As a foster youth, I spent a majority of my time in group homes. The use of group homes has been going on for many decades. According to a 2015 report by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 40% of teenage foster youth have had no clinical reason to be placed in a group home. There are not enough foster homes to go around for youth right now. The most convenient and first place to put a teenage foster youth tends to be in a group home. A majority of foster parents would rather foster babies or young children rather than a teenage youth. Many foster youth have had more bad experiences than good when it comes to group homes.
I remember transferring from a juvenile detention center to my first group home. I figured that a group home would be a friendlier environment compared to the detention center. I was very wrong. There were many incidents where we were not watched like we were supposed to be or were put in danger by other peers at the group home. I once made myself some toast outside of meal time and got in trouble for it. The kitchen cabinets were locked from then on. I remember feeling really fat at that moment in time and that I didn’t even wanna eat because I was the reason the cabinet got locked. My peers and I would get in trouble if we would go to the bathroom without asking staff first. It seemed as if staff would’ve preferred us to have an accident instead of going to the bathroom without asking. There were times where we were sent to a timeout room for behaviors such as sneaking food into our bedrooms at night or reading past bedtime.
These should all be normal things that teens do. But I always felt guilty or bad for doing them when I knew in my heart that I shouldn’t feel that way. It is so unhealthy and traumatic for foster youth to learn these patterns of behaviors, especially going into adulthood. I still don’t know how to navigate my way in the world that well because of my time in group homes. I should’ve been placed in foster homes with foster parents from the very beginning. I felt as if I had left a harmful environment with my mom just to go back to another environment just like it.
The group home I was in, St. Cloud Children’s Home, closed in 2017 due to many charges brought against them, like neglect. Imagine having to ask to have your closet door unlocked each day. Imagine having only one outfit you can wear for the entire day or doing strip checks if a bag of pretzels went missing. Imagine getting only 10 minutes to speak on the phone with your siblings, where the call has to be placed on speaker phone for other people to hear our conversation. You also miss the high school experience when you are in a group home. You miss events like prom and a traditional graduation, where you get to celebrate with your classmates and walk across the stage to receive your diploma.
There are so many injustices done to foster youth that are placed in these group homes. There should be more done about group homes, not only in the media but also at a national legislative level. California Rep. Ro Khanna (D) is writing The Accountability for Congregate Care Act of 2021, a bill that would establish greater oversight of these group homes. The legislation will guarantee basic rights for young people in these facilities such as the ability to call their parents, access to basic necessities like clean water and healthy food, and banning restraints.
Beyond these measures, social workers should pay more attention to homes like these so that they can be inspected more. There should be better staff training in trauma-focused care. There should also be a supportive approach from staff so that foster youth feel comfortable to come to them for help when they need it. The staff should care about youth and what we have to say instead of judging us by our actions, or by our stories written on a piece of paper.