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Father Flanagan’s Boys Town—Residential Program

Ages 11-18

Rating: Level 3


Boys Town (BT) Treatment Family Home program is a family-style residential group home program for delinquent youths ages 10-17. Founded in 1917 by Father Edward Flanagan to help about a half dozen troubled boys, the residential program still operates at the original site located on 900 acres near Omaha, Neb., and has expanded to several other sites across the country. Today there are more than a hundred long-term, residential-care homes for troubled youths, featuring family-style living in the least restrictive environment.

BT applies a behavioral treatment model that emphasizes positive relationships, skill teaching, and self-control. The program is delivered through the Treatment Family Home program, in which a married couple—trained to teach youths how to build positive relationships with others—lives with six to eight youths in a large domestic home. These couples are trained to use every opportunity to reinforce appropriate behavior and apply consequences to inappropriate behavior. The curriculum teaches specific social skills to develop thinking, feeling, and choice making needed to provide appropriate replacements for the inappropriate ways that the youths have learned to deal with difficult and stressful situations. Children stay in a residential home on average18 months.

The Treatment Family Home program, an adaption of the Teaching Family Model, has five major elements:

1. Teaching skills. Youths are taught positive social skills within the program through the use of a cognitive behavioral approach that rewards positive behavior, imposes consequences for negative behavior, and teaches alternatives to negative behavior.
2. Building healthy relationships. Staff interact with the boys and girls with warmth, compassion, and genuine positive regard to develop relationships that are nonexploitive and that preserve personal dignity and a healthy sense of interpersonal boundaries.
3. Supporting moral and spiritual development. Staff foster spiritual growth to help youths grapple with the moral decisions they must make every day regarding friendships, families, sex, and their own self-worth.
4. Creating a family-style environment. A positive and healthy family unit is emphasized because families are an important part of a child’s composition and are considered critical to treatment success.
5. Promoting self-government and self-determination. Youths are empowered to make responsible and meaningful decisions about their lives, with the guidance and teaching of well-trained and caring staff.

In addition to making the treatment environment like a family, BT organizes the entire ecology of the child through positive peer, school, and neighborhood support systems. This approach to behavioral treatment helps support and reinforces the child’s positive behaviors, lessens factors that put children at risk, and increases the factors in their life that will protect them.

Finally, more traditional treatments such as psychotropic medications, individual and family therapy, and outpatient chemical use treatment are available to supplement everyday treatment. These adjunct treatments are used on a case-specific basis because many youths progress with the Family Home Program treatment alone.


The effectiveness of BT has been evaluated in many studies. The most recent one used a single-group, quasi-experimental design to examine 440 youths who were discharged from BT from October 1998 through September 2000, after staying at least 31 days. The youths included in the sample were 38 percent female and 60 percent white, 20 percent African-American, 10 percent Hispanic, 3 percent Native American, and 6 percent multiethnic. Age at admission ranged from 8.6 to 18.6 (mean=14.9). Youths’ length of stay ranged from 31 days to 9.7 years (mean=1.8 years; median=1.5 years). Measures included the Child Behavior Check List (CBCL), the Restrictiveness of Living Environments Scale, and the Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children (DISC).


The evaluation results indicate that BT produces positive benefits for both boys and girls. Overall the outcome measures indicate that most youths improved from intake to discharge and were functioning at levels similar to national norms 3 months after discharge. The average CBCL scores improved from clinical or borderline range at intake to normal levels at discharge. The portion of youths with diagnosable psychiatric disorders decreased from more than 60 percent at intake to fewer than 25 percent 12 months later. Girls improved as much as boys on both DISC diagnoses and CBCL scores. Girls improved more than boys in perceived success at discharge and in the restrictiveness of their subsequent living situation, which were the only areas of differential improvement by gender. Finally, BT discharged 80 percent of youths to either their family’s home or independent living.


Davis, Jerry L., and Daniel L. Daly. 2003. Girls and Boys Town Long-Term Residential Program Training Manual (Fourth Edition). Boys Town, Neb.: Father Flanagan’s Boys Home.

Friman, Patrick C., D.W. Osgood, Gail L. Smith, D. Shanahan, Ronald W. Thompson, and Robert E. Larzelere. 1996. “A Longitudinal Evaluation of Prevalent Negative Beliefs About Residential Placement for Troubled Adolescents.” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology 24:299–324.

Larzelere, Robert E., Daniel L. Daly, Jerry L. Davis, M. Beth Chmelka, and Michael L. Handwerk. 2004. “Outcome Evaluation of Girls and Boys Town’s Family Home Program.” Education and Treatment of Children 27(2):130–49.

Thompson, Ronald W., Gail L. Smith, D.W. Osgood, T.P. Dowd, Patrick C. Friman, and Daniel L. Daly. 1996. “Residential Care: A Study of Short and Long-Term Educational Effects.” Children and Youth Services Review 18:221–42.


Father Steven Boes, Executive Director
Girls and Boys Town
14100 Crawford Street
Boys Town, NE 68010
Phone: (800) 545-5771
Fax: (402) 498-1500
Web site:

Technical Assistance Provider

National Resource and Training Center
Girls and Boys Town
14100 Crawford Street
Boys Town, NE 68010
Phone: (800) 448-3000
Web site: