Three years ago, late one May night, a female runaway turned up on Jan Gibson's doorstep in Wilton. In the dead of a country night, the 17-year-old clambered over a 3-foot hogwire fence that ran along one side of a Milhous Children's Services group home and trudged a hundred yards to a stranger's doorstep.
Before she could call 911, Gibson's barking dog scared the girl off. It would be another month before the teenager returned to the group home on Pond Lane, armed with a steel pipe and heavy chain and muttering violent threats. She went to a hospital and, eventually, back to the juvenile hall in Riverside County where she arrived from.
The girl is a memory. So too is the 27-year-old group home, which officially closed its doors in June after a fitful relationship with the surrounding community, which complained of lax supervision.
Senior program director Dan Petrie said the decision to close the Wilton location was due to Milhous shifting its focus from troubled children to aged-out foster youth. As of late 2011, all of Milhous' 62 beds in Sacramento and Nevada counties were dedicated to the latter population, who are eligible for continued services under Assembly Bill 12. The six beds in Wilton were reassigned to Nevada County, where Petrie said public transportation allows an older—but still dependent—clientele to take advantage of educational and job-training opportunities. “Pond Lane was our least accommodating facility with these issues,” he said.
Gibson, meanwhile, still wonders about the girl. Days after that whole ordeal in 2010, in a crawl space beneath her home, Gibson found the makings of a crude camp: pillows, a handmade quilt, books and photos of other Milhous children, as well as containers of human waste. Gibson also found a notebook. It told the story of a child abandoned on a doorstep at the age of 2, and parked at 17 different facilities in 15 years.
“‘All I ever wanted was a mother and a family,'” Gibson read.