Rita's blog

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids: A melancholy milestone

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Anniversaries are just a little bittersweet at the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. This month, we mark 10 amazing and important years of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, yet I am keenly aware that we have not done enough.

As we honor the 4,076 adoptions that are the direct result of the work of our recruiters – people across North America who are passionate and dedicated, and who too often face overwhelming system barriers –  there were 23,000 children we failed last year; 23,000 children who turned 18 and left foster care without the families we promised them.

We are bringing our child-focused recruitment and evidence-based best practice to scale in Ohio, serving nearly every child age 9 and older who are waiting to be adopted. And while we celebrate Ohio’s leadership for recognizing that getting these children adopted using this strategy is not only good for their children, but also for the state’s budget, I remain challenged by other state administrators who hesitate to embrace change and who still believe that children are unadoptable.

Through 10 years of ever-evolving public services announcements, toolkits, social media messaging and advocacy for our most vulnerable children, and as we elevate the conversation and work to engage anyone who has an interest in the well-being of their communities, we still struggle to assure the children we serve that they will be the number-one priority for those in positions to make a difference.

From policymakers to faith-based leaders, educators to health care providers, governors to service groups, we can and must insist that children who have already suffered the trauma of abuse and neglect, who have moved too many times in transient foster care, and who simply want what Dante, a 17-year-old Wendy’s Wonderful Kids child said to his recruiter the first time her met her, “I just want a family and a home,” will have just that.

It is not only the right thing to do, it is the best we can do, and they deserve nothing less. Children don’t have 10 years to wait. Neither do we.

Breaking child welfare barriers across state lines

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At the Foundation, we manage a robust national resource and information exchange, which allows us to respond to trends and recurring themes in the requests that come to us for help. The frustrations that surround interstate adoptions frequently rise to the top of challenges confronted by families adopting from foster care.

An important strategy in child welfare is to find local families for children near their schools and friends. Frequently, though, willing and qualified parents, including relatives, are not located in the same jurisdictions as the child. Federal law makes it clear that states are not allowed to use jurisdictional barriers as a justification for delaying or denying permanency for a child, and both the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997  and the Safe and Timely Interstate Placement of Foster Children Act of 2006 underscore states’ requirement to consider interjurisdictional placements.

To protect children and manage the child welfare procedures for those who are placed across state lines, there is an Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC). Drafted and enacted more than 50 years ago, the ICPC is statutory law in all 50 states, D.C. and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and establishes uniform legal and administrative procedures governing the interstate placement of children.

According to the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA), “the purpose of the ICPC is to ensure that if a child is moved across state lines, that child’s rights are protected as if they were in their home state and all legal requirements are observed. The ICPC is designed to provide a monitoring mechanism during the transition and placement of the child in another state; ensure the child receives services; ensure compliance with the laws of each state; and provide the child with an alternative should the placement prove not to be in their best interest, or if the need for out-of-state services ends.”

This is where the clarity often ends and the frustration begins. Bureaucratic complexities, state financial disincentives, lack of uniform home studies, lack of training of professionals in the process and procedures of ICPC, delays in placements during processing, and a lack of uniform document and procedures between states and antiquated systems  all contribute to frustrations for parents waiting to adopt.

In 2005, and in response to these very issues, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption partnered with APHSA to shepherd a revised ICPC through the 50 state governments, and provide materials and technical assistance to state legislatures concerning the introduction and passage of the new Compact. Today, fewer than 20 states have passed the new Compact (35 are required). So inefficiencies and outdated systems remain in place.

There are passionate and skilled individuals in every state who want nothing more than to efficiently, effectively, and quickly place children where they will be loved and nurtured. Families must become dedicated and vocal advocates for children and work with judges, guardians ad litem, and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) volunteers, and others entrusted with a child’s best interests. And the caseworkers assigned may have varying degrees of expertise, but ultimately should be your best advocate for information, barrier-breaking and assistance. Working together, children will have the families they deserve.

A detailed link to state ICPC contacts, websites, definitions and state codes can be found at http://icpcstatepages.org/ .

And of course, the nearly 200 child-focused recruitment adoption professionals supported by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in every state, D.C., and throughout Canada stand ready to help assure that every child waiting to be adopted will be, regardless of borders.

3 THINGS WE LEARNED FROM “5 REASONS YOU WON’T ADOPT FROM FOSTER CARE, AND WHY THEY’RE WRONG”

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Someone like me1. You find the system is frustrating, difficult to understand, and seemingly unresponsive to children’s needs.

