Ashley Rhodes was born to an unwed seventeen year-old mother. And to make matters more difficult, the mother took in a drug-addicted boyfriend and became drug-addicted herself. When the law pursued the couple, they fled with Ashley and her brother to another state where they were eventually apprehended. Three year-old Ashley and her brother were placed in a foster home. And over the next nine and a half years she’d find herself in 14 different homes, and attend nine different schools.
The living conditions were hellish. Ashley suffered physical abuse, starvation, and neglect. She watched her brother almost beaten to death in one home. Another home she lived in had a convicted pedophile living there. A third was a three-bedroom trailer she shared with sixteen other children. Several of the homes she was placed in were “parented” by adults with criminal records. One would expect this in another century, perhaps in another country, but not in the 1990’s…in America.
And as Ashley was shuttled from home to home the courts continued to block her chances to be adopted, at the ongoing request of her biological mother, hoping the woman would pull her life together and take Ashley back.
At 9 she was automatically labeled “special needs”, solely due to her age. By 12 she assumed she was too old to be adopted, and had begun resigning herself to the fact that she’d never have a stable home to grow up in. And then a miracle happened.
Mary Miller, the guardian ad litem volunteer for another child in the group home Ashley and her brother were in, learned that the Rhodes children had gone five years without representation. She asked and was appointed to Ashley’s case. And she would eventually connect Ashley with Gay and Phil Courter.
The Courters were working on a documentary about how children are placed in permanent homes, asked Ashley to tell her story, and quickly decided they wanted to adopt her. “I guess so”, was Ashley’s response. By then she’d had eight foster moms, and countless caseworkers and therapists, and the transition was not easy.
But the Courters loved their new daughter through the understandable ups and downs, and eventually Ashley blossomed. She won a scholarship to Eckerd College, became the Youth Advocate of the year for North America, and went on to earn a Master’s degree in Social Work from U.S.C.
Today Ashley is a guardian ad litem herself, having fostered twenty children herself and adopted one with her husband. Her memoir, Three Little Words, is a best-seller, and she continues to work as an advocate for the roughly 500,000 children in America’s foster care system.
For some, surviving childhood is heroic enough. But for this inspirational young woman, that was just the beginning.
Ashley Rhodes-Courter is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.