March 2011, St. Louis, Missouri
I pulled through the gate into a rather sprawling campus. It was a residential treatment facility, or a “children’s home.” Either term is really sad. There were very few features of the campus that resembled anything you would see in a home.
I parked and checked in at the front desk, showing my agency badge with my picture and title: Intern. I was given direction to Cottage B, where the foster child I was visiting was living. He had not lived in a real home for quite some time.
It was one of the most restrictive buildings on the campus. He — I’ll call him D — had done some things that could be considered extreme and warranted such a placement. I was nervous. Though he was only 12 years old, I pictured a very big, angry, violent, young man. And he had experienced some very big, angry, violent things in his 12 years.
I walked over to Cottage B and used the buzzer outside of the door. A staff member answered, and I told him who I was there to see. D had recently lost a substantial number of his privileges. He was in his room, instead of participating in the activity the others were completing. I took a deep breath. I really didn’t want to know what he had done.
“His room is the second door on the right,” the staff member said pointed down one hallway. The entire cottage was silent, and I think D was the only one still there.
I walked to his room. Inside sat a short, scrawny kid in pajamas with little pieces of colored construction paper all over the floor. He had no obvious belongings, and there was nothing on the walls like most kids’ rooms I had seen. There was only a bed and a chair.
“Hi, I’m Natalie,” I said. “I’m filling in for Jessica today.”
He said hi, and immediately went on to show me the product of all the construction paper scraps. He explained how he had made it using paper and glue. It had walls, a cardboard floor, windows, rooms, and doorways. It was a construction paper house.
D, who hadn’t lived in a home for so long, had made his own home in the confines of this bare, sterile room in a residential treatment facility.