Friday, July 15, 2011

The System - The Cycle

These darn kids. They worm their lying, cussing, angry, defiant, sweet, funny, lonely little selves right into your heart.

Working in a group home is the pits. Living there must be two-thousand times worse. Three thousand.

There are up to eight different personalities at any one time where I work: These kids have to room together, eat together, watch tv together, ride in a big red van together; fight for hierarchy. They hate each other; but they bond and become “bro’s”. For awhile. Then someone new comes along, and the old friend is now low-man on the totem pole. Or somebody rats someone out. Or they run away.

When the kiddos turn 18, we turn them loose. Not “us” per se. The state does this. We are a non profit agency and just house these children. We follow the rules that the guardian(state) gives us.

These youngsters can’t wait to leave us. We’re “mean”, we have rules. They have bedtimes and study hour; they have to ask every time they want to go to their room. Oh, they can’t wait to turn 18! They can smoke without getting cited. They don’t have to ask if they can take a piss. They are out of the system! They’re FREE!

The new-found freedom lasts for a few hours. Then they are hungry. Then they need to sleep somewhere. They want more pot, more pills, whatever…so they can numb themselves again from whence they came. What I mean by that is, you can show/teach/guide these kids in different directions, but they always go back to what they know. It is their script. Parents: It all boils down to how you love your children as babies. I mean it. If you don't fire those neurons when they are infants...the DO NOT wire. It's over.

Shortly after dischage, we start getting calls at the group home. “Hey, it's me. How are ya? So…I’m having a baby. Do you and Leah still work on Sunday’s? Ya? Maybe I’ll stop by.”

For those of us who sneak our cell phone numbers to some of these kids…we get calls; texts, even years later after they’ve left us. Sometimes at midnight they start rolling in. “My cat got killed by our dog,” cries one little boy.
“My dad passed away,” says another young man.
It just breaks my heart that WE are the ones these kids call first when their cat dies, or they gave birth to a child, etc. etc. Well, breaks my heart and makes me feel good at the same time. To me, it means I’ve done my job if these kids know I genuinely care about them. That is one HARD concept for most of them to grasp. Truly.

“I’ve just been getting fucked up. I’m so sick of everything…I just wanna get fucked up and pass on.” Those are the hard calls. It’s absolutely heart wrenching. And it's impossible to leave your job at work. I thought I learned not to “bring it home with me” a long time ago. Nope. It always sneaks back in.

I know this is a struggle for most people in any line of work. I have both literally and figuratively brought my work home. My husband and I fostered a little girl for one year. But that is a whole other story. And long one at that. In fact, it's turning into a book on my computer.

What does “The System” do for these kids? We pass them around from group home, to foster care, to therapeutic group home, to residential treatment, to foster home, to group home, to detention, to hospitalization, to group home. Then they turn 18.

Truly…this is a vicious cycle. From every “important” meeting I attend: TREATMENT TEAM MEETING, CHILD-CENTERED MEETING, FOSTER CARE REVIEW, you name it. They are all pretend. They say the same thing in every meeting, and everyone types up fancy things: Stages of so and so’s anger and what to do and how to handle each stage. Here is a quote from one little girls psychological anger profile: stage one: “Turns red in the face and yells.” OH! I get it! Rocket science! THANK YOU FOR LETTING US KNOW THIS. WOW! WE WILL BE ABLE TO HANDLE HER SO MUCH BETTER NOW THAT WE KNOW THIS SIGN! ALL of the meetings are like this. “Oh…yes, we are working on getting the siblings some visits together.” Then they say it the next month, and the following month, and the next and the next and the next and the next.

How to we break this multifacited and vicious cycle?