Friday, October 19, 2018
News Roundup

Sue Carlton: Foster care comes full circle

She was 12 and didn't think there was a whole lot in the world she could count on.

Taken from her mother and into state custody when she was 3, shuffled between caseworkers, she was on her 14th foster home.

Some of it had been very bad. In one Plant City home, she was beaten, denied food, punished in creatively humiliating ways.

And now this latest couple was standing in front of a judge, wanting to adopt her?

When it was official, the woman who would be her mother leaned over and kissed her. The girl wiped it away.

You might think you know the end of this story, one about cycles repeating themselves and a girl already lost.

But sometimes paths come full circle.

• • •

Ashley Rhodes-Courter, now 28, married and living in St. Petersburg, has probably told her story a hundred times as she advocated for child welfare issues.

She said it in speeches when she was 14 and living in Citrus County. She wrote it in an essay about growing up in Florida's foster care system for a New York Times Magazine writing contest for high school students. She won.

She made Glamour's top 10 college women for her work with foster kids. Her book about her life, Three Little Words, made the New York Times bestseller list, landing her on Good Morning America and Today. I won't spoil it, but the three words from the day she was adopted probably aren't what you're thinking.

"I wanted it to be kind of a call to action," Rhodes-Courter told me recently, "not just a boo-hoo story or a sob story."

She became a guardian ad litem. She and her husband Erick Smith took foster parent classes.

"We felt young and energetic and maybe a little crazy," she says, and there were plenty of kids who needed a place. Hers was far from the only story.

It is not a job for the faint of heart.

They fostered a sexually abused toddler who had STDs, another who was malnourished. The day he went back to his family, they found out they were expecting their own son, Ethan, now 1.

They had been foster parents to a towhead named Skyler since he was 4 months old. Now a 2-year-old through and through, he loves to play in the dirt, is obsessed with ducks in the little lake nearby, crawls in their laps to read. He calls them Mommy and Daddy.

A few weeks ago, they made it official and adopted him.

"Eventually, when he starts asking questions, of course we have books on adoption, and Mommy is adopted," she says. They will tell him where he's from and about his family, careful about exposing him to the rawness of those answers.

And once, it had been her in front of a judge, at the edge of the rest of her life.

"I know it's so cliche to think everything happens for a reason," she says, "But in my experience, I think everything has come full circle in a really beautiful way."

She speaks on child welfare issues around the country and is writing her second book even as the first is made into a major motion picture. And how crazy is that, an actress playing out what she lived? "Absolutely insane," she says.

She talks to her adoptive parents every day, calls them her best friends.

"Our son Ethan was their first grandson," she says. "So I'm one up on my brothers."

Which sounds about as family as family gets.

Pinellas education news: Science festival, safe bus drivers, school choice and more

Pinellas education news: Science festival, safe bus drivers, school choice and more

Thousands expected for science festival, MarineQuestTwo big events — the St. Petersburg Science Festival and MarineQuest — will again be held together along the Bayboro Harbor waterfront Saturday, offering what organizers describe as &#...
Published: 10/19/18
Lightning cap off five-game homestand with 3-1 win over Detroit

Lightning cap off five-game homestand with 3-1 win over Detroit

TAMPA — The Lightning was a broken record in training camp, repeating how it needed to start the season strong. Last season's 15-2-2 start was the best in franchise history and launched it toward a playoff run. The Lightning wanted to do that a...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Red Wings game

Diana C. Nearhos’ takeaways from Thursday’s Lightning-Red Wings game

Steven Stamkos scored his first goal of the season in the second period. Entering the game, he wasn't alone among the league's top players to be goal-less. Last season's league MVP, the Devils' Taylor Hall, didn't get his first until Thursday night. ...
Updated: 4 hours ago

District volleyball: St. Petersburg ends a near five-year winless streak against Palm Harbor University

Finally.After five years of frustration against district rival Palm Harbor University, St. Petersburg finally defeated the Hurricanes in the final of the Class 8A, District 10 tournament, 23-25, 25-22, 27-25, 25-20. The Green Devils (22-5) will host ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Michael Drejka wants to fire one of his lawyers

Michael Drejka wants to fire one of his lawyers

LARGO — Michael Drejka has moved to fire one of his defense attorneys, writing in an affidavit that lawyer Lysa Clifton solicited him in jail the day after his Aug. 13 arrest and refused his request that she withdraw from the case.The affidavit, sign...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Tampa chief wants council to see larger context in ticketing of black bicyclists

Tampa chief wants council to see larger context in ticketing of black bicyclists

TAMPA — Police Chief Brian Dugan will deliver a breakdown of bicyclists stopped and ticketed by police at today’s City Council meeting, and the data will confirm what some council members already suspect: Black bicyclists are disproportionately stopp...
Updated: 5 hours ago

District volleyball: Top seeds Calvary Christian, Shorecrest advance

TAMPA – Calvary Christian and Shorecrest have been the top teams in Class 4A, District 4 all season. The district tournament did nothing to disprove that.The top-seeded Warriors eased past No. 5 seed and host Tampa Prep 25-9, 25-15, 25-16 Thurs...
Updated: 5 hours ago

District volleyball: Wharton makes Plant work for title

TAMPA — Plant hadn't dropped so much as a single set in district play all year. But in Thursday's Class 8A-8 final against Wharton, the Wildcats only fought harder as the match went on.Wharton came out sluggish, and Plant won the first set hand...
Updated: 5 hours ago

District volleyball: Sunlake doesn’t miss a beat without coach

LAND O'LAKES — Sunlake went into Thursday's Class 7A, District 8 championship without a notable figure on its sidelines: head coach Brian Gonzales.Gonzales was suspended for the district championship after Tuesday's district semifinal. Non...
Updated: 5 hours ago

District volleyball: Scrappy Holy Names falls to Cardinal Mooney

CLEARWATER — Opportunities like this are rare.Playing in a league along with Berkeley Prep, a team with the second-most state titles in Florida, doesn't provide many chances to be the top dog, even at the district level. When the defending stat...
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