I read Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s first memoir, Three Little Words, recently and was horrified and memorized by Ashley’s journey through the Florida foster care system. In her follow up memoir, Three More Words, Ashley shares her experiences on the other side of the foster care system- as a guardian, foster care parent and prospective adoptive family.
Ashley begins her book recapping the first and then delves into her college experience; she had some struggles because her public persona made being a “regular” college student difficult, particularly her underage drinking. While in college, Ashley met her future husband, Erick, through friends. She frequently cooled their relationship, which she feels was rooted in her past, but leaned on him during difficult times whether they were dating or not. She continues to have a strained relationship with her mother, Lorraine, and Ashley’s half sister, Autumn. Ashley spends more time with her biological family in this memoir than when Ashley was a young girl but it’s still a deeply complicated relationship. Her adoptive parents, Gay and Phil, are still her core support system.
Ashley and Erick eventually marry and they became guardians ad Litem followed by foster parents for the state of Florida. This is where the memoir becomes possibly more depressing than the first.
“The approval process is tiresome,” Annabelle said. “I’m sure you’ve read the headlines about bad foster homes, but we do everything possible to prevent this.”
Erick whispered to me, “Wait til she finds out that you were the child in some of those headlines.”
Little progress has been made within the Children’s Welfare system; it’s still a numbers game where the more children out of the system (even if they are placed back with their unstable biological families) the better. Ashley and Erick begin to foster children, several of whom had their issues downplayed by caseworkers, in order to get foster families to agree to take them. Albert, the first boy the Smiths considered adopting, was taken away from them to live with his father despite his inability to complete his court appointed parenting classes. They also fostered a toddler girl, Lillian, who had been sexually abused and exposed to HPV & Herpes before Preschool. She was sent to live with a family member who could take her and her two brothers, Ashley still doesn’t know what became of her. The most difficult story to hear about was Millie, a young girl sent to live with the Smiths before being officially released to be adopted, whose status abruptly changed and she was sent to live with a grandparent. Her story turned even more tragic when news reports surfaced that she was assaulted with a tire iron (by her uncle!) and died. It makes you sick to your stomach to hear these things happening even with someone like Ashley being willing to advocate on their behalf. Her personal writing style makes it easy to empathize with her struggles to be a voice for young children and the reader becomes emotionally invested in these kids’ journeys.
Throughout all of this Ashley and Erick began to build their own family; Ashley gave birth to a son, Ethan, and the couple adopted another boy, Skylar, shortly after. Ashley completed her Master’s degree in social work, ran for State Senate (and lost) and formed a non-profit. She’s an amazing person and continues to do great work advocating for children. Her memoirs are hard to read but really highlight the importance of stability in the home for young children.