Top row, Left to right: Skyler, Deanna, Ashley, Shantel, Middle Left: Dennis, Bottom, Left to Right: David, Linda, Glenn, Hollie, Julie | Photos courtesy Ashley Marlow
Editor’s Note: This story was originally posted on Jan. 10, 2018.
BLACKFOOT – A 5-year-old girl is at home with her two sisters. Mom and Dad are nowhere to be found. They are out doing drugs, drinking and partying.
That was Ashley Marlow’s early life.
“If my grandma wasn’t there to feed us, we were looking for food,” Marlow said.
Marlow’s grandmother, who lived close by, periodically checked in on Marlow and her sisters when their parents were gone. One time when the girls were alone, eggs ended up cracked on the floor because they did not know how to cook.
“When that would happen, and my parents came home, we would get in pretty big trouble,” she said.
Marlow took the blame. She was slapped for it. On another occasion, Marlow remembers being so hungry she was chewing on her pajamas.
“I was wearing this cherry print nightgown. In my mind, it truly tasted like something good.”
Ashley with her two biological sisters, Deanna and Julie.
Marlow and her sisters were living in their grandmother’s basement when her grandmother called social services. That is when they were placed in the care of foster parents Glenn and Linda Wright.
There are more than 1,500 children living in foster care throughout Idaho. As of September 2017, about 255 foster children were living in east Idaho. Fewer than 150 foster parents in the area are shouldering the responsibility of providing temporary care.
Aimee Hoes, a recruitment coordinator for Fostering Idaho, says there are more children that need care than there are parents to provide it.
“Children need a safe place to grow. They deserve love and care. I don’t want to say (being a foster parent) is the right thing to do because it’s not the right fit for everybody,” Hoes says.
For Glenn and Linda Wright, foster parenting was the right fit. They moved to Blackfoot from Arizona in 1989. They had adopted two children while living in Arizona and were looking to adopt again in Idaho. They decided foster parenting was a great option.
Ashley with her mom, Linda Wright.
The No. 1 goal of foster care is to reunite children with their birth parents. It’s intended to be a temporary arrangement while the parents work to get their lives back on track. When family reunification is not possible, though, children in foster care are available for adoption.
Since 1989, Glenn and Linda Wright have been foster parents to about 80 children. They have adopted 12, which now range in age from 4 to 29 years.
“Some have more challenges than others because of being bounced around, not being in a stable environment. A lot of these kids come from homes where drugs were used. That’s what I’ve seen the most,” Linda Wright says.
Hoes says those who enter the foster care program are good kids who are looking for stability.
“Foster children get a bad rep. It’s the few that give the reputation to all. Most children in foster care are struggling. Being placed in the home of someone they don’t know is hard on them,” Hoes says.
This lack of stability was a struggle for Marlow when she met the Wrights.
“I remember clinging to my sisters. When (the Wrights) first met us, I was holding my sister’s hand because I felt like that was my only stability,” Marlow says.
Since Marlow had spent a lot of time in her grandmother’s basement and was not outside much before being adopted, she says moving in with the Wrights was a freeing experience. The Wrights lived on a farm and were outside on a daily basis.
Left to right: Glenn, Skyler, Shantel, Ashley, Deanna sledding.
“There was a big pile of what I thought was dirt at the time, but it was actually mixed with cow manure,” Marlow recalls with laughter. “I ran through it. That feeling of the dirt going through my toes was like a release that made me feel free. There were so many new things I got to experience, and that’s what helped me get through it.”
During her time in foster care, Marlow had visitations with her birth parents. She recalls feeling stressed and even having stomach cramps during these visits.
“That was the hardest thing for me because it went on for two years,” says Marlow.
Wright says all of her adopted children have had the opportunity to meet their birth parents.
“They thought it was going to be wonderful, but all of them have been disappointed,” says Wright.
The reason for that disappointment, according to Wright, stems from the parents’ lifestyle choices.
Because the lifestyle of Marlow’s parents did not improve, the Wrights’ eventually adopted Marlow and her sisters. This experience evokes emotion in Marlow’s voice when she speaks of it.
“I feel grateful. My mom and dad (her adopted parents) are amazing. They’re saints. I don’t know how they did it,” Marlow says.
Ashley Marlow with her husband, Jason, and children.
Marlow is now a graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, is married with two children of her own and has a steady job.
She says good foster parents can make a big difference.
“I feel like sometimes people only see the bad side, especially when a child comes into the system with emotional, mental, sexual or physical trauma. They feel like they can’t help the child or that the child is a lost cause when in all reality, all that child needs at that moment in time is someone to love and accept them,” says Marlow. “That’s all I wanted for me and my sisters. We were lucky enough to receive that.”
At one time, Marlow was considering becoming a foster parent herself. She opted to go in a different direction after recalling an experience she had growing up.
“I had a (foster sister) with whom I was really close. She ended up being adopted, and it tore me apart. That’s when I realized I couldn’t (become a foster parent) because I get too attached to people,” she says.
Hoes, the recruitment coordinator, says getting too attached should not stop people from becoming a foster parent.
“Those are the kind of families we want. Those are the people who care,” Hoes says.
As for Linda Wright, foster parenting is a labor of love that she says has changed her life.
“I love it. If it can change someone’s life for the better, then that’s my goal in life,” Wright says. “A lot of these kids have a lot of issues. It is a lot of work.”
Ashley, third from left, with her sisters and her mom
Wright says she would recommend it to anyone who has the time and has a good marriage. Legally, however, marriage is not a requirement to be a foster parent.
Hoes says anyone can be a foster parent, single or married, male or female, homeowner or not.
“It’s not a decision that comes easy to people,” Hoes says. “They think on it for quite a while. Every time we do an information meeting, we hear people say ‘I’ve been thinking about this. I’ve been talking about it for a year.’ It’s always one unanswered question that prevents them from moving forward. Just call and ask that question. We’d be happy to answer it.”
If you are interested in learning more about foster parenting, click here.