Ashley Rhodes-Courter was shuffled through 44 caseworkers, 19 foster parents and 23 attorneys before finally finding a permanent home.
It was a court-appointed advocate named Mary Miller who finally turned her childhood around.
“My teachers changed, my parents changed, my siblings changed, my pets changed,” Rhodes-Courter, 29, said Thursday during the Cherish the Children luncheon in Dallas. “Mary was that one consistent face.”
Rhodes-Courter, author of the best-selling Three Little Wordsand the soon-to-be-published book Three More Words, shared her story with hundreds of volunteers and donors who support Dallas Court Appointed Special Advocates, known as CASA.
During her keynote speech, Rhodes-Courter said she wants people to know how important CASA volunteers are in the lives of children in the foster care system.
Last year, about 4,400 abused and neglected children in Dallas were in protective care, CASA officials said. Half of those children were assigned advocates who helped judges find safe, and preferably permanent, housing options.
Rhodes-Courter and her brother fell into Florida’s foster care system when their mother went to prison. When their mother didn’t try to win back custody, they were shuttled between foster homes and shelters for several years.
Miller came into Rhodes-Courter’s life by chance when she was appointed to help a foster sibling and started looking out for Rhodes-Courter, too.
Rhodes-Courter found a permanent home at age 12. She now has three children, including a 3-year-old boy she and her husband adopted. She also holds a master’s degree in social work.
“I’m finding that now, I need family more than I ever have,” she said. “And for kids in foster care, that’s not always a thing that’s guaranteed.”
Rhodes-Courter said many foster children are stuck in “survival mode” and may never benefit from a stable home life.
“They don’t even understand how important it is to have people there for you for the rest of your lives,” she said.