Pat O’Brien

Posted on January 26, 2017

After 30 years of working in child welfare not much surprises me anymore, until I met one 18 year old young man.

For simplicity sake, let’s call him John. John was living in a group home and was about to turn 18. In most cases that meant that he’d age out of the system without being adopted. It’s a sad reality in child welfare, but many 18-year-olds will tell you they aren’t too keen on the idea of moving in with a family so close to adulthood. Most of those feelings are based on years of hearing that no one would want to adopt them, so the defensive walls go up.

John was making strong connections in his group home and during a meeting where we discussed ideas for a forever family, he mentioned he was taking guitar lessons. We all assumed he was learning from a fellow teen, but through happenstance we discovered much more.

I worked my way through college by teaching guitar, so I asked John who was teaching him. He told me he met his guitar teacher at church. I kept asking questions…and discovered his teacher was the director of worship at a very well-known church. This led to a path through the church administration that led to a program run by a church member that helps teenagers who essentially have no one. After meeting the family who ran that program, I was able to find John his first family placement since he was 12 years old. He graduated high school in June of that year. He got into college and decided he wanted to live on campus. I was worried that the bonds that were fresh and new wouldn’t last, but this family had it under control. They understood what unconditional commitment is and stayed very connected to John. He came home on Friday nights, spent the weekends with them and they continued to go to church on most Sundays.

Things were going well, but as we know, young people who have lived through trauma can be triggered into rash decisions. Someone at school triggered John and he chased that student down with his car. It was caught on camera and John was expelled for the semester.

This is the part where many families might say, “Enough!” or where a child from foster care falls on his face, but not this time. His family, found for him through Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, opened the door and welcomed him home. They did not condone the behavior, but they understood what happened. They suggested he even live in their home while attending college to help with the adjustment of more intense schooling. John had his safety net.

This is what we work for as WWK recruiters. We want every child in danger of aging out of the system to have the safety net of a family who loves them unconditionally, who will help them grow into well-adjusted adults, who will dust them off when they fail and help them succeed.

Pat O’Brien is a former WWK recruiter in Connecticut and also the founder of “You Gotta Believe!” an organization that also focuses on finding families for children about to age out of foster care.

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is a national nonprofit public charity dedicated exclusively to finding permanent homes for the more than 130,000 children waiting in North America’s foster care systems. Created by Wendy’s® founder Dave Thomas who was adopted, the Foundation implements evidence-based, results-driven national service programs, foster care adoption awareness campaigns and innovative grantmaking. To learn more, or to make a donation, visit or call 1-800-ASK-DTFA.