When Home Feels Like Prison: My Year In A Group Home

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Noel Anaya spent a year in a group home when he was 12 years old.
Noel Anaya spent a year in a group home when he was 12 years old.

I was put into foster care when I was two years old, and I’ve been in the system ever since. The moment I stepped into a group home when I was 12, I felt like it was a mistake. There I was, with about a dozen other teen boys.

On my very first day, I got into a fight during a basketball game. I was physically restrained by a staff member and put on “lockdown.” That meant except for school, I had to stay in my room, eat alone, and keep apart from the other kids for seven days. I didn’t feel like a kid in time out. I felt like an inmate.

Even on a regular week, our lives were super regimented.

At night, staff walked the halls with flashlights, looking into the rooms. In addition to heavy security, I met regularly with a therapist who prescribed me medication. I remember almost all the kids there were on something. We lined up for our medicine, which was given out in those little, paper, condiment cups. The drugs made me feel like a zombie.

After a year, because of good behavior, I was eventually returned to my foster family. It took me a long time to adjust to normal life. Because for so long, I couldn’t rely on anyone and I was always afraid of getting in trouble.

We were sent to the group home to turn our lives around. But for some of us, we ended up worse off than when we started. That’s the problem: group homes are supposed to be a safe haven for kids. But often, they’re not. Our adolescent behavior was penalized harshly.

New California law requires that starting next year, the state move away from placing teens in foster care in group homes. I have my doubts. But it’s a step in the right direction to rethink how we treat kids in foster care.

With a Perspective, I’m Noel Anaya.

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