by Rita Soronen, President & CEO, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
Unadoptable. This is a word that I have heard attributed to some children in the foster care system, but this way of thinking is unacceptable. No child is too old, too much trouble or too sick to be denied what we believe to be a basic human right—the right to a loving permanent family.
For many of us, it is hard to picture life without a family - but for 408,425 children growing up today in the U.S. foster care system, it is a harsh and heartbreaking reality. And 107,000 of these children are waiting to be adopted.
Tens of thousands of children — nearly 28,000 in 2010 alone — exit foster care each year without families of their own. Without the support of a family these children face an uncertain future, filled with higher risks of incarceration, homelessness, early pregnancies and truncated educations.
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK), the signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, works to improve this outlook through implementing a proactive, child-focused recruitment model targeted exclusively on moving America’s longest-waiting children from foster care into adoptive families. Instead of accepting the status quo or the notion that some children are too old or troubled to find a family, we challenged those who believe in unadoptable and developed a system specifically designed for those children most in need, those most likely to fall through the cracks. This system focuses on the child and allows adoption professionals to really get to know the child and their hopes, fears and existing networks. They then diligently search for the right family for that child.
This approach may seem obvious to some, yet it is not standard practice. We now have empirical, rigorous research that shows that employing the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids child-focused model works. Not only are children who are served by WWK recruiters 1.7 times (170%) more likely to be adopted than those not served by the program, children referred at age 15 or older and children with mental health disorders are three times (300%) more likely to be adopted.
This news not only affirms that programs like Wendy’s Wonderful Kids are making a difference, but it provides a roadmap for changing the way in which the U.S. foster care system works. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids has connected more than 2,500 children with forever families to date.
During this month in particular National Adoption Awareness month, we can celebrate that we now have research that reinforces our model to find forever families for every child. In fact, if every one of the 107,000 children waiting to be adopted last year had the opportunity to be on the caseload of a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter, 37,000 more children would have been adopted. So we are more committed than ever to increasing our resources and partnerships to take the program to scale, to encouraging evidence-based activities when designing programs for children, and to insisting that “unadoptable” is unacceptable.
He is not unlovable. She is not hard to place. They are not difficult. They are deserving of all of our best efforts.
For more information on Wendy’s Wonderful Kids visit davethomasfoundation.org. For details on the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids research study, visit davethomasfoundation.org/research. Or just call us at 800-ASK-DTFA and find out how to get involved.