Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Why group homes are not good alterntiaves to foster families

“You’re not that little girl anymore, so why focus on it?”
“You get to choose your family now.”
“Didn’t you like your group home?  Maybe they should have let you stay there the whole time.”
 These quotes come from my friend today when we were talking about foster care.  She didn’t mean to upset me by them and she was really trying hard to understand why they did.  I think it was hard for her because we don’t really talk about my life like this and she had a huge family all over the globe. 

I am that little girl.  I will always be that little girl.  It doesn’t matter if I’m 8 or 80, I will always be the kid who no one wanted.  Time will never change the fact that no one ever loved me or kept me.  Time won’t change the fact that I never had a mom or a dad or any other type of family.  It won’t change the fact that I ache for a mom every day of my life.  It won’t change the fact that I grew up without any stability or safety.   It’s not only that I didn’t get a family, but I was constantly rejected by family after family.  Time can’t change that and I don’t think it will ever hurt any less. Rejection always hurts.   It doesn’t matter if you’re being rejected for a job, a date, or the soccer game.  It hurts.  It really hurts, but those things are easy to get over.  Rejection destroys when families decide that you just aren’t good enough for them.  Rejection destroys you when you aren’t lovable enough to keep.
 
I don’t get to choose my family today any more than I was able to choose them when I was a child.  I wish I could choose my family now.  I wish it was as easy as walking up to a nice middle aged woman and asking her to be my mother. “Excuse me ma’am, you look like you’d make a great mom and I need a mom, would you take me home and adopt me?”  People always say that I can choose who my family is today thinking it will make me feel better.  It’s always said by people who have always been surrounded by family and friends.  Even if I could choose my family today, even if I were adopted tomorrow, I would still hurt.  I would still ache inside because my heart doesn’t ache only for my present situation.  My heart aches for the little girl I used to be.  My heart aches for the years I went without love.  Being an adult doesn’t mean I get to take a giant eraser to everything.  It doesn’t mean my childhood just goes away.  

What I do get to choose in life are my friends from the people who also want to be my friend.  I can kind of choose my friends but I cannot choose my family.  Friends can be close.  Friends can love you, but friends will never be your family.  Friends will never make up for how much I need a mom.  Friends will never love me unconditionally. Friends cannot be a substitute for a family.  They can’t make up for not having a family--for never having a family.  It doesn’t matter how great of a friendship we have or how much we love each other, friends will always just be my friends.  But even with friends, I can’t make people stay in my life.  I don’t get to choose my family.  I don’t get to just decide to not focus on the things that hurt.  I wish that were true.  I wish I could just turn it all off.  It would make my life a whole lot easier.  I used to be able to do that and now look at where I am.  I turned off my feelings for 20-something years and now I’m drowning. 

I just needed a family.  I’ve always needed a family.  I still need a family and I will always need a family.

All foster children need families.  Group homes should be temporary solutions only.  Growing up in a group home does not prepare a child for normal life.  A group home does give that child love and encouragement.  A group home cannot teach a child how to be in a family, how to be a good wife, husband, mother, father.  How does a child learn to have relationships in a group home?  It’s nearly impossible.  In group homes, relationships are short and constantly changing.  A group home cannot give that child the love and encouragement a foster home can.  Group homes cannot give a child the stability a foster home can.  Group homes are always changing.  From week to week there are different people working and living there.  Staff members leave, go on vacation, and have different schedules.  The children come and go.  Real life is not like that.  Real life is more constant than that.  In real life people don’t work in shifts.  Real life is not as structure as group home life.  Real life does not come with staff.  No matter how much training and experience they have or how loving they are, staff cannot give children what a family can.  Group homes don't have traditions.  Group homes don't teach children values and morals and all those things it takes to grow good people.  The only thing a group home can ever really do is provide food and shelter.  Sometimes that is what a child needs for a little while.  Sometimes a child need to be removed from real life for a little while, but that should never be a long term solution.  A group home is not a home.  

Some group homes even have rules on hugging the children.  Staff were not allowed to huge the kids.  All children need to be hugged.  Human beings are social, affectionate animals.  We NEED to be loved or we die.  There was a period of over a year that no one hugged me.  EVER.  Not one person embraced me.  Not one person pulled me into them and told me they cared.  Children need this.  All children need this.  It doesn’t matter if that child is a genius or seriously mentally challenged, they all need to be touched.  They all need to be hugged.  Every single child on earth deserves to know that someone will hug them that day.  That someone loves them.   Group homes cannot love children like foster homes should.  Group homes are not good alternatives for foster homes.  Children need connections.  Children need love.  Children need stability.  Children need real life.  Children need family.  All children deserve to have their basic human needs met and they deserve to have those needs met by a family that loves them.  Foster children need these things or they can turn into people like me.  They can turn into people who shouldn't be here.  They can become people who don't know how to relate to other people. They can turn into adults that hurt too much to have healthy relationships.  They can turn into adults that will never live up to their full potential or make any difference in the world.  They can end up being nobodies.  Foster care needs to change because it's killing the futures of foster children.