First Impressions of a Residential Group Home
When I first walked on campus, I was excited and curious to start. I believed everyone who would be working at a residential treatment facility would have the same passions and enthusiasm as me to help children in need. After all, the purpose of a residential treatment counselor was to provide professional child care services in a culturally sensitive, trauma-informed manner while serving as a positive role model.
However, I was eventually disappointed and frustrated by my coworkers and supervisor. We wore this mission statement on our badge, yet no one really enforced it. If anything, staff were actually the opposite in their approach. They were culturally insensitive when a child wets the bed, hoarded food in their room, was suicidal, self-harmed, or when they were depressed (slept a lot and struggled to shower). Many staff, with the exception of a few, believed the children wanted attention and were annoyed that they made their job harder by having to clean the resident’s room (removing food found inside or cleaning their soiled bed).
The staff would make comments about the children’s hygiene and shame the residents for not showering. When they talked privately in the office, they discussed how so-and-so is not suicidal or self-harms, he just wants attention. Training on trauma was very minimal and hardly discussed in our weekly meetings and monthly training.
This disappointment didn’t happen suddenly; it was a slow process as I saw and learned the attitudes the staff truly believed about the demographic we were serving. There was no empathy or compassion when they set to work. The staff did not want to be bothered. What they did want were children to be quiet, invisible, and cause no trouble.
Their attitudes were awful. Without even asking, they would comment on why you can’t be nice to the residents. I was called weak because I was too nice to the children. As one of my coworkers said, “The kids know which staff are the weak ones. They know which staff will or will not let them break the rules.” If anyone showed any kindness to the children, you can guarantee they were always snubbed by opinions, side-eyes, and stern looks, especially by the cottage house mom, our supervisor. As it has been said by one of my coworkers, “If you’re not a bitch, you’re not doing your job!” So you can see how confused and frustrated I became!
Everyone loved to repeat how bad the kids were. And as I began to see the turnover rate take effect, many of the new staff began to adapt to the workplace culture. Anyone who stuck around long enough began to share their coworkers’ implicit biases. A common opinion I heard constantly was, “These kids need to be locked up in a mental institute because they are all bad!”
I refused to let the people around me change my desire to help kids in need. When you join any team, you become like the people you surround yourself with. You don’t change them, they change you! I couldn’t change the people I worked with. And my supervisor, her director, and her director were not going to change what has been working. So, I tried my best to stick around in this haunted house because I didn’t want to leave the kids alone with these garbage people.
I once asked a resident, “How did you like living in your other group home? Was it the same, better or worse?” He said, “They’re all the same. Most people who work in group homes are garbage people.” And I tried really hard not to be just another garbage person to him. I always wondered if the staff who had children of their own treated theirs the same way. Were they monsters to their own children or did they have enough common sense to know they don’t treat children like this?
They traumatized the children we worked with and normalized this behavior as a group of adults stood around. Day after day I wondered, did anyone feel the same way as I did? No one dared to question the standard norm. I shared my feelings with a few of my coworkers but never felt anyone shared my same opinions. Maybe they were too scared to tell me. I felt alone – pretending to fit in but not really liking anyone that treated the residents poorly. I stuck around because I wanted to be there for the children. They were the only reason why I came back every single day. I will never forget them.