I lived in my group home for six years, until this spring when I moved into transitional living, which is an apartment where older foster youth live and the county pays for it.
I’m so happy to be out of my group home because I have freedom now. Like last month I went to Odyssey Night at Six Flags and I got to stay out until midnight with my friends. At my group home I had a curfew. I had to be home by 7 p.m.
Sure, living in a group home drove me crazy sometimes because of the rules and not having privacy. But I feel fortunate for the staff I had because they were there for me and cared. Late at night when I was feeling down, Dorothea would stay up and talk to me. It made me feel that if I had other problems, I could talk to the staff.
Dorothea and another staff, Isabel, were like mothers to me. Isabel gave me the eye like a mother would when I did something wrong. That eye had so much control over me. But I wouldn’t get into as much trouble because I knew she cared.
Isabel also never talked to me if my voice was raised. She always told me, “Go sit down first and then come back and talk to me.” Other staff members said, “Tray, this is how you do this” and “Don’t do this.” Their advice taught me to be a better person. Instead of throwing chairs, yelling and arguing with staff, now I talk it out and walk away.
She taught me patience
One time when I was 14, me and the other kids who lived in my group home were really, really hungry. We sat at the table and got what we thought were baked potatoes. I picked up a baked potato and it was hard as a rock. I said, “What the hell is this?” and threw it across the room. It bounced off the wall. Then the other kids started throwing them across the room like footballs. They were like rubber and they were supposed to be baked potatoes. Isabel looked at me and said, “Tray calm down, it’s OK. We’ll get something else.”
I went off. “No, this is nasty.”
But then Isabel calmed me down by talking to me. “Tray, there is other food you can cook. We can take you out to eat.” I kept making excuses so finally Isabel cooked us fried chicken. What other staff would go in the kitchen and cook another meal?
The cooler staff played hide and seek with us. When I got older, we had barbecues and Halloween and Valentine’s Day parties. We’d dance with the staff and teach them dance moves. Sometimes the staff would go rent movies with their own money. Our staff cared.
I had a good relationship with the staff but they still bugged me when they’d get on me for dumb things like chores not being completed or going in the refrigerator to get some water. Who wouldn’t get irritated in their own house by somebody telling them to get out of their refrigerator? I know they’re doing it because it’s their job. They’re told what to do by Community Care Licensing, a government agency that gives money to group homes to keep their doors open for kids who are in foster care. Licensing pays for the group home to stay open so it sets the rules and group homes have to follow them.
I think the rules should change. Let us take a shower when we want and eat when we’re hungry. My advice to staff is, act like you care at all times. Show some effort, so that kids feel like they’re in a real home.