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 after discharge? 

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 treatment settings. 

 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 issue of Practice & Research.


 Dore, M. M., Young, T. M., & Pappenfort, D. M. (1984). Comparison of basic data for national survey of residential care facilities: 1966-1982. Child Welfare, 63, 485-495. 

Fitzpatrick, K. M., & Boldizar, J. P. (1993). The prevalence and consequences of exposure to violence among African-American youth. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 32( 2), 424-430.

Guterman, N. B., & Cameron, M. (in press). Assessing the impact of community violence on children and youth. Social Work.

Guterman, N. B., & Cameron, M. (March, 1997). Children and youth exposed to community violence: A Multidimensional Assessment Framework. Paper presented at the 43rd Annual Program Meeting of the Council on Social Work Education, Chicago, IL.

Guterman, N. B., & Cameron, M. (June,1996a). Assessing Children's Exposure to Community Violence in Child Maltreatment Service Settings. Paper presented at the Fourth National Colloquium of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children, Chicago, IL.

Guterman, N. B., & Cameron, M. (July, 1996b). Assessing for exposure to community violence in children and youth: Methodological considerations. Paper presented at the Trauma and Memory: An International Research Conference, Durham, NH, Family Research Laboratory of the University of New Hampshire.

Guterman, N. B., Hodges, V. G., Blythe, B. J., & Bronson, D. E. (1989). Aftercare service development for children in residential treatment. Child and Youth Care Quarterly, 18, 119-130.

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Lunghofer, L. (1995). The Odyssey Project: Literature Review. Unpublished manuscript.

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Whittaker, J. K., & Pfeiffer, S. I. (1994). Research priorities for residential group child care. Child Welfare, 73 (5), 583-601.