L.A. Youth, Los Angeles
When I lived with my mom, we were always at each other’s throats. She’d kick me out at night with nowhere to go. So finally, a year-and-a-half ago, I went into foster care.
It’s hard for the system to find foster homes for teenagers, because most foster parents want young kids. So a social worker asked me if I wanted to live with a family member or go to a group home. With my family there would still be drama, so I chose to go to a group home.
But a group home isn’t better than home.
There are some good things. I get a therapist to talk to, and the group home can’t kick me out like my mom used to. But there are too many rules and no freedom. And most of the staff members are not respectful.
You have to ask permission for everything: to get food from the fridge, cook, watch TV, use the phone, go in the backyard or take a shower. How can you feel at home when you have to ask to eat or can’t go outside unless you have a staff member with you? The signs on the wall – about treating the staff with respect and no smoking allowed – make it feel more like an institution than a home.
Where are the rules that say staff should treat us with respect?
One time, the other girls and I were sitting at the table, laughing, when one of the staff said, “If you don’t be quiet, you’re all getting consequences.” (A consequence is a punishment.) We’re supposed to sit there and be bored all day? In my family, we had our fun at the dinner table because that’s when everyone was together. We weren’t going to take turns being quiet that day, so we all got a consequence.
One night, I wanted to go to bed and a staff was sitting at the table with the light on. We can’t have our doors closed, so I said, “Can you please turn off that light? Me and my roommate can’t sleep when the light is on.” She said, “When I’m ready.” Ten minutes later, she finally turned it off.
The other girls feel just like me. My roommate Shante said, “I feel like I’m on lockdown.”
Another housemate, Desirae, suggested ways to make the group home better: “Minimize some of the rules and restrictions, take us out more to places we enjoy, [give us] a responsible amount of money per week, and make us feel at home instead of in jail.”
A few staff members are really there for us. Ms. Sherea is teaching me how to drive. Ms. Monique is young and cool and laid back, and lets us play the radio in the van. Last spring Ms. Menava, the house social worker and staff supervisor, said I was doing good and took me to the spa for a manicure.
But some of the staff members don’t treat it like a serious job. One of the staff said to me, “This job is just gas money.” If it’s just gas money, you’re going to have a negative attitude.
A lot of times the girls don’t give respect to the staff, because they’re dealing with being taken away from their families. The staff should make it easier for us, knowing what we’re going through. All that teenagers want is respect, and they’ll give it in return.
Instead, the staff will argue just to get the last word. If one of the girls says to the staff, “Shut up,” the staff isn’t supposed to respond, “No, you shut up!” They’re supposed to be teaching us not to argue.
I don’t want the group home director to think I don’t appreciate everything she does. But she doesn’t always know what her staff does.
I’m not the only one who feels this way. A year ago I was at a meeting with California Youth Connection (CYC), a group of youth who advocate for changes in foster care, and the topic was group homes. My friend Myriam said, “I hate being in my group home.” The CYC workers asked why. Everybody yelled out reasons.
Then a person from the CYC said there should be staff training, with input from the kids. The room went crazy. All of us shouted “Yeah!” I was thinking, “Maybe we’re getting somewhere.” Hopefully, the foster care system will take this into consideration and make it happen.
Not all group homes are bad. But a lot of group homes are not run with as much care as they should be. Group homes should be places where foster youth can grow up, feel like they belong and get help with their issues. It should be a home, not just a place to sleep.
© L.A. Youth, www.layouth.com