There was a time when my identity was that of an abused, neglected, and abandoned child in foster care. Sometimes I sense the same lonely little girl still resides somewhere deep inside. However, I am proud to now have a cluster of more positive identities: social worker, wife, mother, foster mother, adoptive mother, writer and advocate. Having dual life experiences – on the giving and receiving end – energizes my work to make certain that all children have a chance to experience the love and nurturing that I was denied.
I was three years old when my teen mother was arrested, and I spent almost 10 years in foster care, living in 14 different placements, including two institutions. Defying the odds, I was adopted at the age of 12 from a group home. Although I tested every limit, my new parents refused to give up on me, even when I escalated my antics to see what it would take to send me back.
Often people ask when I was able to fully embrace my adoptive family. While a single instance is difficult to pinpoint, over time I experienced moments of normalcy – feeling homesick at a long summer camp, being proud to have parents cheering me on at sporting events, or giving me a standing ovation during the curtain call of one of my school plays. Today I can’t fathom what my life would be like without my adoptive parents. It took me years to accept trust, and believe that they would not give up on me. Luckily they allowed me to adjust at my own speed and had incredible patience.
This is why I advocate so passionately for children in situations similar to mine – the 415,000 in the foster care system in the United States, the 10,000 in North Carolina, and the 574 children in foster care here in Mecklenburg County on any given day. It is also why I partner with organizations like Children’s Home Society, whose work gives the stability these children need in foster care and the hope of a permanent, safe, and loving family.
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For 114 years, Children’s Home Society has provided a broad spectrum of programs and services including adoption, foster care, parenting education, family preservation, teen pregnancy prevention and family finding. Of children placed with CHS foster care families, 95 percent have only one placement, and often it becomes their forever family. More than 20,000 children and families are served annually.
To learn more and get involved visit www.chsnc.org.
Ashely Rhodes-Courter is in Charlotte to speak at Children’s Home Society’s annual A Place to Call Home fundraising luncheon on Thursday.