The State of American Foster Care

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This episode is the first episode in our three-part series where we’ll be talking to some leading change makers in the foster care and adoption space, who are working to better conditions for children in the system. In this episode, Lemonada host Gloria Riviera chats with the president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption, Rita Soronen, about the state of foster care in the United States and why every child deserves the right to a family and a home.

This episode is presented by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, a national nonprofit public charity that is committed to dramatically increasing the number of adoptions of children waiting in North America’s foster care systems. For more information visit



Rita Soronen, Gloria Riviera

Gloria Riviera  00:01

So many teenagers waiting to be adopted from foster care feel like their lives are over. They’ve given up hope of having a permanent home and are terrified of aging out with no support system. Right now more than 108,000 children are waiting to be adopted in the US. The Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption is dedicated to finding them the right family before it’s too late. Learn how you can help at Dave Thomas


Gloria Riviera  01:33

Hello, and welcome to Good Things. I am your host Gloria Riviera. This is the first episode in our three part series on the foster care system in the United States. I will remind you of our guiding mantra here at Lemonada which is to make life suck less. Listen, people foster care, and foster care adoption, which I learned in this episode simply means children who are adopted out of foster care and not for example, as infants. It is a problematic system in our country. It could suck way less. We will be talking to leaders in this space who are working to better the system changemakers who believe in these kids. You are going to meet Rita Soronen. She is the president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption. Several things struck me about this national nonprofit public charity. First of all, its namesake, Dave Thomas was adopted. He founded Wendy’s, which you may know, Rita, we’ll talk more about his amazing life story. The foundation is dedicated to finding what Dave Thomas was looking for forever families permanent homes for children waiting to be adopted out of foster care in the US and Canada. The foundation has a program it is called Wendy’s Wonderful Kids. And it’s evolved to raise money with various states to hire adoption professionals known as recruiters. These people, I mean, they are angels on earth. They do a deep dive with each kid age about nine-ish and up, they learn who they are, what they have experienced and what they need in a home and a family. The goal is to find a match to find these kids a forever home. Rita believes every kid deserves the right to a family and a home at any age. Rita, welcome to Good Things.


Rita Soronen  03:28

Thank you.


Gloria Riviera  03:29

So I like to start with a very simple question, which is, where did you grow up? And what did your family look like? What was your experience like?


Rita Soronen  03:39

I love that, well, I was born in Michigan, which is always a bone of contention for folks here in Ohio. But I moved to Ohio when I was about 10. It was a pretty standard. You know, I was the youngest of four kids. We moved into an area that my parents could not afford, but they moved there because the schools were very good. And so it was always a situation of kind of living on the edge, certainly we were at no risk but always living on the edge, but they did that so that we could go to good schools. My on my father’s side, my grandmother was Mexican and my grandfather was finished. So I have an interesting mix of of ethnicities and cultures in my life as well. And my grandmother in particular, spent a lot of time with us at times helping helping to raise kids. So it was it was just an interesting sort of middle America family that I grew up in.


Gloria Riviera  04:35

Well, I can relate to that because my grandfather is from Mexico, and he lived with my mom and my father and then when they divorced with my father so we grew up with that presence in our in our life. And he was very famous for announcing bad news when we came home from school bad news, bad news and now then I went into news so there you go.


Rita Soronen  04:54

My grandmother loved her strong coffee and a piece of pie that’s how she got over any any situation.


Gloria Riviera  04:59

He Yeah, that’s great, and where did you go? Where was your education?


Rita Soronen  05:03

So I started out at The Ohio State University because I was right there in Columbus, Ohio, and then got married relatively young kind of was in that escape home mode. And my then husband, my first husband, went off to college, graduate school in North Carolina, so joined him there and spent some time in North Carolina. But I also dropped out of college at that point, my graduating quarter at The Ohio State University, which was silly, but I did. And then, when we we moved to Kentucky from there, after he graduated, and finished up college at the University of Louisville, and then came back to Columbus when my youngest I had my youngest, my oldest daughter was born and realize that maybe family escape from family wasn’t the best idea and came back where family was when she was an infant.


