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.
Thankfully, soon after the learning that his potential adoptive family had vanished, Taylor was placed on the caseload of a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter.
Working for America’s longest-waiting children
Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK), a signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, is an evidence-based model of recruitment that finds homes for North America’s longest-waiting children. And it works. We created this program so these children, some of whom have been in foster care for thousands of days – some their entire lives – could finally have the families they deserve. It’s these children, and their brothers and sisters, for whom we’re working.
The long-term, rigorous research commissioned by the Foundation on Wendy’s Wonderful Kids shows that the child-focused model we created (and is used by 169 grant-based WWK recruiters), significantly and substantially increases the likelihood of adoptions. On average, children served by the model are 1.7 times more likely to be adopted from foster care, and the older a child is, the likelihood for adoption increases to three times (or 300 percent).
We like those odds. Last year, more than 26,000 youth in foster care turned 18 and left the system without the families we promised. We all failed these children, and year over year for the past decade those numbers have continued to rise. We know that a child who is without the safety net of a family at 18 is at an increased risk of homelessness, unemployment, early parenting, substance abuse and/or incarceration. Not because they are bad kids, but simply because they don’t have what so many of us take for granted – a family to help them in moments of need, to celebrate with them in times of joy, or to patiently allow them to grow into adults at their own rate.
At the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, we fervently believe our founder’s philosophy that “these children are not someone else’s responsibility; they are our responsibility.”
And we work each day to assure that every child receives a safe and nurturing home; that no child should linger in foster care or age out without the family we promised; and that every child, not just some of the children, no matter the age, circumstances or identity, is adoptable.
Finding a family
After more than six years in foster care, Taylor, now 11, finally found the family that will be his forever. It took a lot dedication from the WWK recruiter to locate a friend of one of Taylor’s teachers who, coincidentally, lives near his foster family. When Taylor was adopted, his foster grandparents were right there beside him – and are a part of all the family photos.
These are the stories we love to tell – of new beginnings. After 21 years of Foundation initiatives, through all of our success and failures, our efforts to build bridges and tear down walls, our campaigns and programs, sometimes the effort is as simple as remembering, like Taylor, that “nothing feels better than someone wanting to care about you.” And then working as hard as possible to find a family for every child waiting to be adopted.
A version of this column also ran on the Rage Against the Minivan blog.