Rachel Galanter, Executive Director of the Exchange Family Center, spoke on a life changing and crazy decision she and Durham County Department of Social Services made 19 years ago. She learned things through this experience that research has shown make a difference in helping families, but the lived experience was a powerful teacher that helps her in the work she does. Here is part of her first hand account:
First is that it isn’t enough to share information—you need to really engage in communication. I attempted to make sure that my foster daughter would be comfortable in my home by sharing information that I thought was essential for her making a decision. However, the DSS social worker and I didn’t probe her understanding or evoke from her any response. She would have said yes to “we’ll be going to live on the moon.” Her face when she realized that my being Jewish meant I didn’t believe in Jesus showed how all the things I had shared when right over her head that day.
There are things we know are protective factors: resilience, a network of support, social and emotional competency, and parenting skills. I saw in our relationship each of those in action. She had experienced trauma, left school in the 6th grade, traveled on her own to this country, and still reached out to get enrolled in school.
Her ability to regroup and keep trying was part of why she was able to eventually graduate high school, get awarded a Neighborhood Hero scholarship, and be a successful adult. She would not have been able to achieve all of that without the network of support. This includes friends and family helping with her when I had surgery, El Centro Hispano’s youth program (which gave her a peer group and her first job), school sports teams that gave her a place to shine, a supportive employer, and so on.
Ultimately, building up her capacity to solve conflicts and handle her feelings was what helped her to be able to focus more on academics and eventually have a job. She learned to communicate better—simple things like letting people know when to expect her and if plans changed. These weren’t skills that she had in her family of origin. When we went to visit, I learned first-hand that a commitment from her parents to give us a ride home from an event was not intended to be taken as guaranteed.
Finally, my ability to provide developmentally appropriate support—letting her have some autonomy as a teenager, but willing to dive in and be her advocate and tutor and to set limits was important. To really spend the time and talk about the 8th grade reading test she had to pass to graduate and figure out what is getting in her way.
Because her parents didn’t relinquish legal rights I wasn’t able to formerly adopt Diana, but she and I have claimed each other. She lives in Durham with her husband and 4 children and I am their Nana.
Exchange Family Center is having a fund raiser on Sunday at Wheels Fun Park on Hoover Road on Sunday April 30. More information about it is on the organization’s website https://www.exchangefamilycenter.org/events/pinwheels-for-prevention/ .