I just finished Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Coulter. It was the pick for a book club I'm in called “The Sophistareaders". The book is memoir of Ashley's early life in foster care. As a social worker this book was especially interesting and touching. We follow Ashley from her entrance into foster care to her exit. It is a very harrowing story. Her time in foster care was during a period where Florida's foster care system was at its worst and her story helped to change that system. Ashley came from a family with significant issues and put into a system with just as many significant issues. She was put in the charge of many careless social workers and countless placements. She was literally forgotten and persevered through it all.
Here's what I got from the story.
Ashley was shifted from place to place and developed some pretty severe attachment issues. She was moved from place to place and no one stopped and asked her how she felt about all of it. She lost her voice. Many times all of us go through periods where the circumstances in our lives make us feel like we have lost all control of it. We don't always have the ability to control these circumstances. It is a place that is infused with hopelessness, and if nothing changes it is easy for us to stay there. Ashley held onto one hope, to return to her mother, and was constantly disappointed. Her mother never could seem to get things together so that she could be the mother that Ashley needed. Ashley was moved around a lot ~ lived with pedophiles, overcrowded homes, and even abusive homes. She really did become hopeless. She lost hope that she would ever find a place to call home. She knew that however great a place seemed it had an expiration date.
After many years of going through this “return to sender" cycle, she was finally appointed a guardian as litem. They are there to look after the child's best interest. They are the voice of the child in foster care. This one person came along and fought for Ashley. She listened to her, and she made a change in Ashley's life. This one person got her out of her abusive placement and advocated for her until she found a permanent home. This is what stuck with me ~ the power that one individual can have to affect change in the lives around them. We all have that capability and responsibility. We don't have to have the enormous responsibility of being a child's voice in a broken system to affect change. We can do it every second of every day. It is a smile, and shoulder to cry on, and ear to listen. But it takes us stopping, forgetting about our busy day and self importance, and taking the time to care. I think that Ashley's life could have been so much less tumultuous if someone stopped and cared sooner.
When Ashley got this guardian who was her voice she eventually found her own. She let down all of the defense mechanisms that she developed to deal with living in the system and allowed an adoptive family to love her and herself to love them back. She made it through it all. She spoke out about the protective system that damaged her most and she helped change it.
The book is an amazing story about an amazing life. After looking at her life I know that in my hopeless situations I won't give up. The start almost never looks like the finish.
Better Me Epiphany ~ I will care about the lives around me. I will make a change for others by first making changes for myself. My future is not dictated by my current situations.