Monday, June 21, 2010

Love My Smile

When my family is out in the community, I know we can be quite the spectacle sometimes. The two in wheelchairs often race through the store aisles - Chip plays 'reckless driving' with Ashley while she giggles loudly - Ronnie burps loudly and we all pause for just a second and then burst out laughing - we put funny hats or clothes on one another - in short, we have a blast while getting our errands accomplished.

During an outing this past Saturday, we were heading to Target. Just as we pulled into the parking lot and began unloading all our paraphenalia, a van and a car loaded with adult group home residents and their 'staff' also pulled in. The residents were happy and excited, some skipping, some laughing, some chatting loudly about what they wanted to buy. The staff, however, did not appear the least bit happy.

The staff began shouting orders to the residents, "quiet down!", "get over here", "go in the bathroom right now", and "get away from the water fountain." It didn't take long for the smiles and eye twinkles to disappear from the residents. They fell into line and continued to follow whatever orders they were given.

This observation is typical of what has always bothered my about groups homes and the staff hired to support the residents. It's a job to the staff, and a job that many don't seem to like or enjoy. And their lack of enjoyment with their jobs has a direct effect on the folks they are hired to support.

It saddens me that people have their joy tamped down. Joy is often difficult for group home residents, or others with disabilities, to find. Let's do everything we can to support people when they are happy and joyful...even if it's a job.


Nina Diane said...

that is sad....

Heather said...

Sadly, I think it's largely in how the homes are run/managed. My husband used to work in group homes before we moved to the US (from Canada). He had worked himself sick, literally, and was very burned out. I think in some ways the years spent waiting for a greencard so he could work were a good thing. He decided this spring to get back into the field. The only one he has ever wanted to work in. The one he spent 10 (mostly) happy years in. And one that gives him so much happiness I can't describe it. We are thankfully lucky enough to be in a position where his income is, if not unneeded, at least not critical to our survival. So long as he's bringing in *some* money, I don't even care about how horrible the pay in group homes is, because he gets so much out of it.

His return to the career he loved was short lived, however. He was fired because he made muffins for breakfast at the request of one of the residents. Not because there was any medical reason not to (no food allergies/digestion problems etc, this was something they ate regularly). But because they weren't planned. For that day. They weren't on the menu list for that morning. (They were for two days later...)

This home was so rigid, you couldn't swap breakfasts between two days in the week to make the clients happy. How sad is that? I'm sorry for my husband who had to deal with being fired for the first time in his life, and from doing something he loved. But I'm MUCH more upset for the poor kids who live in that house.

Ashley's Mom said...

Heather, it just doesn't seem to me that running a group home has to be that difficult. I feel like I run a group home since I have 5 children and 4 of them have disabilties.

Why can't there be more of a family/home environment? Why the need for rigidity?

The world needs more people like your husband...

Heather said...

I'm sorry it took me so long to come back to check for comments. Our life has been pretty topsy-turvy for a few weeks.

We both wish so very, very much it could be different. And this is one of the "better" companies in the local area according to friends with disabilities. I simply can't grasp that.

There were other incidents that made it clear this was not an environment he could work in as well. He was heartbroken about leaving, and how it all happened, but I think for him, and his mental health, it was for the best.

I truly believe he'd have a case under the whistleblower protections, but he won't follow up on it because he doesn't want life to get any worse for those clients. And he's sure the house manager *would* make it worse, at least until she is removed from her job. We're just hoping it's soon. VERY soon. We know the investigation is proceeding. But it seems most days that glaciers move faster.

I sometimes wonder if he should try working for another organization, but worry that he will have been blacklisted as a troublemaker, and what it would do to him to be fired a second time. All he wants to do is help people, and make their lives a little better. It's that helping that feeds his soul in so many critical ways that no other job does. He *needs* to be helping others.

It shouldn't be that hard.