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Child-Focused Recruitment: What is It and Why Does It Work?

By CSRWire Blogs

Submitted by Rita Soronen

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption exists for one reason: To dramatically increase the number of children adopted from foster care. Currently there are more than 130,000 children in the U.S. and Canada waiting for permanent loving homes. And each year more than 20,000 youth turn 18 or 21 and leave foster care without the adoptive family promised to them.

The number of children waiting to be adopted from U.S. foster care has consistently exceeded the number of finalized adoptions. Strategies for recruiting and matching adoptive families for these children have a history of anecdotal rather than evidence-based development. Cataloging children online or through the media is common practice and supported by Federal funding, but there is scant evidence to suggest it is an effective method for effectively recruiting appropriate families, particularly for those most at risk of aging out of care-older youth, sibling groups and children with mental and physical challenges. 

To reframe this critical conversation and the resulting tactics, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption developed a child-focused recruitment model. We named it Wendy’s Wonderful Kids to honor the significant fundraising that occurs through Wendy’s restaurants across the nation, encouraging customers, employees and partners to donate to the Foundation. In turn, we dedicate resources back to the communities in which the funds are raised to support a recruiter(s) who implements the model to work on behalf of the longest waiting children in their community – children whom nearly everyone else has forgotten.

With grant funds from the Foundation, agencies hire full-time, experienced adoption professionals, or Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters, who dedicate 100 percent of their time to find adoptive families for children in their communities.  The recruiters use proven tactics focused on finding the best home for a child through the starting points of familiar circles of family, friends and others known to the child, and then reaching out to the communities in which they live.

Critical to this relationship is the transition from passive recruitment for older and more difficult to place youth, to an aggressive and accountable method of finding families for children. The child-focused recruitment strategy is based on a specific dynamic recruitment plan tailored for the individual child and based on his or her unique circumstances, challenges, desires and needs. And it works. A rigorous, long-term randomized control trial evaluation of the model showed that children served by WWK recruiters are nearly two times more likely to find permanent adoptive homes than children served by “business as usual” tactics. Furthermore, its impact on adoption is strongest among older youth and those with mental health disorders – groups that have traditionally waited the longest for adoption, or that are least likely to achieve adoption – those groups are up to three times more likely to be adopted.

To date, we have served more than 15,000 children, finalized more than 6,000 permanent placements and currently are working on behalf of 4,000 children across the U.S. and Canada through more than 200 funded recruiters. Significantly, more than half of the children for whom the recruiters provided active engagement had no prior recruitment activities.1 This is particularly compelling given that the average age of a child served through this program is almost 13, more than 33 percent of the children had already been in six or more placements (13 percent had experienced 10 or more placements), 49 percent had been in the system for more than four years at the point of referral into the program, 79 percent have at least one identified special need, 58 percent are referred as part of sibling groups, 25 percent reside in group homes or institutions at the time of referral, and 24 percent had already experienced failed or disrupted adoptions.

The benefits of family continue to impact a youth as they grow into adulthood. Studies show that youth adopted from foster care, when compared to peers who age out of foster care, are:

  • more likely to complete high school or the equivalent,

  • more likely to attend and complete college,

  • less likely to become teen parents,

  • less likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, 

  • less likely to be arrested or incarcerated,

  • more likely to be employed, and

  • more likely to have adequate incomes.3

Dave Thomas, our founder who was also adopted, frequently said, “These children are not someone else’s responsibility. They are our responsibility.” The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption is committed to assuming that responsibility and finding loving, permanent families for children in foster care and we won’t stop until every waiting child goes home. 

Find out how to join our work at davethomasfoundation.org.  

1Malm, K., Vandivere, S., Allen, T., DeVooght, K., Ellis, R., McKlindon, A., Smollar, J., Williams, E, & Zinn, A. (2011.) Evaluation Report Summary: The Wendys Wonderful Kids Initiative. Child Trends, Washington: DC.

2 Zill, N., Roseman, E. (2011). Better Prospects, Lower Cost: The Case for Increasing Foster Care Adoption, Adoption Advocate No. 3, National Council for Adoption.

3 For a review, see: Wertheimer, Richard. (2002). Youth who age out of foster care: Troubled lives, troubling prospects. Child Trends Research Brief #2002-59. Retrieved from http://www.childtrends.org/Files//Child_Trends2002_12_01_RB_FosterCare.pdf  September 15, 2011.