Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Foster care 'fosters' low expectations - but survivors can achieve beyond what they imagine

Photo from www.nilausa.org
In 2003, high school students from all over the country submitted 3000 essays were submitted to a New York Times Magazine writing and photography contest.

Ashley Rhodes-Courter's essay won the writing contest and she was awarded a $1,000.

Her essay, Three Little Words, described the emotions she felt during her adoption hearing.

Ashley had been taken into state custody at age 3, because her mother abused drugs. From age 3 to age 12, Ashley lived in 14 different foster placements. She stayed in one foster home that housed 16 children in a trailer with two bedroom.

25 percent of Ashley's foster parents became convicted felons. One became a pedophile. One was arrested on drug charges.

In praising Ashley's essay, judges said the "powerful essay describes the moment that her torturous path through foster care ended and her life with her new family began."

What three words did Ashley say when the judge asked her if she wanted the adoption to be official? At the time, they were not words of joy but of cyncism. She wasn't sure that this new family wanted her 'for keeps.'

At the time of her adoption hearing, Ashley was living in her 14th foster care placement. Some homes had lasted less than a week. Why would this one be any different?

During her time in foster care, Ashley had seen other children being adopted -- and then, later, "returned." So, in Ashley's mind, making the adoption "official," did not guarantee that her adoptive family would not send her back if she didn't live up to their expectations.

She spoke her 'three little words' and answered the judge, "I guess so."

Today, Ashley is 21 years old, and a senior at Eckerd College. She has a 3.8 GPA and has recently been named in USA Today's College Academic First Team. After she graduates college, her deepest desire is to inspire and protect the 500,000 children still in foster care.
PS - Her adoptive parents never gave up on her.

Sources:
Howe, Jennifer. Meet this remarkable college students. Tampa Bay's 10 News, Feb. 20, 2007.
Wimpy, Wex. Ashley Rhodes-Courter endured years of abuse in the state's foster care system before being adopted into a nurturing home. St. Petersburg Times, June 10, 2003.

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