Gloria Riviera  05:53

There’s so much to talk about there. One of my more irreverent friends, says we should all be married to our second husbands. And you mentioned having a child at a relatively young age, but that’s been something that you’ve pointed to as being a pivotal moment in the career you eventually dedicated your life to. So talk to me about that about having a young baby and how it shifted your perspective. I mean, I’m curious in how it shifted your perspective as a woman, but also career wise.


Rita Soronen  06:27

No, thank you, and I’ve thought a lot about it. And her name is Jordan. And when Jordan was just about nine months old, we moved from Kentucky back to Columbus, Ohio, I was still between figuring out you know, this was a long time ago. How do I get into the workforce? How do I do that with an incident, not a lot of my peers were doing that yet. But I clearly wanted to. And so I was in that in between stage, I was home with her full time. And there was an incident in our not in our neighborhood, but in the city of an infant that had been so horribly abused, that she passed away. And I was in that time of my life where I had an infant at home that I was caring for. And there was this horrible case of abuse. And I was just primed to say there’s something wrong here this, how could this possibly happen? I was also one of those kids, and maybe it’s by virtue of being the youngest in the family who came out kicking and screaming, that’s not fair. Life’s not fair, it’s not fair what we do the kids, right. And people would pat me on the head and say, Oh, you’ll you’ll understand when you’re older, I still kind of think like the eight year old that I was then. But but so this incident of abuse, I said, I’ve got to do something. And I began volunteering, which with what was then the Ohio chapter of the National Committee to prevent child abuse, and learned a lot a lot a lot about the dynamics of abuse and neglect, that, you know, it’s it’s not parents don’t intend usually to harm their children. What are the dynamics that go behind that, and why are infants and teenagers and toddlers, so at risk of abuse, and it’s because of their behaviors, right? The behaviors that that kind of put us on edge, whether it’s crying, or defying or whatever it is. So that turned into a paid position, from a volunteer position to a paid position. And I realized, this is where I want it to be. Because quite honestly, in that interim, what I was doing was working on a master’s degree back at The Ohio State University, in landscape architecture, something entirely different, entirely different. So again, as apparently was my routine, I dropped out of that, but but started this this position at the it was called the League against child abuse. And that turned into then a series of learnings and positions and mentor positions from from others to me, that I realized this was the path that I wanted to be on and it moved from there into another position, I had the opportunity then to apply for and move to the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption, which for me, at the time, and still, I guess feels full circle from prevention. How do we keep kids and families from getting into the child welfare system to intervention? How do we advocate particularly for those children who don’t necessarily have voices? How do we advocate for their best interests? But it’s I’ve been so lucky, and so blessed to have been on this journey.


Gloria Riviera  09:16

I know that you joined the Dave Thomas Foundation 2001. Is that correct?


Rita Soronen  09:20



Gloria Riviera  09:20

I just want to go back for a moment. Because at the beginning of this, you talk about being this eight year old child kicking and screaming, saying this is not right. We shouldn’t be doing this. Something that we say a lot at Lemonadais it doesn’t have to be like this, right? We have so many systems in our country where we just come up against brick wall after brick wall and think it doesn’t have to be like this. But as a young child, can you share with us any recollections that you found particularly to be unjust? unfair?


Rita Soronen  09:56

Yeah, and look, I grew up in the late 60s early 70s. It was a volatile time not so dissimilar to the past few years and years forward, that we’re experiencing where the civil rights movement and, and Vietnam, and and it’s an early teenager, especially during during Vietnam. And so all of those things where we didn’t have social media, but boy, we had life magazine, right. And we had, we had news stations, the three news stations, that that would flash images of things that were made such a deep impression on me as a child. And within our family, we had issues of depression and substance abuse, and and so it was those conflicting issues of trying to figure out, where do I fit in this world to make change? Or can I even do it when people are saying, nevermind, you know, other people will take care of that. So I think it was it was that that that very impressionable part of my life of external and internal circumstances that just kept converging, saying, something must be done here?


