Talking to children about adoption and foster families can be difficult for all parties involved. What we say, and how we say it, can shape adopted and foster kids’ experiences and have a lasting impact on their mental and emotional health.
Post submitted by Sula Malina, HRC Children, Youth and Families Program Coordinator
HRC recently sat down with Ashley Rhodes-Courter and Erick Smith, members of HRC Foundation’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council from Florida. Ashley and Erick are the proud parents of three young children — the oldest of whom is transgender — and are the founders of The Foundation for Sustainable Families. Their non-profit provides direct services to children and families, and works with other organizations to meet the needs of the most vulnerable.
What inspired you to join HRC’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council?
Advocacy has always been a cornerstone of our family. Ashley grew up in foster care….
By: Kasia Kerridge, KOMU 8 Reporter
JEFFERSON CITY – The number of kids in need is growing, according to the only foster care and adoption association in central Missouri.
Central Missouri Foster Care and Adoption Association will host its 10th Annual Gala Thursday to support children in foster care, adoption or kinship care.
President and CEO of CMFCAA DeAnna Alonso said 2018 is the most children in need she has seen since they opened a decade ago, mainly because of the opioid crisis.
“We see more kids coming into care because of the substance use issues that are connected to opioids,” said Alonso. “Also because of poverty rates and neglect.”
According to CMFCAA, they have helped 1,400 children in central Missouri receive foster care. About 15,000 total children are in foster care in the entire state.
Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) for Children raised over $125,000 at their Community Awareness events on Oct. 17, 2018. The annual fundraising events, a breakfast at the ICONA Avalon Resort and a lunch at Greate Bay Country Club in Somers Point featured special guest speaker, New York Times best-selling author and former foster youth Ashley Rhodes-Courter.
‘Break the Cycle’ Foundation for Sustainable Families
Talent: Jake Miller, Grecia Salamon, Jeanette Sobol, Leo Marz
Producer: Carroll Middelthon
Director: Zachary Bailey
Director of Photography: Daniel Agre
1st AC: Jeff Vanderpool
Art Director: Amber Millan
Set Designer: Virginia Berg
Key MU: Holly Robertson
Stunt Coordinator: Jordan Matlock
Gaffer: Zach Madden
Key Grip: Mikayel
Sound Mixer: Jeff Cendejas
Sound Design: Louis Celano
Color: Sam Zook
Edit: Zachary Bailey, Daniel Agre
Ashley Rhodes-Courter, MSW ‘12, has charted an incredible journey from a childhood spent in foster care to a career dedicated to advocacy. This is her story.
Ashley Rhodes-Courter, a graduate of the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work, is an author, speaker, mother, philanthropist and child welfare advocate. Drawing on her own experience as a child adopted from foster care, Rhodes-Courter holds a deep understanding of the unique challenges facing foster kids — and how best to help them.
USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work: When did you first enter the foster care system, and how has that experience come full circle for you?
Ashley Rhodes-Courter: As a child, I spent almost 10 years in foster care, bouncing around 14 different homes until I was finally adopted at the age of 12. I later learned that roughly a quarter of my caregivers were already, or eventually became, convicted felons as a result of problems with drugs, alcohol, violence or pedophilia. It was not the most ideal of circumstances, but I was able to find refuge at school. Even though I changed schools at least twice a year until 7th grade, I had teachers who encouraged me to remain dedicated to my academics.
No matter what happened, I always knew that I wanted to go to college. At age 12, I was adopted into a great family that also shared my passion for education and advocacy. I went to college and got my master’s degree in social work. Shortly after I finished my undergraduate degree, I also became a CASA volunteer — that’s short for Court Appointed Special Advocate. It’s our job to represent the best interests of foster children and make sure they don’t get lost in the system. I’ve spent my career fighting for systemic change to help other kids and families in high-risk, high-conflict situations.
Later, my husband and I became foster parents, giving homes to 25 children over the years. We’re no longer fostering, but we have two biological sons and one adopted child. Social workers speak often about the cycle of abuse, and that was definitely prevalent in my story. My mother was a single teenage mother who got pregnant while living in a group home in foster care. The cycle played out, and I ended up in foster care myself, but I was able to break that cycle. Instead of a cycle of abuse, we have a cycle of adoption. That mentality turns the horrible things I experienced into something positive.
USC: With your extensive experience both in the foster care system and as a foster parent and advocate, what do you think are the biggest misconceptions surrounding foster care?
ARC: There are so many preconceived notions about who these kids are and why they end up in foster care. But these kids aren’t damaged goods — they end up in the system because of egregious abuse and neglect. I want people to realize that they aren’t in the system because they’re juvenile delinquents. They need help like anybody else.
USC: When you were 24, you ran for state senate. Legislatively, have there been any movements to address these issues?
ARC: One of the most interesting pieces of my career is being a part of the process of systemic change. I’m very interested in policy and legislative reform, but I’m also an advocate — I firmly believe that policies are only as good as the people who are implementing them. Even though we have wonderful laws for children in care, nothing will change unless a dedicated effort is made to enforce those laws.
