One aspect of the juvenile justice system often overlooked is the use of group homes. Group homes provide an alternative to detention centers and include therapy, 24-hour supervision, and support in a home-like setting. Group homes serve a small number of teens and offer their own set of challenges.
While this might seem like a loving alternative to crowded detention centers, groups home dynamics can lead to difficult situations. That’s why Youth For Christ (YFC, www.yfc.net) a leader in missional youth outreach for more than seven decades, is determined to reach youth in the group home setting and share the love of Christ through impactful relationships. Youth For Christ Fresno/Madera sends mentors into 38 group homes each week, helping kids navigate their uncertainty and walk into their God-given purpose.
YFC Fresno/ Madera
Kabuya Matadi is the associate director of YFC Fresno/Madera Group Life. Matadi has played a crucial role in integrating Youth For Christ into the local group homes.
“Group Life is a new program we started almost four years ago here in Fresno,” Matadi said. “We are trying to reach as many kids in these group homes as we can, but it can be difficult. Each home usually only has about six kids, so to make the most impact, we travel to many different homes. We currently have access to 38 homes, so we are reaching on average 300 kids a year.
“Every kid has a unique story. Some were removed from their parents for their own safety, while others have been in the juvenile detention center or are transitioning out. There are even a few homes that have young girls who were rescued from prostitution and trafficking.”
Matadi continued, “The state law requires that youth can only stay in a home for six months. With that said, we often see the same kids stuck in a rotation as they move to a different group home setting. This creates a sense of instability in their minds. They never know what will be next and often, they don’t care. In the homes, they have probation officers, therapists, and psychiatrists who are there for them. However, the kids don’t feel any connection to them because those adults are paid to be there. The youth will tell them what they want to hear just so they can be left alone. They feel that the adults in their lives don’t truly care about them.
“We combat this attitude by providing a level of stability that shows kids that we care about them and their futures. The youth notice right away that we come to them without any type of agenda. Our goal is to build relationships with them so they will come to know the Lord.”
The Impact Made
Youth from these group homes leave and go back into the world. Matadi noticed that many of them weren’t able to have a positive transition into society. This is because they were not equipped with the tools to be successful adults. “Some of these kids have been in group homes for the majority of their lives,” Matadi said. “People have been feeding them, doing their laundry, and taking care of their basic needs the majority of their lives. When they are released into the world, they don’t know what to do and often end up homeless and alone. We continue to maintain those relationships for that reason. The government provides apartments for a few months to get them started. However, they will kick them out if they don’t prove that they can maintain a positive lifestyle. We help them find jobs and maintain successful patterns in their lives.”
The success of YFC’s presence in these homes is undeniable. “When I first started working in group homes, the government did not allow Christian organizations to interact with the kids. Our volunteers had to go in as ‘friends.’ After witnessing the impact our volunteers had on the kids, all the group homes in the area wrote a letter to the Californian government. They asked to allow YFC into the homes and showing the impact we were having on these kids. Now, all religious organizations are allowed to work with these kids! During the pandemic, probation officers and therapists were restricted in their work, but they allowed YFC to continue our work there. Why? Because they see the immense value YFC has in these homes and the impact on the youth.”