Gloria Riviera  10:59

Yeah, I love that idea of because I think it persists today, and especially for our listeners, what can I do? Can I do anything? And we will get to that because I know that it’s been so critical to your work. Well, talk to me about joining the Dave Thomas Foundation. I’m always fascinated in the challenges that you saw in the role and what your perspective was on how ready you were for that role. You list all of these things that you’ve done, and I love the idea of you being in each role finding mentors, absorbing, absorbing, absorbing, and being at one point a single mother to two children. When you got to the Dave Thomas Foundation, did you feel ready?


Rita Soronen  11:40

So I think I was at when I entered the door I thought I was when I got in the door. I realized I still have a lot to learn.


Gloria Riviera  11:52

We’re going to take a quick break, but we will be right back with more on good things.


Gloria Riviera  12:19

I read that Dave Thomas started the foundation in 1992. And yes, Wendy’s, I grew up with Wendy’s. We we’ve listened to your podcasts. We know that supporting Wendy’s is in some part supporting the Dave Thomas Foundation. But talk to me about zoom out if you will, for a moment about your understanding of the why behind dave thomas starting this foundation, and in particular, the focus group within the system. He wanted to help.


Rita Soronen  14:15

Yeah, well, he was adopted. And that became the impetus because people might think logically for a corporation to go into cause related activities that go with something that reflects their brand. And so you might think, well, Wendy’s is a food company. So perhaps they should have connected with food insecurity, right? Adoption seems very arm’s length, but because he was adopted and he was adopted as an infant, but he very much his life path very much mirrored our older youth in the in America’s foster care system. His adoptive mother passed away when he was five. His father was an itinerant worker, and so they moved from place to place and he was frequently raised by his grandmother many so he spent more time with her as a parent, and then his adoptive dad and he had lost his adoptive mom. And so he really drew on all of those experiences. And you know, people can can certainly read his story. It’s phenomenal, but when his he and his father finally moved to Indiana, he was working at a restaurant called the hobby house, and his dad was going to move again. And at age 15, he said, nope, I’m gonna stay here. And so he was he left home, he was out on his own at 15, you know, dropped out of high school, and, and but the food business became his, his passion and his livelihood. And so it was that that passion that as he was getting toward the end of his career as CEO, that he he knew with deeply embedded what he had hoped to create with the Wendy’s company was this DNA of giving back in the communities in which they were successful.  And how could they do that at a different level. And so it really became at first a function of the marketing department of the Wendy’s company to create this Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption, and how do we capitalize on Dave Thomas’s passion for adoption, even though he had all of those challenges and who lived his life as a family, he still understood and thrived on the value of family had created one of his own as an adult with five children and a wife that, you know, he was married to for 40 plus years. And to build on his celebrity at the time, he was in all kinds of commercials, everybody knew dave thomas commercials. When he started the restaurant in 1969, they didn’t. But as that grew, and in the 80s, when he really became an maybe 90s, an icon, was able to say, let’s use that celebrity, let’s leverage this, this Wendy’s brand and celebrity to advance the cause of raising awareness about children in foster care in the United States waiting to be adopted. And so it was that convergence of thinking, I think, at the Wendy’s company to say, wait, what do we do best we sell square hamburgers, we sell Frosties, we know how to brand something, we know how to raise awareness about something, let’s put that into a foundation. And make sure that children in foster care waiting to be adopted can get adopted.


Gloria Riviera  17:12

What is the situation like right now paid for us a picture of how many kids are in the foster care system. And I’ve read this phrase foster care adoption. So I’ll ask for your help in getting me up to speed is that the way to refer to it is that the vernacular that you use foster care adoption those three words together? Okay, so how many kids are in the system and how many kids are at risk of aging out without a permanent home.


