established in 1917 by Father Edward J. Flanagan as a home for orphaned and abandoned
boys, Boys Town today directly cares for more than 27,000 boys and girls annually in
fourteen states and the District of Columbia.56 Boys Town programs include
education, residential homes, emergency shelters, foster-care, family counseling, and a
medical research hospital. At the 900-acre home campus in Boys Town, Nebraska, 550 girls
and boys in grades 3-12 live and attend school.
The typical Boys Town youth has been placed in two to three foster homes or group homes
before coming to Boys Town, has a history of juvenile delinquency, and tests two to three
years below grade level in school.57 Most have been neglected and abused by
their families. Eighty percent of Boys Town children come from single-parent homes. Over
half of all girls and 30 percent of the boys have been sexually abused. One in five have
considered suicide; 63 percent have mental health problems severe enough to be
Despite the considerable challenges these youth present, Boys Town has been successful
in turning their young lives around. An eight-year study by Boys Town researchers found
that 83 percent of all Boys Town residents graduate from high school or earn a GED. That
compares to a 69 percent graduation rate for youth referred to Boys Town but served by
other non-Boys Town programs, and a 55 percent graduation rate for children placed in
foster care nationally.59
Boys Town continues to monitor the progress of its alumni after graduation. Twenty-five
percent enroll in higher education; another twenty-five percent enroll in employment
training programs. In total, over 92 percent of Boys Town graduates are enrolled in school
or employed two to three years later.60
In keeping with its famous motto: "He aint heavy, Father . . . hes my
brother," Boys Town stresses cooperation, a family-oriented philosophy, and
responsibility for self and others. Children live on the Boys Town campus in family-style
cottages, each headed by a Boys Town trained married couple who serve as surrogate
parents, role models, teachers, and counselors.
Boys Town runs an elementary and a secondary school on campus attended by all
residents. Both schools are accredited and provide comprehensive academic and vocational
classes. The high school is organized around a seven-period day without study halls.
Academics, social skills, and employability skills are emphasized, with students offered
vocational training in over a dozen career areas. Boys Town also has its own sports teams,
band, choir, student newspaper, and student government.
Although Boys Town is a secular, nonprofit organization, spirituality is an important
component of Boys Town life. Depending on the religious preference of the child (or his
biological family), he or she must attend church or synagogue once a week. Father Flanagan
once said, "Every boy must learn to pray. How he prays is up to him." Religious
instruction is also part of the school curriculum.
The residential and educational cost per child at Boys Town is $49,000 per year. Of
that, two-thirds is privately supported through donations and a trust fund established by
Father Flanagan in 1941; the remainder is funded by social service, juvenile justice, and
Noting the inconsistency of public funding among different states and different
programs, Dr. Daniel L. Daly, director of planning and research at Boys Town, says the
private-sectors role is essential to making sure children receive the services they
need. "Happily, we are an organization thats able to subsidize care for kids so
the [placement] label [which partially determines public funding] doesnt make a
difference to us. . . . I dont think public funding comes near enough to covering
what these kids need."
Daly believes both the public and private sector, working separately or in partnership,
are needed to serve neglected and abused children. When evaluating a program, he advises
policy makers to "stick with outcomeskid outcomes, not system outcomes."
Graduation rates, employment rates, and success in school will show whether or not a
particular program is helping students, he says. "Programs should be results, not
Daly says that by asking, "What actually benefits kids? it becomes a
little clearer what has to be done."