INTRODUCTION: This is the final installment of a three-part series telling the first-person account of 20-year-old foster sister Ashlee Welch.
Mom took Israel to the Emergency room and he was airlifted to a hospital two hours away. Israel stayed in the hospital for more than 30 days with Mom by his side. They had to pull his childhood medical records and figure out exactly what happened to cause abdominal problems. When he was younger, he had a series of surgeries (which he does not remember) and the scarring ripped a hole in his intestines. Doctors had to go in and cut out a few inches of his intestines to fix the issue. He lost a ton of weight and most of his body muscle. The doctors weren’t sure about his future. Football might be out of the question, weightlifting might be done, and all your typical guy things could be over. (But we will come back to that later.)
Dad works running his automotive shop. With more children in the house to take to soccer, ballet, swim, band, school, and church—he quickly became overwhelmed. I had my driver’s license and I was a halfway decent cook, so I did as much as I could to help. Israel’s illness, surgery, and recovery led to the hardest decision. Dad called the little girls’ caseworker. The girls needed to be placed somewhere else for the time being. Change is sometimes the most difficult part of being a foster sister.
The girls helped me pack up their stuff and we said the hardest goodbyes of my lifetime— hugging Kimberly and Addison (names were changed) as they were crying and being taken to yet another home was hard. But we remain close. My family attends their ballet recitals and soccer games. We share big dinners together as often as possible. The girls have been adopted and are thriving. Israel endured a handful of surgeries and remained restricted to bed rest, eating small portions of protein, and drinking lots of liquids. We were all hopeful.
A big part of any family is understanding that there will be ups and downs. Israel had a handful of hardships, but he also experienced some great monumental moments—like excelling in football and being named Lineman of the Year for 2022. He was awarded two player-of-the-game awards his senior season, attended prom, learned how to drive, graduated, and was accepted into a college. Israel and Tanner are college freshmen and I’m a junior. Having three in college has been a struggle for Mom and Dad. They tell us that it is not a challenge they cannot handle, but what an unexpected curve ball.
To bring this roller coaster to the end of the tracks, I want to discuss my biggest takeaways of being a foster sister and one of three siblings in my family. You always hear people say that ‘communication is key’—it is true. I don’t think that my family could have handled some of these ups and downs, twists and turns without sitting down and talking through everything. Making a house a home is a team effort.
I’ve learned that foster care can be a genuinely scary thing. In her book “Three Little Words: A Memoir,” Ashley Rhodes-Courter writes about being born to a teenage mother and then spending her early childhood in foster care. Her mother was not able to take care of her and her brother, but all the time Ashley believed she would move back home with her mother. Ashley was placed into 14 different foster homes and finally is placed at the Children’s Home of Tampa and met Phil and Gay Courter at an adoption picnic and they became her adopted parents. It was a long journey for her. She truly understands the struggles of foster children because she has experienced the struggles and trauma foster children sometimes go through.
If you look around, you might meet a caring foster family—there are many. Now don’t get me wrong, there will always be a few bad apples on every tree. But at the end of the day, the reason foster families do this is because while you sit here reading this article there are children in need of not only roofs over their heads and food on the table, but the security of a loving family. Some of these children live right in your neighbor- hood—maybe next door. Nobody is asking you to go across the world, they’re all around—even if sometimes we don’t see them.
Recently, I watched Israel and Tanner have a great senior prom, graduate, and move into the real world. As for the girls, I am lucky enough to see them often. They are growing as fast as a blink of an eye. I continue to attend their ballet recitals and soccer games. I am committed to being there for them—to be as close as I can and for as long as they want me to be. I am so glad they have their forever home and a family who welcomes my family as part of these precious girls’ lives. It is crazy how time flies. When I began to write this article, I never imagined how it would help bring my wonderful life into focus.
Written by Ashlee Welch. Ashlee works full time as a first-grade teacher’s assistant and is a junior enrolled at Liberty University pursuing an online degree in elementary education with an art minor. She hopes to either teach kindergarten or art to elementary-age children. She is passionate about creating a safe and positive place for children.