Celebrating other approaches to family-building
Celebrating other approaches to family-building
Q&A with Rita L. Soronen, president & CEO, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption
by Kelsey Risbrudt, Marketing and Events Coordinator, Celmatix
At Celmatix, we’ve spent almost a decade advancing the science of fertility and reproductive health. In the course of our work, we’ve collaborated with organizations who advocate for all those who have extra challenges on the road to having the families they want. As a result, we’re well aware that family-building can take on many forms, of which pregnancy is only one.
Today, we’re honored to share our conversation with Rita Soronen, President & CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, about the work the Foundation does to find permanent, loving families for children waiting to be adopted from foster care.
Celmatix: Tell us about the Dave Thomas Foundation, its mission and why you joined the organization.
Rita: The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is a national, nonprofit public charity dedicated exclusively to finding permanent homes for the nearly 155,000 children waiting in North America’s foster care systems. Created in 1992 by Wendy’s® founder, Dave Thomas, who was adopted, the Foundation implements evidence-based, results-driven national service programs and builds awareness around the growing need and importance of foster care adoption in various ways. We also develop resources for employers and families to support the adoption journey.
Through our signature program, Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, the Foundation provides grants to adoption agencies to hire and train recruiters in our evidence-based Child-Focused Recruitment Model, which is focused on permanency for those children and youth who are most at risk of aging out of foster care, including children aged nine and older, sibling groups and children with mental or physical challenges. The model has been proven to be up to three times more effective at serving youth who have been in foster care the longest. To date, our more than 400 Wendy’s Wonderful Kids adoption recruiters have found forever families for more than 8,000 children in foster care. Dave Thomas always reminded us that, “These children are not someone else’s responsibility. They are our responsibility.”
I joined the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption in 2001 out of a responsibility to ensure the safety and wellbeing of every child. I have the privilege of working alongside a talented, mission-driven team who are driven by three core beliefs:
Every child deserves to live in a safe, loving and permanent home.
No child should linger in foster care or leave the system at age 18 without a permanent family.
Every child, no matter their age or the circumstances of their journey through foster care, is adoptable.
Celmatix How have your past experiences with other agencies in this field helped you understand the need for the adoption awareness programs you’ve created since joining the Foundation?
Rita: I’ve worked for more than 30 years on behalf of abused, neglected and vulnerable children. Before joining the Foundation, I served as executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Franklin County, Ohio, which recruits, screens, trains and supports community volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in the juvenile court system. Through this experience, I saw first-hand, the critical need for advocacy on behalf of our most vulnerable children and families as well as programs that move children and youth out of foster care and into loving homes.
In 2004, I led the creation of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, which has grown from seven pilot site grants to more than 400 active sites across the United States. The Foundation also implements national awareness programs, including Adoption-Friendly Workplace and the 100 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces list and National Adoption Day.
Celmatix: The TV special, “A Home for the Holidays,” raises awareness of the need for foster care adoptions. Can you tell us about this program and how it has evolved over the years?
Rita: The idea for A Home for the Holidays was pitched to CBS by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption and the Children’s Action Network to build awareness of the thousands of children who are waiting to be adopted from foster care. The annual primetime special shares stories of foster care adoption and has featured performances from some of America’s most popular music artists, including Josh Groban, Kelly Clarkson, Miranda Lambert, Faith Hill, Jennifer Hudson, Mariah Carey and more.
In between musical acts, the stories of four amazing families brought together through foster care adoption are shared. More than 30,000 people have been inspired to seek more information on becoming an adoptive parent as a direct result of A Home for the Holidays.
Tune into the 20th anniversary of A Home for the Holidays, which airs on CBS tonight, December 21 at 8 p.m. EST, to help the Foundation raise awareness of the importance of foster care adoption. With host: LL Cool J and performances by Gwen Stefani, Train, Andy Grammer and Lukas Graham.
Celmatix: Among the types of adoption, where is the biggest need for adoptive families (infant, international, family, etc.)?
Rita: Globally, there is a profound need for families for all children orphaned because of war, famine and violence. Additionally, there is a significant need to find forever families for the more than 123,000 children waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States. The hard reality is that too many children linger in care for years and age out of the foster care system when they are 18 or 21 years old, putting them at an elevated risk of negative outcomes, including homelessness, unemployment, early parenting and substance abuse. Sadly, 20,000 children aged out of foster care last year without the security of a permanent family.
Celmatix: What information (i.e., financial, health, background checks, etc.) is considered in the adoption process, and specifically in foster-care adoption?
Rita: The adoption process can vary depending on the type of adoption, the agency through which you adopt, the state in which you live and the state or county of residence of the child. Once you choose an adoption agency, the case worker will walk you through the process.
Typically, you attend an orientation meeting or training session for prospective adoptive parents. In all cases, a home study is required. A home study is much more than a background check on you and members of your family. It is a way for your social worker to get to know you; to educate you about adoption and how it affects children and families and prepare you to parent a child who brings experiences, ideas and expectations that might be different from your own.
It’s important to research the costs involved with each type of adoption before deciding which option is the best fit. Foster care adoption typically averages $0 to $1,500, while private infant or international adoption might cost $7,000 to $40,000, or more. Subsidies follow most of the children in foster care until they are 18 or 21 years old. In addition, many employers provide adoption benefits, federal and state tax credits are available, and assistance for college expenses is increasingly accessible.
Celmatix: What should someone who is exploring adoption know beforehand?
Rita: For anyone considering adoption, it’s important to get as much information as you can before starting the process. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption offers a library of free resources to help families navigate the adoption journey, including Finding Forever Families: A Step-by-Step Guide to Adoption. There are many other reputable organizations with helpful resources for individuals exploring adoption. I would also encourage you to connect with adoptive families in your community to learn more about the experience.
Celmatix: What issues might a single-person seeking adoption face?
Rita: There is a myth that single people cannot adopt. The reality is that unmarried individuals are legally able to adopt in all 50 states. In fact, nearly 30% of the children adopted from foster care last year were adopted by single parents.
Celmatix: Can you elaborate on what ‘special needs’ refers to in regards to foster care adoption?
Rita: States define the term “special needs” differently for purposes of a child’s eligibility to receive Federal Adoption Assistance. Although some children in foster care with special needs may suffer from physical or mental disabilities, not all require special education. Children may also qualify as having special needs if they are an older youth, from a specific ethnic background, part of a sibling group or have a medical condition.
Celmatix: What are some important facts about adoption that everyone should know, not just families actively seeking adoption? What are some common misconceptions?
Rita: According to the 2017 U.S. Adoption Attitudes Survey, 46 percent of Americans believe children in foster care have entered the system because of juvenile delinquency – because they are somehow at fault for being in care. The reality is that these children are in 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.
These children just simply need loving individuals willing to meet the unique challenges of parenting and make a lifetime commitment to caring for and nurturing them. Families that adopt are as diverse as the children available to be adopted.
However, you don’t have to adopt to make a difference in the life of a child in foster care. Everyone can help by:
Learning about vulnerable youth and families in your community
Fostering or mentoring a child from foster care
Sharing resources and information to build awareness about the issue
Supporting the work of local child welfare agencies
Giving the gift of family at www.davethomasfoundation.org/give
Together, we can change lives and build stronger families and communities for generations to come. Every child deserves a family and a home.
The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is the only public nonprofit charity in the United States that is focused exclusively on foster care adoption. To learn more, visit www.davethomasfoundation.org and sign up for our newsletter. Connect with Rita Soronen president & CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, on Twitter at @rsoronen.