When I’m frustrated, I always go back to grassroots efforts. Grand gestures — even laws — aren’t always effective. We need to empower individuals to step up for their fellow human beings, and reassure people in service positions that we have their backs.
USC: How did pursuing your MSW impact your approach?
ARC: Because I was a foster child, I had this misconception that all social workers were caseworkers who worked with foster kids, because those were the only social workers I had come into contact with. So, it was eye-opening and exciting to see that the profession of social work extended far beyond that, to other jobs, roles, and expectations I hadn’t envisioned.
In undergrad, I double majored in Communications and Theater, with minors in Political Science and Psychology. I knew I was all over the place, but I was afraid of being pigeonholed. The social work degree embodied everything I wanted to do — there’s policy, public speaking, writing, community collaboration and team building. And there’s, of course, service to others, which is the backbone of the profession.
USC: You’ve written a book about your adolescence – what compelled you to put pen to paper and make your experiences public?
ARC: Despite my passion for education, I had been adopted so late that my parents didn’t have a college fund set aside for me. I knew I’d have to get to college somehow, so I started applying for scholarships, writing contests — anything that could help me go to school. The New York Times Magazine was holding a contest for young people to write about a life-changing day, so I wrote an essay about my adoption day.
My essay was called, “Three Little Words,” and it was about how my adoption day wasn’t rainbows and sunshine. It was pretty terrifying. I had seen kids be un-adopted and sent back. I didn’t believe in “happily ever after.” I had been so hurt and rejected in my life that it was difficult for me to conceptualize this sort of permanency — that this family could love me, or that I was even worth loving.
My essay won first place and was published in the magazine. Soon after that, publishers contacted me wanting to hear my full story. It was this unbelievable opportunity that fell in my lap as a teenager. I didn’t know how to write a book, but I also saw it as a remarkable opportunity to share a story that’s not often heard. I was amazed that the book I had started writing at age 17 became a New York Times bestseller, and now it’s being made into a movie. It feels insane.
USC: And what inspired you to pursue your second book?
ARC: I didn’t consciously set out to write a second book, but as I became a foster parent, people began to ask questions about my life today. As someone now on the other side, I wanted to shed light on the struggles and stories of foster kids, and give people a call to action. My second book, Three More Words, is another memoir — I talk about my struggles with mental health and the transition from a childhood of abuse and neglect to the independence of adulthood. Adoption isn’t the end of the story — it’s just the beginning of a whole new chapter.
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – Dozens of people came together over lunch Thursday to celebrate the strength of local women.
The University of Wisconsin La Crosse hosted the annual Women’s Fund Fall Luncheon.
Rosalie Schnick received the 2017 Roberta Zurn Award during the luncheon which recognizes outstanding female leadership in our community.
This year’s luncheon focused on foster parenting with a key note speaker talking about her experiences growing up in the foster care program. The day’s speaker says moving our society forward starts with creating better care for our kids.
“A lot of these issues, and taking a greater look to what the needs of the community really are, particularly starting with children, it’s tremendous because it automatically has an unbelievable impact a whole society,” said speaker Ashley Rhodes-Courter.
The Women’s Fund is a nonprofit that helps enrich the lives of local women and girls so they can do the same for others.
DE PERE, Wis. — St. Norbert College will welcome New York Times bestselling author Ashley Rhodes-Courter on campus at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23.
Rhodes-Courter will speak about her life in the foster care system and where she is now. Her talk is based on her book “Three Little Words” and will take place in the Walter Theatre of the Abbot Pennings Hall of Fine Arts, 315 Third St. in De Pere. The event is free and open to the public.
Rhodes-Courter spent almost a decade in the foster care system in 14 different homes before being adopted at the age of 12. Both “Three Little Words” and “Three More Words” are books about her experiences with the foster care system.
She is also the founder of the nonprofit Foundation for Sustainable Families, which provides services, education, organic food gardens and outreach for communities, foster and adoptive families, mothers, and children. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications and theater from Eckerd College and a master’s degree in social work from the University of Southern California.
Rhodes-Courter will be introduced by Judge Marc Hammer, part-time instructor of business administration at St. Norbert College. Hammer is a member of the Wisconsin State Bar Association and has served on the Brown County Circuit Court bench since 2008; he practiced law from 1989 to 2008, focused on civil litigations and family law matters.
Rhodes-Courter’s speaking engagement is hosted in partnership with the St. Norbert College Honors Program and Court Appointed Special Advocates of Brown County. CASA is a non-profit organization that provides a voice for abused and neglected children who are under the legal protection of the court system. Its vision is to ensure every child feels safe and secure in their home and heart.
The Honors Program at St. Norbert provides students of outstanding intellectual ability, high motivation and broad interests with a learning environment that maximizes their potential.
For more information, call Stacey Wanta at St. Norbert College at 920-403-3967 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.