Never too old for family

 
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By Rita L. Soronen

President & CEO, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption

Children enter foster care through no fault of their own; they have been abused, neglected or abandoned. They have experienced not only the trauma of abuse, but also the grief and loss of family separation and, too often, the stress of frequent moves or care unresponsive to their emotional and physical needs.

Today, more than 510,00 children are in foster care across North America, representing a significant increase over the prior reporting year. Of those children, more than 30,000 are waiting to be adopted from foster care in Canada. The hard reality is that too many children linger in care for years and age out of the foster care system without an adoptive family—putting them at an elevated risk of negative outcomes, including homelessness, unemployment, early parenting and substance abuse. 

It is essential that adoption advocates and professionals work together to maximize every avenue to find permanency and stability for these children, including our older children and youth.

Wendy’s Wonderful Kids—Serving youth who need our help the most.

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The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption began Wendy’s Wonderful Kids as a pilot program with seven grant-funded sites in the United States in 2004. We had a singular goal; to focus on permanency for those children and youth most at risk of aging out of foster care, including children aged nine and older, sibling groups, children with mental or physical challenges and children who have been in care for so long or their trauma has been so significant that they have given up hope of ever having a family of their own. As Dave Thomas, our founder who was also adopted, always said, “These children are not someone else’s responsibility. They are our responsibility.” 

The Foundation provides grants to local public or private foster care adoption agencies and children’s aid societies to hire a skilled Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter who serves a small caseload of the longest-waiting children. The recruiter:

  • Completes a thorough review of the case file

  • Develops an in-person relationship with the child

  • Collaborates with all adults in the child’s network

  • Performs a diligent search for all potential adoptive parents

  • Ensures the child and potential parents are prepared for adoption

  • Executes a detailed adoption plan

The model works—and challenges the systemic notion that some children are simply unadoptable. That notion was unacceptable to us.

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When the rigorous evaluation of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids was released in 2011, revealing that children served by the program are up to three times more likely to be adopted, the Foundation began scaling this proven program through a co-investment public/private partnership strategy. In 2012, the state of Ohio entered a partnership that allowed the Foundation to scale Wendy’s Wonderful Kids statewide to effectively serve the children waiting to be adopted in the target population. In 2014, the Foundation began parallel conversations with the Ontario Ministry of Children and Youth Services, using Ohio as a model.

The first Wendy’s Wonderful Kids grant in Canada was issued in Ontario in 2006. By 2015, the Foundation’s commitment in Ontario grew to include three additional grants, while funding seven more in Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Last year, New Brunswick and Saskatchewan joined Canada’s commitment to the program as well.

To date, more than 8,000 children are in their permanent homes as a direct result of the work of the more than 400 Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters across North America.


A Closer Look at Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in Ontario

In 2016, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the Ministry officially, and with great excitement, launched a three-year co-investment commitment to take Wendy’s Wonderful Kids to scale in Ontario, with 15 recruiters funded by the government and eight recruiters funded by the Foundation. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids works best when partners step up and commit to permanency for children and youth. The commitment of the Ministry has resulted in enhancing the Foundation’s relationships in Ontario, as well as creating new ones.

As of September 30, 2018, 708 children have been served in Ontario with 357 currently on 23 recruiter caseloads. Of those, 389 children have been matched with families, 63 are in a pre-adoptive placement and 187 children now have a forever home. Additionally, the recruiters are serving those children most at risk of aging out of care. Of the children served in Ontario:

  • 75% were age nine or older at time of referral; 51% were age 12 or older at time of referral

  • 85% have at least one disability

  • 13% have had six or more placements at the time of referral into the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program; 4% have had ten or more placements at the time of referral

  • 31% have been in the system for more than four years at the time of referral; 4% have been in the system for more than 10 years at the time of referral

  • 12% had failed or disrupted adoptions prior to Wendy’s Wonderful Kids.

Darcy Thachuk, a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter with the Windsor-Essex Children’s Aid Society shared that, “One of my most memorable moments was watching one of our youth play in her high school championship basketball game. I was in the stands cheering her on with her adoptive parents and children service worker. Together, we were her biggest fans, and she looked over at us with the proudest and brightest smile. The model makes a difference as it is backed by the many supports provided by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to ensure that unadoptable is unacceptable.”

Every day, the Foundation sees a growing number of children positively impacted by Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in Canada, including significantly older youth and those most at risk of aging out of care. But, our work is far from done. With our eyes firmly focused on a future when every child has a permanent family, no matter their age, the circumstances of their journey through the child welfare system, how they identify themselves or the borders that define them, we must continue to act on behalf of the tens of thousands of children across North America who are waiting, simply waiting, to be adopted.

Each of us can make a difference, by learning about vulnerable youth and families in your community; by fostering, adopting or mentoring a child from foster care; by sharing free resources to support the adoption journey, such as the Finding Forever Families: A Step-By-Step Guide to Adoption (also available in English and French) and by supporting the work of agencies like Adopt4Life in Ontario and other partnering agencies across Canada. Children are never too old to want, need and deserve a permanent home and loving family… Together, we can change lives and build stronger families and communities for generations to come.

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is a national, nonprofit public charity dedicated exclusively to finding permanent homes and loving families for the more than 150,000 children waiting in North America’s foster care systems. To learn more about the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption-Canada, contact Angela Marshall at angela_marshall@davethomasfoundation.org, visit the website and follow the Foundation on Facebook and Twitter. Connect with Rita Soronen on Twitter at @rsoronen.