A day in the life of a Residential Treatment Counselor in STRRP

I wake up every day with a positive attitude and I remind myself: I make a difference. My presence makes a difference even when it doesn’t feel like it.

When I walk into the cottage I feel the tension inside the room (depending on who I work with). Some staff will greet me while other staff will ignore me. My partner does the latter. I clock in pretending I don’t feel the tension and ask: “How was your weekend?” She barely answers me and doesn’t bother to ask me mine.

I then take the resident’s phone and connect it to the wire outside the office for the residents to use. My partner will then take the phone and put it back into the office about 30 minutes later and say, “They don’t deserve to make any phone calls, because they like to mess with the phone!” (If a child would ask, “Can I use the phone?” My partner would say, “It’s broken!”).

Afterwards, we sit inside the living and kitchen area and observe the hallway, making sure any residents do not enter any other residents’ bedrooms or leave the cottage. When two residents enter the bathroom at any time, one staff member must stand at the door to listen. We want to make sure every resident is safe at all times. On the downside, there is no privacy for the residents. And you can imagine how awkward that can be as some residents will ask “Why are you standing here?” And you have to explain, “I have to stand by the door when there are two residents in the restroom!”

Next, we wait for the kids to get up. There is no “Good Morning” from the staff every day. So the children never know if the staff is having a bad day or if they are doing something wrong. Like I said in the beginning, I try to start my day positive and display it in my behavior. I have a steady and consistent attitude who can be trusted to be kind to you every single day regardless of how I feel.

When the kids get up, they will have to ask for everything:

  • Can I get my hygiene box?
  • Can I go outside?
  • Can I get my food microwaved?
  • Can I have orange juice?

The staff has the power to deny any resident certain food, activities, and privileges if they feel the resident is not following their program or making the staff do too much work. The staff can also deny if they feel the resident is asking for too many requests consecutively or were rude or demanding.

Staff will deny residents their independence to get their own food by placing things that the residents like inside the office fridge. For example, food items like orange juice, punch, waffles, and ice cream. And the same thing goes with activities. Staff will confiscate personal belongings like skateboards, basketballs, footballs, or anything the residents own that they hold with value inside the office because they think this will make the residents listen to them when they redirect. Staff look for things to strip residents from their own personal belongings, because they want to remind them, “We have the power to make your life miserable or pleasurable! How do you want to move forward?”

This is the STRTP program. Even when it is their right! But like my co-workers said, “The state gives them too many rights. These kids get away with everything because the nonprofit we work for just wants their money!”

Their personal rights are being violated every day, but whether or not the foster children want to fight it, at the end of the day they are just children who already have a poor self-image. There is no outer protector who is looking out for their wellbeing and will fight for the foster child, day in and day out, while they stay in an STRTP facility. 

  • Food is a right. 
  • Being annoying is a right. 
  • Going outside is a right. 
  • Using the phone is a right.

When the residents want anything, even when they are requesting to go outside or get something to eat, they must complete their chores or hygiene. Not every treatment counselor will make this rule, but if done enough times, it will feel like the status norm.

I see residents nervous to ask for food or permission to go outside and in my heart, I feel this is wrong! Treatment Counselors feel unsafe and scary to the residents and that’s exactly how the treatment counselors want them to feel. Like one of my co-workers said, “If you’re not a bitch, you’re not doing your job!” 

The STRTP program is very strict, but how treatment counselors use their power is a fine line between trauma or support. However, once you make the residents feel intimidated (keeping in mind they are used to feeling abused and neglected), they will label you as someone who is “unsafe.” Or like one of my residents has said, “I don’t trust the staff! Most of them are demons!”

When residents go outside, treatment counselors must follow them like their own personal paparazzi. The residents have no privacy and staff will have to get comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. The majority of your time as a treatment counselor requires you to supervise, and when rules are broken the staff is required to redirect.

Some rules are:

  • No cottage or room visiting.
  • No eating on the couch or in your room.
  • No activities if you are placed on level “s” for supervision.

It was these three rules that were constantly being broken. Depending on the staff, breaking these rules could make your level go down because you annoyed them. And if you were a child, how would you feel if you weren’t able to eat on the couch or in your room, walk outside and talk to your friends who live in another cottage (about 5 yards if next door or about 17 yards to the little kid cottages), or unable to do stimulating activities?

The program is set up so that foster children never feel welcomed or relaxed. Staff will be redirecting every few minutes and you can imagine not only will it make staff feel frustrated and angry, but would eventually break down the resident’s psyche and determination too. 

There is so much more that goes on in the day of a residential treatment counselor. But I hope this will give you a glimpse of what to expect while working in STRTP. 

Please write in the comments below your experience if you’ve worked in a group home. I would love to read if you’ve had similar or differing experiences than me. Either way, my goal for this chat is to bring awareness (both positive & negative). 

With that being said, let’s chat about it!