What is a Home?

Lynn Michaelson has worked for Family & Children’s Aid for nine years. When she started here, she wasn’t the mother of twins or the Program Coordinator for Family & Children’s Aid Adolescent Girls Therapeutic Group Home like she is now. She was a recent college graduate looking to add some experience to her resume. “I had just finished school, studying sociology and criminal justice. A co-worker where I was working through college told me she heard a new group home was opening and that she was going to apply. I hate to say it, but I applied because I thought it would look good on my resume. And I loved it. I just loved it!”
The Therapeutic Group Home currently is home to six teenage girls, ages 14-21. “When I first started, it was hard. I wanted to take all the girls home. Now, I am glad that if they have to be someplace, they are with us and not some other place. I am very bias about FCA --I love the agency.  I know we have good staff – we care. When I leave at the end of the day, I leave knowing the girls are with staff who do their best to keep them safe.”
The average stay is two years. "You hope that in two years you fill them with enough skills so when they leave they do make the right decisions. You are doing work that parents do in 16 or 17 years and trying to fit it all into two years."

"I think when they all first come to the house, their goal is to get out of the house as soon as they can. But over time, this becomes their home and as the discharge date comes closer and it becomes more real to them, a lot of them don’t want to go. They’re in a safe place. They’ve made friends. It’s their home. And now they’re going to a different place that hasn’t been home in forever."

“What the girls need is to feel safe.” emphasized Lynn. “They need structure, consistency. They need to feel like they are wanted where they live. They come from such invalidating environments. They need to believe that we believe that they have a chance."
What does the group home look like? “The group home is a beautiful house that when you walk in feels like a home and not a program.” Explains Lynn.  “Each girl gets her own room. They are able to pick the color paint they want on the walls to personalize their own rooms. They are definitely teenage rooms!” 
And what is it like having six teenage girls on your hands? “Just like you’d imagine! Sometimes they fight. Mostly they get along. The GE Women’s Group remade an upstairs room into a beauty room. That’s where the girls spend a lot of time. They never seem to get tired of it. We have tons of hair stuff, makeup and nail polish. Even the girls who are more tom-boyish love to do their hair and nails. They get so excited doing something crazy with their hair that they think is cute. They are girls. They are just teenage girls.”

The girls are in a therapeutic group home because they have mental health and/or behavioral issues that require more support than they would receive in a non-therapeutic group home. Six teenage girls is tough, but six teenage girls with behavioral issues is even tougher. Lynn says she manages by being consistent and not taking things personally. “I’m very consistent with how I treat each of the girls. I know it’s not me. They are reacting to whatever traumas they have experienced. They are reacting to what they have gone through before they got here. I am glad they are here and they can get it out with us instead of ending up in detention or a hospital.”

Lynn says the best thing about her job is, “...seeing a girl come to the group home in chaos and leave with life skills, a plan, a high school diploma, and no more hospitalizations. They’re kind of just done with that part of their life.”
“What I love about my job is working with the girls… making small differences in their lives. I think when the girls say that they feel safe at the house, that’s really special. It’s probably the only time that they have felt safe in their lives. I mean I have girls who call our house “home”. This is where they grew up. It is their home."

Gladys Hunt, author of Honey for a Child's Heart defines home as, "...a safe place, a place where one is free from attack, a place where one experiences secure relationships and affirmation. It's a place where people share and understand each other. Its relationships are nurturing. The people in it do not need to be perfect; instead, they need to be honest, loving, supportive, recognizing a common humanity that makes all of us vulnerable." How would you describe home?