A Solid Relationship Turns a Life Around

This is a story of Shanay finally finding a home …within herself. Shanay entered SaintA’s Independent Living Services program when she was 18; that was four years ago. Shanay’s birth family has extensive history within the child welfare system. As one of many siblings in the foster care system, Shanay learned early on that trust was non-existent, and the best way to get her needs met was to be as oppositional and combative as possible.

For years Shanay responded to most people, even in the most benign situations, with arguing, striking, swearing, fighting and outright, unnecessary defensiveness. She would do everything in her power to keep people at arm’s distance, because she was so very afraid to let anyone in and risk being hurt once again. Our assigned case manager, Christine, so often perplexed and wearied by Shanay’s barrage of attacks, continued to stay the course. When Shanay would distance herself, Christine would briefly step out on the emotional perimeter, provide safe space, but never opt out. When Shanay would verbally assault with a stream of obscenities, Christine would ask, “Are you done now?” and take a moment to explain other options of more effective communication in getting needs met. When Shanay was overwhelmed with emotion, she would vacate, but Christine was always there when she hesitantly returned.

Shanay learned that Christine, and the ILS team, wasn’t going anywhere despite her best efforts to push us all away. And push she did, along with challenge, sabotage, and resist. But we remained consistent with unconditional regard, over and over again. Our training in trauma informed care enforced our compassionate perspective shift to “What has happened to this young woman?” vs. “What is wrong with her?”

When Shanay comes to our agency now, we see an empowered young woman walking the hall with her head held high. Christine has helped Shanay learn the value of saving money vs. spending carelessly. Shanay’s housing has remained stable throughout her participation in our programming. She regularly attends her counseling appointments in the community. As Shanay continues to progress, she has plans to pursue a human services degree at the Milwaukee Area Technical College in the near future.

Finally, when faced with emotional adversity, Shanay does not react in “fight or flight” mode, but stops, takes a moment to think of the best action to take and proceeds with self-control. She laughs and smiles often and offers to assist with any tasks or projects that need to be completed in our office space. She is truly a pleasure to be around.

It’s amazing what a solid relationship with a nurturing adult can do for a young adult.


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