Moving to a Group Home: A Big Decision

Categories: ASD and DD, Adult-focused

By Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA

[This column was published in the West Springfield Republican on 3/27/19 and in the Stoughton Journal on 5/15/21]

As they age, adults with intellectual disabilities (ID) will require increasing levels of specialized care. Eventually, most family members/primary caregivers will not be able to physically manage the care of their loved ones with ID on their own.

If an adult with ID has been living at home and receiving individualized care most of his (or her) life, choosing a new living arrangement can be very difficult. Although it can be a giant step towards independence, it is often hard for caregivers to imagine that a human service organization can effectively and compassionately provide quality care.

Community-based group homes can be an excellent option when the person with ID needs intensive support and cannot manage his health and emotional needs independently. If the transition is done thoughtfully, it can help the individual (and his family) feel more confident about a move to a supported residential placement. It may also give them more time to explore different residential options. This is not likely to happen if an emergency placement is required because the caregiver can no longer care for the person or themselves. In fact, it can be very distressing for the individual with ID and the family if he must leave the home he has lived in for his entire life without some careful preparation.

The key to making a successful transition to a group home is to find an organization that is committed to providing care that aligns with the needs of the individual as he ages. Working together, all members of the person’s Individual Service Plan (ISP) can help him find an appropriate living situation and lead a meaningful life.

When starting a search for a group home, do not be afraid to interview different organizations and talk with other families who have loved ones living in group homes. Not all organizations are the same, and not all group homes are the same. Be upfront about your needs and expectations. This will help you make an informed decision, and it will also allow you to set up a working relationship with the organization that is providing care from the start.

Before making this decision, it is important to fully understand the potential benefits and drawbacks of a group home. Having honest conversations about the person’s current and future needs can help ensure that he receives quality care that is effective, and individualized.

In terms of potential benefits, a group home can help an adult with ID expand his social circles and develop or expand the skills he needs to improve his quality of life.

A potential drawback to group home living that is important to consider is staff turnover. Staff retention should be a goal for all human service organizations providing care for adults with ID because consistent caregivers make it more likely these men and women will develop trusting relationships, establish a regular routine within the home, and obtain regular, reliable access to the community. When there is a staff shortage or something unexpected occurs, most group homes do have the ability to rearrange schedules to meet an individual person’s needs, but it does require some flexible and creative thinking from the individual, those providing care, and the individual’s guardian/parent.

Group homes can provide a safe and supportive place to live for adults with ID. Organizations that provide these kinds of living arrangements do their best to provide a nurturing environment that helps foster independence in the least restrictive environment possible. With good communication, hard work, empathy, and creativity from the individual and everyone who supports him, a group home can indeed be a “home sweet home.”

Margaret Walsh, M.A., BCBA, is the Director of Clinical Services for the May Center for Adult Services in Western Massachusetts. She can be contacted in West Springfield at

About May Institute
May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis and evidence-based interventions, serving autistic individuals and individuals with other developmental disabilities, brain injury, neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded nearly 70 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. For more information, call 800.778.7601 or visit