As states continue to face declining revenues, shortfalls and drastic budget cuts, the impact is too often felt in the reduction or elimination of services to our most vulnerable citizens—abused, neglected, and abandoned children who linger in foster care in every community in the United States. Philanthropy must aggressively understand and assist in what can be seen as simply a government responsibility.
Today in America, 423,773 children have been removed from their family because of harm or imminent harm to them, and are in temporary and often transient foster care. Of those, 114,556 have experienced abuse that is so egregious, that they have been legally and permanently separated from their parents. They are now waiting to be adopted and many of these children wait five years or more, move three or more times while in care, and are often separated from their siblings. Sadly, last year, 29,000 children turned 18 and left the system, without the love, guidance or safety net of a family of their own.
During National Adoption Awareness month each November, and every day for more than 15 years, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption has worked to elevate the awareness of these children and to dispel the myths and misperceptions about who they are and the complicated systems surrounding them. As a national nonprofit public charity, we are fortunate to have a legacy-based philanthropic partner with Wendy’s. Dave Thomas was adopted as a child, and was on his own at age 16, He keenly understood our target population and created the foundation to address their needs. Six years ago, taking to heart Mr. Thomas’ words—“these children are not someone else’s responsibility, they are our responsibility”—we dramatically shifted our business tactical plan and created signature efforts to continue to elevate awareness about these children, while working to get thousands adopted.
The shift resulted in the creation of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, a signature grants program committed to funding aggressive, accountable, results-based efforts with one goal—assure adoptive homes for America’s longest-waiting and hardest-to-place children. Growing from a pilot program of seven sites in 2005, we are now funding 121 individual grants at adoption organizations, public and private, large and small, urban and rural in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and four provinces in Canada. We also committed to long-term rigorous research of the model and its impact while looking at this unique philanthropic relationship between a nonprofit charity and a large corporation.
Childhood is fleeting, and a child without a family is no longer a child. We know from research that nearly half of Americans have been touched by adoption and that three in 10 have considered adoption. In order to assure homes for our children and drive more to consider foster care adoption, philanthropy must step in with focus, accountability, evidence and results. It is our responsibility. It is the right thing to do.
Rita L. Soronen is executive director of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption