Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Three Little Words - But Not the Obvious Ones

Three Little Words: a Memoir by Ashley Rhodes-Courter
3Q 3P; Audience: M/J/S/Adult

There are books you read that make you say "There but for the grace of God go I." This is one of those books. It will make you angry at points. It will make you cry at others. Ultimately, it will make you cheer in admiration of a strong, intelligent girl who hasn't let a hard knock life keep her down. "I love you" may be her three little words now, but they were a long time coming, and they were not the ones her journey began with.

Before she was eighteen years old, Ashley Rhodes-Courter had

  • 73 child welfare administrators

  • 44 child welfare caseworkers

  • 19 foster parents

  • 23 attorneys

  • 17 psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists

  • 5 Guardian ad Litem staff

  • 4 judges

  • 4 court personnel

  • 3 abuse registry workers

  • 2 primary case workers

  • 1 Guardian ad Litem

She also had, eventually,

  • 1 man

  • 1 woman

  • 2 young men

who would give her a home and a family and change her life forever. But all those foster parents and caseworkers came first.

Ashley's story begins with a very young mother who had an unerring instinct for choosing guys who were bad news. Drugs, prostitution, and an inability to properly care for her children inevitably followed. As a result, Ashley and her brother Luke (Ashley has dim memories of another "secret" brother who died) were shunted from foster home to foster home, beginning when Ashley was around three years old. Ashley's account of their many placements makes it abundantly and poignantly clear how badly the foster care system needs to be overhauled. One of their first placements was with her grandfather, which might be considered a good thing if he hadn't had multiple brushes with the law, substance abuse and anger management problems, and a history of mistreating his own children. Though he was not abusive to Ashley and Luke, it was his partner, Adele, who truly cared for them. Although there were times that her grandfather frightened her, this was a home where Ashley felt loved and mostly safe. That was taken away from her the day her grandfather was shot, and it would be years before Ashley ever had that feeling again. The foster care placements that followed left Ashley in the care of people who were at best indifferent and at worst child abusers.

As appalling as it is to read about the abuse and neglect Ashley and Luke suffered in the foster care system, it is equally apalling to realize that they were placed in these homes by people who were supposed to be looking out for their best interests and failed utterly to do so. In one instance, they were placed illegally and were lost in the system for a couple of years. In another, Ashley was placed in a home when the police were actively investigating allegations of child molestation against the foster father. (Though he never abused her, she was exposed to pornographic movies.) In the most horrific example, Ashley, Luke, and several other children were fostered in a home where they were mistreated in a variety of ways. Despite telling social workers and other invesigators on more than one occasion about being beaten and being made to swallow hot sauce and squat in awkward positions for hours, caseworkers always chose to believe the foster parents' claims that the children were making these things up. Ashley was eventually removed from this placement and put into a group home. (She later filed a class action lawsuit against the couple.)

Though Ashley was eventually adopted, the damage from her early experiences is made abundantly clear as Ashley describes her difficulty settling in to her new family. She'd seen too much to believe it when her new family told her they loved her and that she would always have a home with them. Lots of adopted kids were sent back to the group home, and she was certain that that day would come for her, too. It took months for her to learn to trust, and even longer for her to allow herself to love, and it took a lot of patience, steadfastness, honesty, and caring on the Coulters' part. Now that that point has been reached, Ashley is sharing her story of where she's been, where she is, and where she intends to go. With her spirit and intelligence, that will clearly be far.

Fans of Torey Hayden, Dave Pelzer, and Jeannette Walls may find this book to their liking.

1 comment:

  1. The book is a good reference material as it shows the harmful consequences, which a person is going to experience if he/she is into drugs or alcoholism. Drug addiction, alcoholism, and substance abuse certainly won't do no good because it is capable of ruining precious lives, and good family relationships.


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