential care in the U. S.? What is
their prior history of supports and out-of-home care? What is the composition
of services provided to children and youths in residential care? What services
and psychosocial characteristics appear to link with what outcomes in residential
care? What kinds of supports in the community correlate with positive adjustment
In response to the pressing need to develop a more comprehensive empirical
base undergirding residential care in the U. S., the Child Welfare League
of America enlisted over two dozen residential treatment and group home
facilities to participate in the Odyssey Project study, with an expected
subject enrollment of approximately 2,700 children and youth across the
country. Under the auspices of the Center for the Study of Social Work
Practice, three sites of the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services
have joined the national study: Hawthorne Cedar-Knolls Residential Treatment
Center, Linden Hill School and the Jerome M. Goldsmith Center for Adolescent
Treatment. The database resulting from this study is expected to make a
major contribution to the field of residential treatment as it evolves
into the 21st century.
At the three JBFCS sites, researchers are focusing their interests on children's
experiences in their home communities, and most particularly with experiences
of community-based violence. Familial factors have long been considered
important in the functioning of children in residential settings, yet less
focus has traditionally centered on the importance of children's experiences
outside the family. At the three JBFCS sites, researchers are carefully
examining the nature of community violence exposure and its role in young
residents' lives. These data will represent the first systematic study
of exposure to community violence among children living in residential
The Odyssey Project design is composed of a descriptive phase of
three years and a prospective phase of an additional two years. The descriptive
phase is collecting data on children entering residential treatment. The
prospective phase then follows children in their "journey" through
residential care, collecting data every year while the child is in residence,
at discharge, and at three post-discharge points: six months, one-year
and two-years after discharge. Now in its second year of enrollment at
the three JBFCS sites, over 110 newly admitted residents are presently
enrolled in the study. Between 150 and 160 residents are anticipated to
join the study prior to the close of new enrollment in the Fall of 1997.
After this, children will continue to be followed as they progress through
each setting and through two years after discharge. Researchers have found
that this population presents special challenges to enrollment in such
an intensive and longitudinal study, particularly given unanticipated premature
discharges and the challenges of receiving consent from families where
a child is placed. Nonetheless, over 60% of the eligible families are choosing
to enroll in the study. The children interviewed to date have demonstrated
a great deal of interest in their own participation in the study, particularly
while completing interviews on their exposure to community violence and
their social networks. Youths keep coming back to ask researchers, "when
are you going to interview me next?" While the empirical results of
the study will not be ready for dissemination for some time, early qualitative
insights have resulted in the development of a new framework from which
to assess children's experiences with community violence serviced in clinical
settings (Guterman & Cameron, in press; 1996a; 1996b; 1997). These
findings are expected to have broad applications for a host of social work
settings servicing children and youth, as no guidelines are yet available
for practitioners seeking to assess the role of community violence in their
young clients' lives.
Principal Investigator (Local JBFCS site): Neil B. Guterman, Ph.D., Assistant
Professor, CUSSW; Co-Principal Investigator: Bruce Grellong, Ph.D., Chief
Psychologist, JBFCS; Research Assistant, Mark Cameron, M.S.W.; Odyssey
Project (National) Principal Investigator: Patrick Curtis, Ph.D. (CWLA);
Co-Principal Investigators (National) Cynthia Papa-Letini (Berkshire Farm
Center for Children and Youth), Gina Alexander, M.S.W. (The Villages of
Indiana); Project Director (National) Lisa Lunghofer, Ph.D. (CWLA).
The study was described in the 1997
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