How One Best-Selling Author Is Changing the Holidays for Foster Kids
When it comes to childhood holiday traditions, people often think of hanging ornaments on the Christmas tree, lighting the menorah, or listening to seasonal tunes. But for some 415,000 kids living in the foster care system, the holidays in group homes aren’t always filled with merriment.
International best-selling author Ashley Rhodes-Courter is all too familiar with the experience, having spent almost a decade of her life bouncing between 14 different foster homes. Though she was adopted at age 12 by a family she says was perfect for her, the author still recalls what the Christmas season felt like before that time.
“The holidays are a struggle, because it brings back these bad memories and makes us wonder what our parents and siblings are doing,” Rhodes-Courter told TakePart.
“After I was adopted, I started thinking about how great the holidays were, but then you think about the kids that were in foster care with you and wonder how they’re doing,” she added. The author later discovered that many of her former foster siblings are behind bars, homeless, teen parents, or in abusive situations.
By comparison, Rhodes-Courter is a foster care success story. Her New York Times best-selling memoir, Three Little Words, which details her distressing time in the nation’s foster care network, is being made into a major motion picture (Cathy Konrad of Girl, Interrupted and Walk the Line is the producer). Her newest book, Three More Words, about her family life and advocacy work following her adoption, was published in June and has already received numerous awards. She has an impressive list of other accolades under her belt, and she thanks her adoptive parents for many of them.
“I was really lucky to find a family that fit my needs,” said Rhodes-Courter, who’s now 30. “Not only did they help me get through high school, but they gave me those funny family anecdotes I never had in group homes during the holidays.”
Kids growing up in foster care don’t always get to experience Christmas in the same way many children do. Group homes are often empty of holiday decorations, which are considered too dangerous as they could be used as weapons. (For instance, someone could turn a string of lights into a noose.) And if kids are moving from home to home during the holidays, as the Rhodes-Courter did several times, sometimes they miss out on receiving gifts if people aren’t expecting them.
“Making a family dinner, decorating the Christmas tree together—these are things I didn’t experience until being adopted,” Rhodes-Courter said. “In the group homes, kids would line up to decorate the tree, put an ornament on it, and then go to the back of a line. We had a cafeteria, so we ate that food for the holidays.”
Today, the mother of three sons—one adopted and two biological—and foster mom to more than 20 children is the founder of the advocacy group Foundation for Sustainable Families, which works to provide struggling families with the support and resources needed to sustain their well-being. The organization offers a number of services, including group therapy counseling, family management and crisis intervention, and foster care and adoption resources.
“There are countless nonprofits and volunteer groups desperate for people’s time and talents this season,” Rhodes-Courter said. “I’m happy to help connect anyone with foster families in need.”