Group homes in the state of Alabama provide accommodations for children and adults who do not live with their families. An adult group home provides supervision and personal care to its residents. In contrast, a youth group home provides personal care services with around-the-clock supervision in a structured environment close to a community and its resources, including schools, family contacts, employment and recreation. The Alabama Department of Human Resources (DHR) regulates the laws that apply to youth group homes and the Alabama Department of Public Health handles adult group home regulations.
Rules for Adult Group Homes
Adult group homes, also known as assisted living facilities, provide a place to live and personal care for two or more people who need help with activities of daily living (ADLs). Group homes can have up to 16 residents at any given time.
When a person enters a group home, they, or their sponsor, must sign an agreement that states they understand:
- The facility's room and board, laundry, personal care and services charges.
- The refund and discharge policies of the facility.
- The bed hold policy of the facility.
- That the facility cannot provide skilled nursing services or health care for residents with severe cognitive impairment.
If a resident needs these services as a result of a condition that may last for 90 days or longer, the facility will discharge them with written notice and information about the local ombudsman, who can help them find another facility where they can receive quality residential care.
Rules for Admitting Residents
An incoming resident has to meet specific requirements to live in a group home. They cannot:
- Require restraints, confinement or limitations on leaving a facility.
- Be unable, because of dementia, to understand the medication system of the facility.
- Have a chronic health condition requiring extensive care or consistent professional observation or judgment.
- Require any care beyond basic assistance with ADLs.
A facility cannot admit or retain an individual with severe cognitive impairment, with the exception of a resident who needs medical care for a period no longer than 90 days or one admitted to a licensed and certified hospice program due to a condition other than dementia. In these instances, a properly licensed individual must deliver the resident's care while they are in the facility.
Physical Facilities for Adult Group Homes
Bedrooms for group home residents must have an outside window that is not below grade and not less than one-eighth of the floor area unless there is proper ventilation, air-conditioning and lighting. Homes submitted for planning after 2001 must have one outside window with at least 20 feet of clear space to any structure. The bedrooms should have a location that minimizes noise and odor and must be accessible via a central corridor, not through another bedroom. The facility must individually and consistently identify bedrooms by a number, letter or name.
Group home bedrooms must not accommodate more than two adult residents at any time unless they are in a facility licensed before December 25, 1991. All residents of a group home have the right to furnish their bedroom in the way they choose. However, they must do so within the facility's guidelines. Private bedroom sizes should be as follows:
- Single bedroom without a sitting area: 80 square feet.
- Double bedroom without a sitting area: 130 square feet.
- Private bedroom with a sitting area: 160 square feet.
- Double bedroom with a sitting area: 200 square feet
Physical Facilities for Youth Group Homes
In Alabama, a youth group home is a facility where at least seven, but not more than 10, children are received and maintained to provide them with care, training or both. A transitional living facility is one designed for persons between 16 and 21 years of age. It allows them to practice independent living skills in a residential setting with various degrees of supervision and care.
Bedrooms in youth group homes acquired or constructed before January 1, 1975, shall not have more than four children. Facilities built, bought, remodeled or acquired after that date must have bedrooms that accommodate no more than three children. However, the state recommends two children per bedroom. Each child in a group home must have their own bed.
Community and Staffing for Youth Group Homes
A youth group home should have access to the community and its resources. This includes schools, family contacts, employment and recreation. Because of the youth group home's location and the small number of children in it, the people who work in the home can have the flexibility to adjust to the changing needs of the children living there. This type of home provides an informal atmosphere, allowing children to participate in decisions concerning the home's program and activities.
A youth group home must have at least two staff members on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with sufficient additional staff to meet the needs of all residents. If the resident population has more requirements than the staff can reasonably expect to meet, then the group home will not meet the requirements of the governing authority. Anyone employed as an executive or supervisor in a youth group home must have certain qualifications for the job:
- A bachelor's degree in administration, social work, psychology or a related field from a university or college accredited by one of six accrediting associations in the U.S.
- At least two years of prior experience working with children and youth, and/or training in another youth care facility.
Federal Fair Housing Act and Group Homes
The federal Fair Housing Act protects persons with disabilities and affects the ability of local governments to exercise control over group homes for those people. While it doesn't preempt local zoning laws, it prohibits local governments and other entities from making zoning or land use decisions or implementing policies to exclude or discriminate against protected persons.
The Fair Housing Act makes it unlawful for any entity to treat a disabled group less favorably than a non-disabled group – for example, by implementing an ordinance prohibiting a group home, while allowing other unrelated people to live in the same location. The Act makes it illegal to deny a permit for building the home, refusing to make reasonable accommodations in zoning policies, procedures and land use where they would be necessary to afford those with disabilities an equal housing opportunity.
What defines a reasonable accommodation depends on the situation. For example, if a group home requests a modification that imposes an administrative or undue burden on the local government or creates a fundamental alteration in its zoning scheme and land use, the federal government will not consider it a "reasonable" accommodation.
Michelle Nati is an associate editor and writer who has reported on legal, criminal and government news for PasadenaNow.com and Complex Media. She holds a B.A. in Communications and English from Niagara University.