Cottage Security


Do any of you have security systems in your cottages? You know, door and window alarms, video cams, etc. I have a wireless bedroom door chime system that alerts me when one of the kids has opened their door at night. But I was thinking about a video camera at the front door to document the pick-up and drop-off conditions when the kids go on home visits. Sometimes things/kids are just left on the porch…sometimes the guardian arrives in a questionable condition….etc.

I don’t need additional security for the kids ’cause their all young and no problem, but I’ve worked in cottages where I was watching for runaways and additional security would have been helpful there.

Tell me what you’ve found useful.



We are pretty lax on security here. I rigged up a baby monitor in the boys hallway to keep an ear open for anyone moving about. The best thing about it is the boys forget it is even there and can’t figure out how we know what they are talking about when they think they are out of ear shot.

The ranch in Georgia we just left had a sweet system. Each boy had a intercom in their room. There was two master control intercoms, one in the kitchen and one in the HP bedroom. There was also an intercom system for the garage, game room and front porch. They also had a alarm system for all the doors in the house, windows and I think there may have been a perimeter alarm. SWEET system. If I was open my own group home and have a bottomless budget I would copy their system.

In Maryland we rigged up a magnetic alarm system to all the boys doors. It cost about $50 a house to install. It also only took a kid 5 minutes to figure out how to get around the system. 



We have an alarm system that chimes anytime a door in the house opens. At night, we set the motion sensors. If a girl goes into the living room or kitchen, the alarm goes off. Girls are only able to be in their bedroom or go to the bathroom after the alarm has been set. This system prevents them from sneaking up on us in our bedroom, sneaking into the living room to watch tv, or sneaking into the kitchen for unapproved midnight snacks.



The cottage I work in now, used to have a security system. I was the one that installed it for previous houseparents at the direction of administration, however they didn’t want to deal with it so they quickly disabled it. Of course they also provided alcohol and drugs for the teens in the cottage, fortunately they are no longer houseparents, at least not here.

We used an alarm system in the B-mod program we worked at and it was a constant battle of cat and mouse to keep it working effectively. Children would use speaker magnets or any other magnet they could get a hold of to bypass a magnetic window sensor, scotch tape on a mechanical switch sensor, or simply placing a ball cap over the motion sensor just before bedtime. It is much easier trying to keep somebody out than trying to keep somebody in with an alarm system.

A baby monitor is probably one of the best devices I have ever used for gathering intelligence on the happenings of the house. Working with little kids I haven’t had need to use one in a while, but I have noticed they are getting smaller and therefore easier to hide.

You need to be very careful about using cameras, and always make sure you have permission from your administrator. We have been allowed to use them in public areas of the cottage to monitor messing around after lights out, and also in a child’s room while they are gone on visits to catch people stealing from them (The child did not have a roommate and all the other children were instructed not to go in). Never use them in an area where a child could be undressing, you just don’t want that liability.

Campus Security

I’ve become very concerned about our campus’ security plan and have broached the subject with our executive director. He doesn’t seem too concerned about it and seems to believe he can call all of the necessary people in an emergency and all will be well.

I keep thinking of all the emotionally unstable people we come into contact with each day/week/year and wonder how long it will be until one of them decides to bring a firearm on campus and start going crazy. I am also wary of ex-spouses, etc. that may be looking for kids and female partners within our campus shelter. There is no good way of performing a “lock-down” on our 100+ acre campus.

I’m looking for ideas. What kinds of security steps have you seen in places you’ve worked? Were they effective? Expensive?

I have had those same concerns in the past. Our last facility I kept a 45 in my quarters loaded with one in the chamber. I had a internal lock on it so only I could use it. I know this statement will freak some people out here, but I truly believe VA Tech would not have had the body count it did if some of the Teachers and staff would have been packing.

Here they do not allow firearms on campus. I keep a tire “Thumper” in our quarters and I also always carry a knife that I can operate quickly. I keep the 45 in my off duty quarters fully loaded and ready to go.

I know it sounds rough, but being a good shepherd means being prepared to put a cap in a wolf that is trying to harm a lamb. I have never had a situation as a civilian where I was put in a situation to even pull out a weapon on someone else, but I am more than happy to do so if anyone came looking to mess with the kids or my family.

I do think 99% of the time you can take common sense precautions to keep the boogey man at bay.

  1. Always carry a cell. Even if you have no service in some areas if you dial 911 you can be routed thru another cell tower. Always grant permission for others to see your GPS location on your cell. So if something does happen or the call is dropped the good guys can find you.
  2. Pepper spray works awesome. MUCH more effective than CS or mace.
  3. Light up the perimeter of your house.
  4. Lock down the house before going to sleep.
  5. At the first sign of “Feeling” like something may not be right put yourself on guard. If the doorbell is ringing at 3 am, I don’t answer it unless I got my shoes on, skivvies pulled up and my tire thumper in hand. Whoever is there had better be real certain they need to be there at that moment. 
  6. Emergency numbers always at hand- programmed into the cell.
  7. I keep a big Mag light close by the door in my quarters. If power goes out or if I need to run out in the middle of the night, it’s an easy grab.
  8. Question anyone you even suspect has no business being on campus. Kids, adults- it’s all the same. If they aint local they need to be escorted by staff or under supervision of someone while on campus.
  9. Keep all underbrush and bushes trimmed around the house so you can see through them if need be.
  10. Keep all vehicles locked with windows up.
  11. Put together an emergency house plan and practice it. If the kids hear a code word they know to run to their rooms and lock the doors or keep them closed.
  12. Get a house alarm system. (I guess if your facility is to poor to afford it you could try the cans on a string across the door way trick).
  13. 11. Lift weights and watch at least one season of the Sopranos.

Any kind of campus-wide alert system you know of?

Here we have speakers mounted in all of the cottages connected to an internal phone system. The primary purpose is for tornado and weather warnings but anything else happening can be easily transmitted over the system. The director can give warnings all over campus at the same time. Similar to a school PA system.