I Was Wrong About Group Homes
By Eric E.
Living without your parents is not easy, especially if you're living with people you don't know. Before I went into a group home, I thought living with eight boys would be tough (especially if you had no idea where they came from). I thought they would think I was soft because I'm only 4' 11", and would try to "F" me up. This might be typical behavior in a boys' group home, but, lucky for me, it wasn't the case.
When I moved into my first group home, I was having many problems with my aunt. I was lazy and I didn't really want to help her around the house. Not because I didn't want to, but I thought I wasn't being treated fairly. For example, my cousin could watch TV on a school night and I couldn't.
So my aunt decided that she couldn't take care of me anymore. She took me to the Catholic Guardian Society. This was not the first time I was sent to the agency for being disruptive. There were lots of other times, too.
I Called Them Names
When she told me I was moving into the group home, I got real scared. You see, I used to live across the street from a group home in New Jersey. I always thought they were uncivilized teenagers because they would smoke and drink and sometimes vandalize property, and I would make fun of them. I called them names like "motherless punks" and "groupie spinners."
The Tables Turn
Then the tables turned on me. When I first arrived in the group home, I tried to be quiet and not look at anybody. But this was hard because they were being so friendly to me, giving me junk and candy. Then the supervisor came and told me to introduce myself. I told most of the kids my name.
The staff showed me to my room. I wasn't thrilled about sharing a room with a boy I didn't know, but he turned out to be a cool person and a great ball player. I also thought that group homes were dirty, but as it turned out, my group home was kept very clean.
After a couple of weeks, I started getting used to my new home. I went out and played basketball and learned the area better. I also got to know the residents. Some of them were trouble, so I was told to avoid them. I was happy I received allowance, because that was what I missed out on at my aunt's house. I was also allowed to watch TV on a school night. (Now you probably know why I didn't get along with my aunt.)
Rules and Regulations
Even though I was having a great time, there were rules and regulations I had to follow. First of all, I had to keep my room clean at all times. Second, I had to make sure I did my chores after breakfast and after dinner. Next, I had to be home from school by four to do my homework. I also had a curfew at night.
If I don't follow these rules, there are consequences for me. Now, you might think these rules are strict, but they are better than my aunt's motto: "Work first and don't play later until I say so." I'm expected to do all my work in school and pass all of my courses.
Now don't get me wrong-this group home is not peaches and cream. I do have my ups and downs. I do get into a lot of verbal arguments over petty stuff, like my chores or the TV. I haven't gotten into any physical arguments because I would probably get hurt (that doesn't mean I wouldn't fight), but no one tries to fight me because I'm short for my age.
Keeping in Touch
I really thought I wouldn't be in touch with my family after my separation from my aunt. Then a week later my aunt called me. She explained why she put me in a group home. She said it would make me a better person and a responsible young man if I could go out and do for myself.
At that time I disagreed with her and didn't want to hear it. Then she told me there was another reason. She said she wanted my mother to come back and take responsibility for me. She said my mother was living the easy life and wanted nothing to do with me. She also said I'm at that point in my life when I need my mother's advice. I believe that it's too late for that because I'm becoming a young man. So right now I don't need her.
Learning to Cope
I thought if I held all my feelings from my family, I would be fine. It didn't turn out that way. I had to speak to someone, someone who could tell me why my mother neglected me. So I tried my uncle. He just told me that I was lucky she didn't throw me in a trash can somewhere. That made me sick and angry. So I hung up on him.
I tried other family members, but none of them had any insight. Then, when everything failed, I turned to a resident.
He told me the only way I could deal with my problems was to be mature about every situation. He told me to stop blaming people and take control of my life. Next he told me that people wear masks and you never know who they are going to be, so you have to be responsible for yourself.
That night I thought about what he said, and decided to go on a home visit with my aunt, something I had neglected to do.
After I went on a couple of home visits, I began to accept that the group home was my second home. I really didn't get to do anything on my home visits, so my weekends were totally boring. The only thing I did was play the PlayStation.
I needed freedom and my second home provided this. I also felt that what my aunt said was true. I saw many opportunities for me begin to open up. Like my independent living program said they could get me into college if I continued to do well in school. I also became a better ball player, thanks to another resident. Now I can do anything I want on the court, except rebound.
For the Better
After six months in the group home, I now believe that leaving my aunt was for the better. I was used to relying on her too much. Even though I need food, clothes and a roof over my head, some things I can do myself to become a grown man.
I also learned not to make false judgments about people who are in group homes because it can hurt their feelings. Maybe going through a group home is good for people in my position, and if I ever see my mother again, I want her to know that I'm making it on my own.
"Reprinted with permission from Foster Care Youth United, Copyright 200X by Youth Communication/New York Center, Inc. ()."