Photo: Chris Stewart
Photo: Chris Stewart

State, foundation ramp up adoptions

Program gives hope to older, harder-to-place foster children

On any given day, Ohio has about 12,000 children in foster care, including about 1,900 who fall into the hard-to-place category — those who are older than 8 and have been in foster care for two or more years.

Akiya Carter of West Carrollton had nearly given up hope that she would ever be adopted. At 17 she was coming close to “aging out” of the foster care system when she would be a legal adult with no family to turn to in good times and bad.

But three years ago, a recruiter from The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption took up Akiya’s case and connected her with Natasha Carter, a newly trained foster parent who decided God wanted her to consider adopting kids as well. Natasha began fostering Akiya and then permanently adopted her two years ago, the same week Akiya turned 18.

“It really changed my life a lot. It gave me hope. When I was in foster care, I didn’t have any hope about what I can achieve. Now that I’m adopted I have a family who is behind me in life,” said Akiya, who is now 20 and works at Goodwill Industries and is studying hospitality at the Miami Valley Career Technology Center.

Last year, The Dave Thomas Foundation put up $1.2 million and the state Department of Job and Family Services committed $1.1 million to expand the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program in Ohio. Thomas, the founder of Wendy’s, never knew his birth mother and was adopted when he was 6 weeks old. He died in 2002.

The Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program in Ohio hired 24 professional recruiters covering 51 counties to focus on finding adoptive families for the hardest-to-place kids.

The state money allowed the foundation to expand its existing program in Ohio, adding 32 sites across the state. (Akiya was adopted under the earlier version of the program.) Recently, under the expanded effort a permanent home for three siblings was found in Allen County.

The model works like this: recruiters with adoption expertise are given caseloads of 15 to 20 children, they get to know each child and help them get over fears of rejection and disappointment so that they’re open to adoption, and they contact family members, coaches, teachers, mentors or other responsible adults from the child’s past to see if they’d be interested in adopting.

Rita Soronen, chief executive of the foundation, said this intensive model is more effective than asking the general public through service announcements to consider adopting a foster child. Kids in this model are up to three times more likely to find permanent adoptive families, she said.

The foundation has committed $10 million a year to the effort across the nation with the biggest program in Ohio. That pays for 164 recruiter sites in 49 states and Canada.

“It seems like a lot up front but this lays the foundation for not only significant human success but significant savings for the state down the road. It is the only adage: you either pay now or you pay later,” said Rita Soronen, president and chief executive of The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

Nationwide, 26,000 children age out of foster care each year.

For each child adopted out of the foster care system, the state of Ohio saves $27,480 a year.

“Finding loving, adoptive homes for these children will help them grow up to be healthy and successful and will save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in foster care costs,” said Ben Johnson, spokesman for the state Department of Job and Family Services. “Youth who age out of foster care without being adopted face multiple challenges, and finding adoptive homes for older children in foster care reduces long-term costs stemming from poverty, unemployment, poor health care, and incarceration.”

Tova Rose, a Dave Thomas Foundation recruiter assigned to Montgomery County, said she has placed 14 kids with permanent adoptive families in the past seven years, including Akiya Carter. She has built a relationship with the children on her caseload and kept in touch with those who have been adopted out.

Although she is averaging only two placements per year, Rose likes her numbers, the program and her job.

“It’s amazing. I can’t imagine anything else. My goal is for all kids to find adoptive homes,” Rose said. “No child is unadoptable.”

She added, “It’s deemed that kids 11 and older are two times more likely to be adopted if they’re serviced by a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter and kids ages 15 and older are three times as likely to be adopted if they’re services by a Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiter. We really like those odds.”

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