Recruitment model proves success in substantially increasing adoption rates from foster care

Posted on October 26, 2011


Recruitment model proves success in substantially increasing adoption rates from foster care
Rigorous five-year study finds child-focused recruitment results in up to three-fold increase in adoption among youth in foster care

Washington, D.C. – The most comprehensive evaluation ever conducted on family recruitment practices for children in foster care was released today from the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (DTFA). The five-year study, led by Child Trends, found children served by a child-focused recruitment model experienced substantially higher rates of adoption than children not served by this model.

Child-focused recruitment is a model used by DTFA’s signature program,Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK), which provides local adoption agencies with grants to hire dedicated adoption recruiters who spend 100 percent of their job focused on finding waiting children forever homes. The study found older children and children with mental health disorders achieved even higher rates of adoption, providing new hope to the many children who enter foster care and often languish for years or “age out” of foster care altogether without the support of permanent, loving families.  

“I am excited that the child-focused recruitment model developed by the Foundation is working dramatically well to find permanent loving families for these children – especially for older children and those who were previously and scandalously considered ‘unadoptable,’” said Rita Soronen, President and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. “This study provides impetus for policymakers and adoption practitioners to improve outcomes for the more than 107,000 children in foster care who are available for adoption right now.” 

Since its inception in 2004 as a pilot project, WWK has served more than 7,300 children, including 2,512 who have been placed in permanent adoptive homes. “This evaluation suggests that we could nearly double the number of children adopted from foster care if all children waiting were served by

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids,” Soronen said. “This means that an additional 36,000 waiting children might have been adopted from foster care in 2010, a substantial increase over the roughly 52,000 who were adopted.”

The Foundation commissioned the five-year study of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids to evaluate the effectiveness of the program’s child-focused recruitment model. The research shows that:

  • Children in foster care served by WWK recruiters are more than 1.7 times more likely to be adopted than those not served by WWK.
  • For older children, the impact of the WWK model is greater and increases with age:For children referred to WWK at age 8, the likelihood of adoption was one-and-one-half times higher; for children referred at age 11, the likelihood was two times higher; and for children referred at age 15, the likelihood of adoption was three times higher.
  • Children with mental health disorders served by WWK are three times more likely to find forever families than those not served by WWK.

Senator Mary Landrieu (D-La.), a leading advocate for children, said, “I have always said that there is no such thing as an unwanted child, just an unfound family. What this research shows is that with the right model it is possible for every child to find their forever family. I not only want to encourage states to integrate these practices statewide, but am looking forward to using this data to inform federal policies on adoption.” 

Multiple research studies have found that adoption represents a cost savings to taxpayers, with one indicating that each dollar spent on the adoption of a child from U.S. foster care yields three dollars in benefits to society,i demonstrating that investment in adoption not only benefits the child, but society as well. “The evaluation of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids represents the most rigorous empirical study of child-focused adoption recruitment practices to date,” said Carol Emig, president of Child Trends. “Child Trends found that Wendy’s Wonderful Kids makes a substantial and significant positive impact on the likelihood of adoption for children at risk of aging out of care without families to call their own. In the process, we documented in detail how the program is being implemented.”

The WWK model is unique — DTFA issues grants to local adoption organizations, both public and private, to hire adoption recruiters who dedicate 100 percent of their time to finding permanent, loving families for children in their local foster care system. With relatively small caseloads of up to 15 children, WWK recruiters develop an individualized plan for each child based on the child’s background and specific needs. Recruiters also build one-on-one relationships with each child to determine the child’s strengths, challenges, desires and preparedness for adoption. The recruiters conduct diligent searches for family members that may be a match for the child, meet regularly with the child and all important players in the child’s case, and measure their progress against quantifiable goals for adoptions.

“You would think everyone already uses an adoption model that focuses on the child and this new research should remove any doubt that the child-focused approach works for children waiting to be adopted,” said Constance Holdip, a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter at Clark County Department of Family Services in Las Vegas. “Taking a child-focused approach has helped me and our other recruiter, Richard Mills Jr., find permanent families for 108 children. I can only imagine the kind of benefit we’d see if everyone used the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids model.”

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids is a philanthropic commitment between Wendy’s, its customers, individual donors and the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. WWK recruiters are active at 122 locations in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four provinces in Canada. To access the full study, The Impact of Child-Focused Recruitment on Foster Care Adoption: A Five-year Evaluation of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, visit or


About the study:

Child Trends executed a random assignment evaluation of children served by 26 WWK grantee agencies in 23 states. Between August, 2006, and January, 2010, 1,393 children were randomly assigned to a treatment or control group. Ultimately, 21 grantee agencies, based in geographically diverse locations, with programs from 18 states were represented. This study represents the most rigorous empirical evaluation of child-focused adoption recruitment practices to date, documenting much-needed information about practices that improve the likelihood of permanent adoptions for children in foster care – especially children for whom it has traditionally been the hardest to find adoptive homes.

About the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption: 

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is a national nonprofit public charity dedicated exclusively to finding permanent homes for the more than 137,000 children waiting in North America’s foster care systems. Created by Wendy’s® founder Dave Thomas who was adopted, the Foundation implements results-driven national service programs, foster care adoption awareness campaigns and advocacy initiatives. To learn more, visit or call 1-800-ASK-DTFA.

About Child Trends:

Child Trends is a nonprofit, nonpartisan research center that seeks to improve the lives of children and youth by conducting high-quality research and sharing it with the people and institutions whose decisions and actions affect children. Founded in 1979, Child Trends helps keep the nation focused on children and their needs by identifying emerging issues; evaluating important programs and policies; and providing data-driven, evidence-based guidance on policy and practice.

Barth, Richard P. Kwon Lee Chung, Judith Wildfire, and Shenyang Guo. (2006). A comparison of the governmental costs of long-term foster care and adoption.

Social Service Review, 80(1):127-158; The economics of adoption of children from foster care. Child Welfare: Journal of Policy, Practice, and Program, 85(3): 559-583; Zill, Nicholas. (2011).

Adoption from foster care: Aiding children while saving public money. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Retrieved from September 15, 2011.


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