A Child’s Voice: Her Own Words

Ashleigh's mom arrested on a drug charge and was sent to prison while Ashleigh was at school. At the time of writing her story for the Colorado Justice Report, Ashleigh was15:

I was sitting in my 2nd grade music class when the school principle showed up in the doorway to take me out of class. As I got up to leave, my friends did the whole "ooh, you're going to get in trouble", type of thing that normal 2nd graders do. I remember turning to them and telling them to "shut-up", but if I knew it was the last time I would see any of them, I probably would have said something more intelligent. As I walked down the hallway to her office, the principle kept saying things like "never give up, no matter what" and "you can do anything you set your mind to". I just kind of looked at her and nodded my head every once in awhile. Waiting in the principal's office was a Larimer County social worker. When we came into the office, she stood up and simply said, "Hi Ashleigh, I am here to take you across town to pick up your brother and then we're going to go for a little ride." Just like that my whole life changed into something from a scary movie. Only now, I couldn't push the "STOP" or "PAUSE" button.

The first foster home that my brother and I went to was in Estes Park, Colorado. For the first few days it wasn't that bad, it was like a sleepover  to us, but then we both didn't want to have a sleepover anymore, we wanted to go home. Three months after we settled into our new home, we were moved to Loveland, Colorado and were told that neither my brother nor I were going to be able to call our mom anymore. I guess that's where I started not to trust the world, and when I decided I hated everyone who came with 10 feet of me, my brother or our family. A year or so later my mom's parental rights were terminated, and my brother and I were up for adoption. I was nine years old. I am 15 now, and in the past eight years I have been placed in 23 different foster homes. They weren't all exactly what you would call healthy.

In one of my foster homes cold water was poured over my head when I would cry and when I complained about that, scorching water was poured on my head. I recently heard that this particular home had been closed down. In 2000, my brother was adopted by a family in Delta, Colorado, and by 2003, I was unable to have any contact with him. I had been placed in two or three adoptive homes but refused to stay with any of them. "My mom will come and get me as soon as she can", is what I told myself and everyone else for those eight years, but no one believed me, and sometimes I didn't believe it myself. The worst part of it all was living without knowing what had happened, thinking that it was my fault and just being alone and confused for years.

For most of my life I had lived with my friends asking me, "What's foster care like?" or "What do you call the people you live with? Mom and Dad?" I hated this living situation and I hated going through all that. I feel sorry for any living person who is going through or has gone through something like that. Then one day, I started receiving letters from my mom and within months we started visits. These days I have lived with my mom for a little over a year, and I proved to everyone that they were wrong. Best of all, I am finally home, and at least I can finally say "This is my mom."

The Colorado Justice Report’s editor's note: Ashleigh's mom fought for the right to communicate with her daughter after her release from prison even though her parental rights had been terminated. She stayed in communication with social services, went to therapy, and provided social services with progress reports from her parole officer, therapist and employer. Social services decided to give them the opportunity to be together. She was finally able to contact her son in 2012.  He has since moved home.

Ashleigh Clifton

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