Development of the Family Focus Programs
Initially, PCDI offered only a special education program. In 1975, after Drs. Patricia J. Krantz and Lynn E. McClannahan assumed directorship, it expanded to include data-based teaching and treatment services for both preschoolers and school-aged children, as well as individualized parent support and home programming services. Many children who received early intervention were mainstreamed to public school classrooms, often at their appropriate grade levels. Others, who came late to treatment, or who presented chronic patterns of self injury or aggression, progressed more slowly. As some of them arrived at puberty and continued to display severe behavior problems, they were no longer able to live at home with their own families. But neither parents nor Institute personnel believed that institutional placement was a viable alternative for these young people who had made significant progress in many areas. Thus, in 1977, PCDI opened Family Focus, the first community-based, family-style group home for youths with autism in New Jersey.
The design of the Family Focus Program is unique for several reasons. There is no shift staff, nor is there an awake night staff; instead, the teaching parents (a married couple) live in the home and assume all of the responsibilities of parents, as well as the responsibilities of therapists. For example, they prepare family-style meals, make doctor and dentist appointments, shop for groceries and clothing, attend to housekeeping and home repairs, care for lawn and garden, and teach young people with autism to do these activities. The house is not a “mini-institution,” but a home that is typically furnished and similar to other single-family residences in our area.
The Family Focus programs are not at all akin to the typical “mom and pop” group homes that are well-meaning but often ineffective. Like other branches of PCDI’s programs, the Institute’s group homes offer science-based intervention and are accountable for intervention effects–that is, program personnel accept responsibility for helping people with autism achieve positive, socially significant behavior change. With support from a National Institute of Mental Health grant and from the New Jersey Department of Human Services, the Family Focus model of group home treatment was replicated four times and in 1983, under PCDI’s auspices, a fifth replication home, Family Focus at Mountainview, opened its doors. Subsequently, this model of professionally-staffed, family-style treatment has been shared with many other agencies, in the United States and in other countries.