By Rita Soronen
National Adoption Month, held every November, is a special time each year to celebrate families that have grown through adoption and raise awareness of the more than 125,000 children still waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States.
Since 2012, the number of children waiting to be adopted from foster care nationwide has risen by more than 23 percent, according to the most recent report from the Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS). Additionally, every year approximately 20,000 teens turn 18 or 21 and age out of care without a permanent home, leaving them at a higher risk of homelessness, incarceration, early parenting and other negative outcomes.
It is also nearly impossible to talk about the foster care system without talking about the growing opioid crisis. On an almost daily basis, there are headlines about parents who have had their lives tragically cut short from opioid overdoses. While not all, far too many of their children end up in the foster care system. Drug abuse by a parent represented 36 percent of all placements into foster care last year, according to AFCARS data. The unfortunate reality is that many of these children are not returning to their birth families because it is simply not safe.
The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a national nonprofit public charity, is working urgently to find adoptive families for children waiting in foster care across the country. Through our signature program, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids®, the foundation provides funding to adoption agencies to hire recruiters who implement an evidence-based, child-focused recruitment model. Research has proven the model to be up to three times more effective at serving children who have been in foster care the longest, including teenagers, siblings and children with special needs.
Since this program began in 2004, the foundation has helped find adoptive homes for more than 9,000 children across the United States. Of the children currently being served, the average age is 13 years old; 82 percent have at least one special need and 60 percent are part of a sibling group. Prior to being referred to this program, 24 percent of these children had unsuccessful adoptions, and 88 percent had minimal or no recruitment efforts.
Family is the greatest gift. In this holiday season, I encourage everyone to learn more and get involved with this critically important, nonpartisan issue, one that reaches across states, races and religions. The importance of ensuring that every child has a permanent home and a loving family can’t be ignored — during National Adoption Month and year-round.
Rita Soronen is President & CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. This article originally appeared in The Chronicle of Social Change.