10.29.2008

Jonesboro Sun 'The Power of One Person'

Ashley Rhodes-Courter (left) visits with Louise Glover
on Tuesday after the Jonesboro Rotary Club meeting.



The power of one person
By Kellie Cobb


JONESBORO — A chance, a voice and a caring adult are what is needed for children in the foster care system to thrive, Ashley Rhodes-Courter said — and she is living proof of that.“I’m here today to prove to you that we can be so much more. We only need a chance and someone to recognize all the potential that we have,” she said.Rhodes-Courter spoke Tuesday about her experiences in the foster care system to members of the Jonesboro Rotary Club.She entered the Florida foster care system at the age of three and would remain there for nine years. During that time she was placed in 14 different foster homes.“I grew up feeling very lost and hopeless and useless. And kids who are moved from home to home to home, we feel like it’s because there’s something inherently wrong with us. It’s so hard for us to be able to find a place in the world. We don’t know where we’ve come from. We don’t know where we’re going,” she said.The 22-year-old would witness the good and the dark sides of the foster care system. She described one home, in particular, as the worst.“That’s putting it amazingly lightly,” she said. “The Moss foster home had 16 children in a 1,200-square-foot trailer. I was there when I was about 7 or 8. Some of my responsibilities included diapering and caring for some of the younger children. The worst part was the outrageous punishment. We were beaten, starved, locked outside and forced to use the bathroom in a bucket. All of the horror stories you read about in the news and you think, ‘Oh this can’t possibly be happening. These are isolated incidents.’ Well, they happen, and they happened to me and countless other children I had lived with and spoken to all across the country.”Rhodes-Courter said she complained, but no action was taken. She added that nobody took the time to notice the signs of abuse.“They just assumed it was somebody else’s responsibility — that someone else has a job to do that ... You can’t always assume that there’s someone else who’s going to be accountable. You have to be accountable for the children in your community and their well-being. If we don’t take care of our kids now, we’re going to be dealing with them in a very different welfare system,” she said.Years later Rhodes-Courter would see the Mosses again — this time on television news after they were charged with child abuse and neglect.“This proved to me that at last somebody was listening,” she said.During her time in the foster care system, Rhodes-Courter would come in contact with 73 child welfare administrators, 44 case workers, 19 foster parents, 23 attorneys, 17 psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists, and three abuse registry workers, among others. But it took one woman, a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer, to get her out of the system.“Out of more than 200 people, she was the one person who wasn’t paid to take care of me. Yet she was the one who worked the hardest to get me out of that situation ... Because of this woman I was able to find the adoptive family who transformed my life forever. This was just one woman. I’m kind of like the poster child for how much one individual could influence and change the life of a child,” she said.Rhodes-Courter was adopted at the age of 12. She is now an advocate for children in foster care.“When I was younger, I was so frustrated and mad and just complained a lot about the stuff. As I got a little older, I realized that it’s not enough to complain about something if you’re not going to help be a part of the solution,” she said.She has also written a book, “Three Little Words,” which tells of her experiences in the foster care system.She encourages residents to become involved on behalf of foster children in their communities.“It takes community members like you to step forward and speak for us in order for us to have a voice and be heard,” she said.
kb@jonesborosun.com

2 comments:

Heidi Hess Saxton said...

Thank you for sharing your story, and for redeeming the experiences of your past in such a powerful way.

My husband and I foster-adopted two siblings from the Detroit system. I write for foster and adoptive parents at the Extraordinary Moms Network (http://extraordinarymomsnetwork.wordpress.com). Please come and see it sometime!

God bless you!

Heidi Saxton

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