This article by Emma Scott Moran was originally published in The Columbus Dispatch.
Despite problems created for many nonprofit groups during the coronavirus pandemic, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption has continued on its mission to dramatically increase the number of children adopted from foster care.
Foundation officials realize the effort is especially important during the pandemic and with the holiday season upon us, when home and family take on a special importance.
“We don’t want people to think that any work on behalf of these children has paused,” said Rita Soronen, the Foundation’s President & CEO. “In fact, it’s accelerated to make sure that they can get home quicker and safer.”
Created by Wendy’s® founder Dave Thomas in 1992, the Dave Thomas Foundation is the only public nonprofit charity in the United States focused exclusively on foster care adoption.
The foundation estimates that its work and its signature program, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids®, has resulted in more than 1,100 foster care adoptions in Ohio and saved the state more than $64 million in costs.
These efforts are desperately needed as the number of children in foster care nationally has risen steadily since 2012. In Ohio, about 16,000 children are in the foster system — nearly 30% more than a decade ago, according to the state. The increase is due in large part to the devastation of families by opioid addiction.
Launched in 2004, the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program aims to find adoptive homes for those who have been in foster care the longest, including teenagers, siblings and children with special needs.
Through this program, the foundation partners with private and public adoption agencies, such as the state of Ohio and Franklin County Children Services, to employ recruiters.
These adoption professionals do a deep dive into the case file and intensive work with the community surrounding each child to understand their journey in an effort to find potential adoptive resources.
“Our relationship with these kids is one of the most important things that we develop,” said Matthew Snider, a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter. “It’s more of a relationship of a companion that helps guide them and structure them through this process of adoption.”
Jeni and Jared Goddard, from the Far West Side, worked with their recruiter to adopt brothers Jackob, 8, and Kaiden, 5, in May 2019. The couple said their recruiter’s investment in the adoption process and understanding of the boys was instrumental in creating a smoother transition.
“Joseph was so helpful with knowing what the boys like, didn’t like, had a good insight into their personalities and was able to navigate what their behaviors are, where they’re coming from, what works and doesn’t work, because he had been with them over a year,” Jeni said.
Children who are one of 60 or 70 in a foster system worker’s caseload don’t receive the level of advocacy they deserve, Soronen said, so the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters work with smaller groups of 12 to 15 children at a time.
“Business as usual prior to Wendy’s Wonderful Kids was just a patchwork of efforts, from public displays of children to really just kind of letting them linger in care thinking, ‘We’ll give them some resources and tools and they’ll be fine when they age out,'” Soronen said.
About 20,000 youths age out of the foster system each year, she said, too often facing negative outcomes such as homelessness, substance abuse and early parenting.
“We have had teenagers say, ‘Nobody wants an older dog, they want puppies.’ If that child can have a family located for them and they can see that they’re worthy of adoption, then they are also worthy of being a good person, they’re also worthy of working hard in school to get a good job,” Snider said.
The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption aims to expand the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program to reach all 50 states by 2028, expanding efforts to prevent youths from aging out of foster care before they find their adoptive family.
“Family is forever, whether you’re 18 or 48 or 58 or 68,” Soronen said. “We’ve got to stop thinking that this 18 or 21 is the cutoff safe time for children, and then they’ll be fine. We all need family for as long as we can have it.”
Every child deserves a safe, permanent home and a loving family. But sadly, more than 50 youth age out of foster care in the United States every day. Donate now to help find forever families for these young people, before it’s too late.