When a Phone Call Beats a Meltdown

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Imani Brammer, 17
Represent, New York

I sat in the conference room of my foster care agency, filled with apprehension. My caseworker, her supervisor, and my foster mother sat around the table with me. I had a feeling that what I was about to hear would make my life plummet.

My caseworker’s supervisor said I might have to switch foster homes. Even though I knew this might be coming, my breath tightened and my mouth parted in disbelief.

I tried to object but it was so difficult for me to speak. I was so enraged. My voice trembled when I tried to say, “This is unfair.” In that moment I felt weak, like there was nothing I could do about it.

I sat at the big brown conference table thinking over what the change of homes would do to my life.

“Your school isn’t in Brooklyn, Imani, it’s in Queens,” I told myself. “They’re gonna force you to live in a totally different borough, with total strangers all over again. You’re gonna have to wake up earlier to go to school – you’re gonna drop out. And your mom is in Queens. It’s gonna be more difficult for you to see her.”

That’s when I flipped out. I picked up a big, sturdy chair and threw it across the table. Then I grabbed another one and did the same. My fist pounded into the wall over and over again as I screamed and cried the woeful words, “I’m tired of people messing up my life!” Those were the only words my mind could form.

A flashback stopped me from picking up the broken pieces of furniture and smashing the agency’s windows. The whole sequence of events that led me into foster care replayed in my mind: my mother brutally abusing me, and then me trashing her home by breaking up her furniture and punching in the walls. The fact was, I had damaged her home as a way to prevent myself from damaging her.

After that, I’d been arrested. I had practically no one. Soon after, I was put into care.

Now, sitting in that room as shocked faces looked on, the memory caused me so much pain that all I could do was cry. I thought my life was over.

My caseworker held me and tried to soothe me. Somehow, I pulled myself together and sat back down at the table. After about five minutes I was calm again – and ready to take a different kind of action. As the meeting continued, I quietly brainstormed about who could help me through this situation.

My lawyer! Without even getting up from the table, I whipped out my phone and called her. I told her what was going on, and she spoke to my caseworker and my caseworker’s supervisor. My lawyer then assured me I would not be moved. She told me all I needed to do was maintain my composure and come to court with her.

“Here goes,” I thought, as I trotted toward the courtroom door, excited to advocate for myself. My caseworker, her supervisor, and my lawyer all walked into the courtroom in unison. I walked in behind them. I was nervous, but ready and confident, because my lawyer had already assured me that we were going to win the case.

It was over in literally five minutes. My lawyer told me afterward that once she threatened my agency with court, they decided to drop the issue and not move me.

In the end, I decided that my outburst was very self-destructive. It did nothing but shock everyone and make me feel worse about everything that was going on. It made me disappointed in myself, because I saw that I still needed to work on my temper.

On the other hand, the phone call to my lawyer immediately got me what I needed. If I had communicated just through my outburst, I probably would’ve been moved to a new home – or maybe to a more restrictive placement.

Calling my lawyer displayed wits, poise and knowledge. This just goes to show that going about things in an appropriate manner (advocating for oneself with a confident, professional demeanor) is much more likely to lead to a successful outcome.

In the end, outbursts are a major “don’t.” Advocating for yourself professionally is definitely a “do.”

© 2010 Youth Communication/New York Center Inc., www.youthcomm.org.