Many of you shared something similar to these challenges:

“I hope that the system gets easier. A close friend has fostered 2 young children for 2 years and hopes to adopt – ages <1yr & 3yrs. They are the only true parents these children have ever known. The court system just keeps giving the birth parents (the father tried to kill one of the children – court documented) another chance even though the birth parents never visit, rarely call, live transiently, don’t come to court, and are not able to hold down jobs. This is why the foster system is frustrating!”

“My husband and I started the process almost three years ago. We are very frustrated with the foster care system. I just turned 42 and James is 52. We’ve been together 25 years – no children together though. We have a completed and approved home study and we are having the most difficult time getting matched. I can see if we were turning children away but we are not. We are very open to any gender, nationality, and age range from infant to 12 years old. And, with as many children in the system as everyone keeps saying, we still can’t seem to be matched. Definitely something wrong!!!!!”

Too often it feels like we give parents too many chances to get their children back, — at the risk of them lingering in foster care. Judges will always adhere to the law when it comes to parental rights, but frequently a child’s best interests get lost in the mire of legal procedures.

It is critical that every child involved in the child welfare system has dedicated advocates – from a CASA/guardian ad litem, whose sole responsibility is to protect a child’s best interests, to the assigned caseworkers, foster parents and the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter, if one is assigned.

Foster parents must be involved in the process and have every right to attend court hearings. It is important to push for a dynamic and open relationship with the child’s caseworker – an easy flow of information about how the child is adjusting, doing in school, responding to parent visits, etc. It not only helps the caseworker be a strong advocate for the child, but assures that the court receives full and accurate information to determine the best place for the child.

At the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption nothing makes us more upset than when we hear qualified and excited potential adoptive parents are either ignored or not considered for children waiting to be adopted. That’s part of the reason we created Wendy’s Wonderful Kids. By funding adoption professionals in organizations in all 50 states and D.C., we have an “army” of advocates working diligently to match children with families. Please contact us for a recruiter in your state and we will get you connected! You can also see a list on our website.

2. You are concerned about international adoption versus domestic adoption from foster care.

“In my opinion, I think it is wrong for people in this country to adopt children from foreign countries when we have thousands of children in the USA that need homes. Let’s take care of our own first.”

The mission of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is to dramatically increase the adoptions of children from North America’s foster care systems. We work every day to put in place evidence-based awareness and practice programs that aggressively move children out of foster care and into adoptive homes, and are singularly focused on those children most at risk of aging out of care – older youth, children in sibling groups, children with mental or physical challenges and children of diversity.

We are honored to be working on behalf of more than 100,000 children waiting to be adopted in the United States. But we are also keenly aware of the millions of orphans worldwide who are innocent victims of war, violence, famine, AIDS, poverty or neglect. We celebrate any adult who steps up and takes responsibility for a child without a family, regardless of the borders that define that child.

3. You are wise, compassionate and want to make a difference in the lives of children.

We were incredibly moved by the responses of strangers to this young person:

YT: “I’m 17 years old and when I was in foster care I was always afraid that if I go to someone other than family they would put me out as soon as I turn 18 or that nobody would want me or my sister who is 15. I thought they would not want us because we both aren’t the healthiest children. I have neurological issues which makes me learn a little different; my little sister has a circulation issue in her legs, something wrong with her blood, and a heart murmur. We are back with our mother now but I can’t help but wonder would things be different if we weren’t … My question is who would adopt us with all these issues? And when we are considered grown will they abandon us?”

SE: “Hi YT. I hesitate to post this because I know a stranger posting on the internet may not mean much. I can’t answer your question exactly but I can tell you how I feel – I am currently in the process of getting approved to be a foster parent. Without knowing you or your sister or your situation at all, I feel pretty confident saying just this: Someone like me would adopt someone like you.I don’t want only ‘healthy’ children or a healthy family because to be honest, there is no such thing. I have my own health issues, and so does everyone else in my family. Some more severe than others, some are physical, some are neurological, and yours may be different, but they all exist. I’m watching my family age and change and so often it seems to change only in areas of loss – people get older, people move away, families argue and split up … but I realized it could also change for better, and by adding people. I have extra rooms and I hope I would have something to give to someone like you and at the same time, I believe someone like you has something that I value as well – I think friendship, family, and love don’t depend on perfect health and are even more needed. So what my overly long answer isn’t saying very clearly is that yes, I do believe those people exist. Though I’m glad your mom is doing better.”

There are no “unadoptable” children.– Every child deserves a family and a home. And they deserve the lifelong commitment that family brings – at age 2, 12, 20 and beyond. Our bodies are imperfect, but our spirits demand the love, compassion and acceptance that only a family can provide.

With our movement into a new year, the board and staff of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption are even more committed to driving a national conversation and indefatigable action to assure that every child has a family and a home, and that no child wonders where they belong.

How can I educate my adopted children’s school about their needs

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What are the steps to become an adoptive parent?

