Ashley Rhodes-Courter was three years old when police came to arrest her birth mother and place Ashley and her brother Luke in foster care. Nearly nine years later, shortly before her 12th birthday, Ashley finally moved in with Gail and Phil Courter, who would become her adoptive parents. At age 21, a recent college graduate, she decided to tell her story in a memoir to ensure that the voices of children in foster care would be heard. The result, Three Little Words, is a remarkable tribute to the strength of the human spirit.
Ashley's mother, who was abandoned by her own teenage mother, was 17 when she gave birth to Ashley. During Ashley's nine years in foster care, which included 14 placements, she moved from home to home, sometimes taking all her clothing and possessions stuffed in garbage bags and sometimes having to leave everything behind. The only things that were consistent in her life for all of those years were wondering when she would move again and feeling that she was special to no one. Most of her foster homes were overcrowded; in one she was exposed to pornography; and in another she was cruelly abused, beaten, forced to spend the days outside in the hot Florida sun and squat under a counter for hours. The turning point for Ashley was at age nine when Mary Miller was assigned as her volunteer court-appointed advocate. Mary rescued Ashley from being lost in the foster care system and promised to find her a forever family, but moving in with Gail and Phil was not simply a happy ending to her story. Ashley still feared that the Courters would send her back, leading her to test them in many ways. The couple saw things differently and only time and their unfailing commitment finally led Ashley to realize that she was home, surrounded by the love that had so long been missing from her life.
Teens can glean many lessons from Ashley's story the risk of adolescent pregnancies, the value of family connections, the importance of telling the truth and those who work as advocates for children and seek to understand their voices will find this memoir captivating.
Alice Pelland, an adoptive mother, guardian ad litem and foster parent, writes from Hillsborough, North Carolina.