Rita Soronen is the President and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.
When I speak about the number of children growing up in the U.S. foster care system, I often ask my audience the question, "Does every child deserve a safe and loving home?" And sometimes, I don't get the "well, duh" response that I had hoped for. Inevitably, someone will ask if some children in foster care are just "unadoptable." It's a painful moment. They say it as if I should throw up my hands and move along to focus on some other unsolvable crisis in America. Well, that's not me, and the crisis so many of our children face of not having a family to call their own is not unsolvable.
New independent research out today shows that a proactive, child-focused parental recruitment model targeted exclusively on moving America's longest-waiting children from foster care into adoptive families is working.
The rigorous five-year independent evaluation of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption's signature program—Wendy's Wonderful Kids—finds that overall, children served by affiliated recruiters are 1.7 times more likely to be adopted than those not served by the program. Children who are referred at 15 years of age or older, as well as children with mental health disorders are up to three times more likely to be adopted.
If all children waiting for adoption were served by programs like Wendy's Wonderful Kids, we could collectively double the number of adoptions each year. This means that by scaling up the model, an additional 36,000 waiting children might have been adopted from foster care in 2010—a potential 70 percent increase over the roughly 52,000 who were actually adopted this year.
Right now, there are more than 400,000 children in the U.S. foster care system through no fault of their own—as victims of abuse, neglect or abandonment. Of these children, 107,000 have forever been separated from their families and are waiting to be adopted. Sadly, last year, nearly 28,000 of these children turned 18 and aged out of foster care, forced to enter society on their own and without the safety net a family provides. Without the support of a family, these children face an uncertain future, filled with higher risks of incarceration, homelessness, unintended pregnancy and truncated educations.
But child-focused recruitment is making a difference for thousands of children. Children like Emily, who entered the foster care system at three months old, but as a child with Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder of the connective tissue, had difficulty finding adoptive parents. Months turned into years, until she was paired with a Wendy's Wonderful Kids recruiter at age 15. By then, Emily didn't even want to be adopted and she was at risk of aging out. The recruiter worked with Emily, and over time, she overcame her fears and was matched with adoptive parents a year later. Today Emily is happy and supported by a loving adoptive family.
Two components of the Wendy's Wonderful Kids model stand out—the one-on-one relationships our recruiters establish with the children they serve, getting to know them and understanding their needs; and the diligent search to find the right family for each child. You might be asking yourself, isn't this already how it works? One would think so, but the reality is business as usual in adoption recruitment is not standard practice across agencies and/or states. And until now, the adoption community did not have hard research that demonstrated the success of the child-focused recruitment model—or even recruitment in general.
The Wendy's model shows that no children are unadoptable. I invite you to join us to work to make unadoptable unacceptable. For more information on foster care adoption, to read the ground-breaking research and to learn how you can get involved, please visit us at davethomasfoundation.org, or call 1-800-ASK-DTFA.