New group home in Middletown caters to those in foster system who are transitioning out

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

A new group home in Middletown opened by One Way Farm is designed to help up to 10 foster kids at a time ease into living on their own as they age out of the child protective services system.

The transitional living space will be a supplement to One Way Farm’s campus in Fairfield, a longstanding children’s home that can house 20 kids at a time from ages 6 to 18 — one of four private, noncustodial agencies in the county.

Rev. John Rice, the president of One Way Farm since 2019, said the new living space on Crawford Street will provide 18 to 21-year-olds with a much-needed living option as they enter college or begin their full-time working careers and can no longer reside in children’s homes.

“Once the county cuts off their funding to be at the children’s home, a lot of these kids have no place to go at all,” said Rice. “When you’re 18 and you don’t have any parents and you don’t have any credit, it’s almost impossible to get out into a decent apartment. This is just a stopgap so they can land on their own.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

Essentially, the Middletown facility will resemble what it’s like to live autonomously in an apartment — albeit with care staff available 24/7. While the Fairfield campus has two to three kids per room, Rice said each young adult at the Middletown campus will have their own two-room suite with a bedroom, living room and kitchenette, along with a shared laundry room.

“Our program is kind of a pilot. It’s a new thing for the state of Ohio,” Rice said. “There’s bits and pieces of what we’re doing across the state, but [there’s] nothing as distinct as going all the way from [ages] six to the age of 21 for these kids to be able to have a safe environment to grow up in.”

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Rice recalled a time when he was instructed to call a cab to take a newly emancipated young adult from the Fairfield children’s home straight to the homeless shelter. He said he’s seen the mental toll a lack of options has on the kids in his program as they near emancipation.

“Just to give you an idea of how this weighs on our kids, we had a young man that had done very well at our Fairfield facility and all of a sudden there’s this serious regression that I can’t understand,” Rice said. “So, I took the young man out to lunch one day and I said, ‘You gotta talk to me.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

“He said: ‘In six months, I’m 18 years old — I have no family, I have no place to go,’” Rice recounted. “It hit me then how desperate this Middletown campus was.”

While the state licensed the facility for 10 kids, the fire marshal recommended an addition of egress windows on the lower level, so the facility has only been about half-occupied. Rice said those windows will be going in shortly and the building will be fully occupied immediately thereafter.

Rice said the facility works within the context of Bridges, a program offered by Ohio Job and Family services that can cover the costs of rent and utilities for young adults who left foster care after turning 18, so long as they’re working, in school, or in an employment program.

The addition of the facility is a step toward Rice’s plan of creating a flexible network of facilities specifically designed to help foster kids through different phases of their life — as children, late teens and early adults.

Rice’s vision of that network exists outside of the programs already in place for foster kids, too.

This past fall, One Way Farm purchased the home next door to the Middletown facility with the intent of turning it into an affordable rental unit for up to six ex-foster kids age 21 or older — once they age out of the Bridges program.

“They will be able to have their own spaces until they are able to launch completely on their own,” Rice wrote in a blog post announcing the purchase. “This will allow kids who are interested in bettering themselves to have a soft land as well as allowing them time and space to finish any extra levels of education.”

Rice said he’ll continue to look for ways to accommodate more kids as they transition out of the foster system and into the workforce, even after One Way Farm’s second and third facilities are fully operational.

“The future’s kind of endless on where we can grow from here,” Rice said.

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