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This is our inaugural Facebook Question of the Week. Thank you to so many of you who posted your questions. This week, our question comes from Toni Kartikis who asked, “What are the first steps we should take in preparing to become adoptive parents?”

I’m eager for the chance to answer many more of the question we have received already. If you have a question for me, post it on our Facebook wall and I’ll answer it in the coming weeks.

America’s attitudes on adoption are changing

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US Harris report coverBy Rita Soronen
President and CEO

We hear it every day. “Adopt out of foster care? No, the system is just such a mess.” Or, “I’d like to think about it, but honestly I’ve heard all these kids have problems.” Or, “It’s just too expensive.”

Why adults consider foster care adoption or choose not to adopt from foster care may be driven by direct experience, word of mouth, or simple misperceptions they may have about the system or the children who are waiting to be adopted.

In 2001, when the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption looked at the typical messaging around foster care adoption, we learned that for the most part it was “shoot from the hip” marketing, crisis-based communications, or photo listings of children. There was a lack of solid, accurate, or actionable data on how adults viewed adoption in the United States.

In an effort to both understand perceptions about foster care adoption and then respond appropriately, we began working with Harris Interactive to perform a national survey on Americans’ attitudes on adoption. We did it again in 2007, and have just released the third National Foster Care Adoption Attitudes Survey. (more…)

First look: How we implement Wendy’s Wonderful Kids across America

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WWK_MapUpdate_021913By Rita Soronen
President and CEO

Here at the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, we do a lot to make sure the recruiters we work with have everything they need to get children in foster care adopted. And as more and more people support the work we do, we have an even greater responsibility to get more children adopted.

When new grants are available, we find the areas in North America where there are a high number of children waiting to be adopted. We complete a vetting process that includes researching adoption agencies within that area that would be able to implement the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Child-Focused Recruitment Model. Once the agency is identified, we invite them to submit a proposal. It’s an interesting and complicated process, and we want to take you along on the journey to show you exactly how we work. (more…)

Working for America’s longest-waiting children

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By Rita Soronen
President and CEO

When Taylor was 5, he was placed in foster care. He moved back home twice, but was then permanently severed from his birth family at age 9. Although he was with a kind and loving foster family, they were like grandparents to him, and they felt that he should have a younger adoptive family, so they worked with his caseworker to assure a smooth transition to an adoptive family.

A family was found, visits occurred, and last year, Taylor’s foster family was both excited and sad to be driving him to his new home for his pre-adoptive placement. When they arrived, there seemed to be no one home. They waited a bit, made some calls and then went back to the home thinking something might be wrong. They looked in the back yard where Taylor saw that everything was gone – toys, grill, trash cans – everything.

Taylor was heartbroken when he learned that the family moved away. But a few weeks later as Taylor and his foster mother continued to process what had happened, he looked at her and said, “I still want to be adopted. Nothing feels better than someone wanting to care about you.”

Stories like this break my heart every day. As the leader of a national nonprofit dedicated to finding homes for the more than 134,000 children in North America’s foster care systems, these stories also motivate me to work even harder so children like Taylor do not have to suffer such heartbreak. (more…)

‘Each of us must be an advocate for children’

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By Rita Soronen
President and CEO

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to be interviewed by several bloggers about adoption, foster care and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. I had a really great time speaking with each of these amazing people who have so much passion for adoption and family. I want to share one of them with you. In this interview, Megan Terry of Millions of Miles and I talk about how life-changing adoption is, life at DTFA and the most important part of why I do what I do – the children.

Megan Terry: The foster care system is complicated.  I think that is something that we can all agree on. It is political, understaffed and difficult and at the center, there are beautiful, precious children who fall through the cracks.  For the last couple of years, we have rallied behind the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption.  Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s and later, DTFA, was adopted and spent his life advocating for adoption and children.  He built the foundation on the belief that unadoptable is unacceptable and they work tirelessly to educate people about adoption from foster care and find families for some of the most marginalized children in state care- older children, minorities, special needs children.

Since 2001, Rita Soronen has been steering the ship as the CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.  I was given the opportunity to interview Rita about the work that the foundation is doing to children in foster care.  The brilliance of her answers just floored me.  This is an organization that is getting it right.  I hope that you enjoy getting a glimpse into Ms. Soronen’s heart and mind. (more…)

4 resources for raising your child post adoption

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HE8A1314By Rita Soronen
President and CEO

As we work to raise awareness about adoption from foster care, we frequently share stories of amazing families formed through adoption. We do this to show that families built this way are just as viable as those formed biologically. By showing success, we encourage participation. Others who see a family brought together by foster care adoption may believe, “If they can do it, I can too!” (more…)

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