During my years as a foster child, I spent time in five different group homes. There were differences, of course, but many of the issues and problems were shared.
To appreciate the importance of the five ways to make group homes better for foster children outlined below, it helps to view children’s shelters through the eyes of a foster child.
What Group Homes or Orphanages Are Like For Foster Children
I remember my first experience with a group home. About 8 hours after my formal police statement regarding my childhood a woman showed up to pick me up from the smelly police office I had been put in for the day. She informed me that the next step for me was being placed in foster care.
She claimed she’d tried for many hours to find a foster home, but there were none who took kids my age that had a bed open nearby. Because I was a teenager with a past of being sexually abused, finding me a foster home was hard.
So she piled me in the car, just the clothes on my back, and took me to a children’s shelter.
A children’s shelter is the first stop for the unwanted or abused kids. It’s a temporary group home. Being walked through those doors was surreal. All the other kids playing with toys or watching tv, looked happy. I soon realized that wasn’t the case, but it certainly eased the pressure.
I was walked to my room, which had bunk beds and was only about 10 ft. by 10 ft. with a small closet. After being shown my room the caseworker who brought me left.
I was then checked for lice, shown around a bit more, and left to sit with the other kids who eagerly asked me questions about my arrival.
The place didn’t seem too bad at first. Sadly it progressively got worse. So I have a lot of advice to give on the topic.
5 Ways To Improve Group Homes for Foster Children
This list could be a lot longer, but let’s just start with five basic improvements to improve group homes for foster children … and staff.
1. Pay Staff in Group Homes Better Wages
A couple different times while in group homes I overheard or saw things that told me how much the staff were getting paid. Every time I heard these things I really didn’t grasp them.
It wasn’t until I got my first job that I figured it out. These people are usually making within $2 of minimum wage!!
How do you expect to get quality caregivers if they are making almost minimum wage? Oh wait, that’s right there is no expectation of having quality caregivers, just whoever you can get through the door at $8 an hour!
2. Train the Staff Appropriately
Along with the better pay, equals training. Workers in group homes are some of the most ignorant people I ever met in foster care. They had no concept of what the children they were watching had been through, and if they did, well they didn’t seem to care.
Empathy training would be a good start, then teaching them to actually take care of the children. Being a foster parent requires more training than most group home workers receive.
3. Don’t Make Older Children Take Care of the Younger Children in Group Homes
I remember actually being told I had to comb lice out of younger children’s hair because the staff didn’t want to do it.
I also was threatened with punishment if I didn’t help remove crabs from another girl’s pubic hair!!
This is insane, and likely falls back on low levels of pay and training.
4. Stop Using Lock Up Rooms
When kids misbehave in group homes, they are often locked away in a lock up room that is locked from the outside. This is extremely cruel.
Some of these kids came from homes where they were locked away for long periods of time. Not following your every command should not result in being locked in a room.
Quite honestly if the staff in an orphanage or group homes cannot handle a temper tantrum, maybe they shouldn’t be working there! If a child is that out of hand (I was that kid once), deal with it by relocating them to a hospital or calling the police if their actions warrant it.
The only time lock up rooms should be used is if the police or ambulance is on its way.
5. Provide Children with Private Space
Not one of the 5 group homes I was in offered private space.
Most children are not use to living with 20 other children. So explain to me why there isn’t a couple of rooms for them to be able to “check into” to get away from all the noise.
Forcing children to all be in the same space all the time is a violation of the personal space. Everyone needs their own private time. Provide a comfortable place they don’t have to share and where maybe they can even … (gasp!) … be able to lock the door.
Note to Staff in Group Homes
It is important for all staff in group homes for foster children to remember these kids are not in the group home through any fault of their own. They didn’t ask to be there, and really it is the state’s fault they are there because the state refuses to make better accommodation for abused children.
Children in group homes and orphanages are KIDS. They are NOT criminals. Stop treating them like they are!
I met a few good staffers along the way, but I’d be willing to bet they were not paid or trained nearly enough to deal with the craziness of that many foster children in one place.
As an adult and a survivor of foster care, I have the benefit of hindsight and can clearly see the direct and indirect effects of spending time in group homes. These five points are just some of the ways to improve group homes for foster children. I urge all administrators and responsible authorities to help implement them.