Ashley Rhodes-Courter spent most of her childhood in 14 different foster homes, a heartbreaking saga she documented in her inspiring memoir, Three Little Words. But for survivors of trauma, the work doesn't stop with a happy ending, and Rhodes-Courter continues her story with Three More Words, her new memoir about life after foster care.
I never imagined that, while still in my 20s, I would be publishing my second memoir. My first book, Three Little Words, was a New York Times and international bestseller that chronicled my nearly 10 years growing up in the foster care system where I lived in 14 different placements—many of them very abusive. I’m excited to say the book is now being made into a major motion picture!
Today, I have a Master’s Degree in Social Work and spend my professional and personal life helping other young people and working to better the child welfare system. My husband, Erick, and I also became foster parents and have cared for more than 20 children. I was inspired to write my second book, Three More Words, because readers had so many unanswered questions from my first book: What happened to my brother? Am I still in touch with my biological mother? Am I close to my adoptive family? Were you ever able to have a “normal” adulthood and relationships? People also assume that things in “the system” have gotten so much better since I was in foster care. However, the stories we encountered and situations we experienced as foster parents were shocking and tell a very different tale.
Three More Words expands on my life beyond the foster care system. I share the joys and heartbreak I have experienced with the family I’ve created, and I openly discuss the efforts I’ve had to make to find peace with my past. In the first half of the book, I navigate the peer pressures of college, juggle relationships with my biological and adopted families, and I meet my now-husband. The second half brings my life and purpose full-circle, highlighting the incredibly powerful—and sometimes painful—stories of some of our foster kids. This February, we learned that one of our daughters, Jenica Randazzo (named “Millie” in Three More Words), age 9, was returned to relatives she had been removed from. She was brutally murdered by her mentally ill uncle living in the home.
My husband and I spoke up when we heard the news, and we were retaliated against by the very system that was supposed to protect me as a child and keep Jenica/Millie from this outcome. We refuse to stay silent because she, and thousands of abused and neglected children in our country, deserve justice. In the first six months of 2015, there have been more than 240 child deaths reported in the state of Florida alone. Many of them were under preventable circumstances.
With Three More Words I hope to inspire young people experiencing adversity or challenging times, and I also want my books to be a call to action. I had a few key teachers, volunteers and eventually a family that gave me incredible stability and opportunities. It is my wish that all young people know such love, dedication and happiness.