Rita Soronen  17:42

So in a backup just for a second, and the reason we use the phrase foster care adoption, it’s to differentiate from the other kinds of adoption. So when people are thinking about adopting, typically, you know, we want to expand or create a family, they’re thinking infant adoption, and that infant adoption could either be domestic infant, or international infant right are their step parent adoption. And so we differentiate there is also this group of children in the foster care system who are waiting to be adopted. And so that’s why we don’t just say adoption, but foster care adoption. So right now, in America, as we’re sitting here, there are nearly 400,000 children in foster care in some sort of substitute care, whether it’s kinship care, or or stranger foster care, and they’re there, because they’ve been abused or neglected or abandoned. And, and the courts have said, you can’t be safe in your in your biological home. So we’re going to take you out of that home and put you in a in a different place until we can figure out how to make sure you can live safely in your home. Children deserve to grow up in in the family of origin that they have in the community that they have within the culture that they identify. That’s where children should be. And that’s why that first part of my career that child abuse prevention is so critical. How do we keep children out of the foster care system because it is a system. And it’s not where children can thrive in a system. But for right now about 108,000 children who have gone through hearings and and activities and stood in front of a judge and had people work on behalf of the family. At some point, the judge has said, this family cannot be made safe enough for you. And we’re going to permanently sever this child from this family. And the phrase is actually and it’s a horrible phrase, we’re going to terminate parental rights. And so now that child is without a family. And that’s the 108,000 children in America right now, who are legal orphans in this country, and are waiting for someone to claim them as their child.


Gloria Riviera  19:42

Can I just ask you how you feel about that phrase, terminate parental rights?


Rita Soronen  19:48

Yeah, it’s a horrible phrase. It’s a horrible activity. Right? When you think about it, I think about my own two children and that a judge would say you no longer have legal access to this child. You can’t determine their health care needs, you can’t determine their religion, you can’t determine where they go to school, you have no more right of access to this child. Now they’ve lost it for a reason. Unfortunately, right now, in this country that reason too often is the intensity of substance abuse, right. And so if we had good programs that the parents could go to and, and help help solve that crisis in their lives, but so many of our children are seeing their parents die of an overdose of fentanyl. It’s just it’s, it’s incredible right now, but others, you know, yes, physical abuse, sexual abuse, the kinds of things, there are a lot of children who move into the foster care system, though because of poverty. And so it comes under that that umbrella of neglect. I can’t provide adequate housing, I can’t provide adequate food, I can’t provide education for my child, again, is that something where we could step in and help? Absolutely, and should we absolutely do we do it well enough, not yet. And so so many children come in under an umbrella of neglect, when if we did a better job up front of helping family find the resources that they need, providing the kind of assistance that they need, then we wouldn’t have that movement of those children into into the foster care system either.


Gloria Riviera  21:16

Rita, as I listened to you, I’m nodding because all of this resonates with what I know to be your passion of preventative care. And so often, when we talk about the challenges our country faces, I’ve spoken to people who say, we have a structure, right, and it’s not all bad. So rather than starting something from the ground up, let’s get in there and fix it. But I am interested in two things. I’m interested in your passion for preventative care and what you think we need to do differently. I’m also interested in hearing more about some data, I’ve seen that say that 51% of Americans believe children are in foster care, because they have done something wrong because they are bad kids because they are juvenile delinquents. Another phrase that I have a problem with. Let’s start with the ladder. Can you talk to me about the public perception of children that are older in the foster care system? And and why people think they’re bad kids?


Rita Soronen  22:14

Exactly. And thank you for that. Because this is one of those statistics that keeps me up at night. Every few years, we do a Harris Poll, and we and we get a pulse of Americans attitudes toward the system toward children in the system, and toward this notion of adoption, foster care adoption. And that’s where that seeker came from in 2022, I believe 2021 51%. So it’s a majority, it’s a slim majority. But it’s a huge majority, when you think about that number, believe that children are in care because they’ve done something wrong, and nothing could be further from the truth. And so that’s part of the work of the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption is to dispel these myths and misperceptions. But I think they think that, because, look, if you go to an event tonight, and there’s lots of parents there, and a number of them have teenagers, right? And you begin to talk about your teenager, what’s the first thing that happens? I start rolling in faces start screwing up. It’s like, oh, right, teenagers. We don’t like teenagers in this country, because they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. They’re being defiant, they’re learning, their brains are still developing. They’re exercising independence, all of those things. As a parent, we think I’m losing control of this child. So I’ve got to buckle down, right. And you’re right, that’s another podcast parenting a teenager. But that’s, I think that combined with we also have deeply held, you know, that there’s an issue of racial injustice here, too, and racial inequity in the in the child welfare system. And frequently, what we’ll see are issues with black teenagers, right? And so we commingle that sort of distrust of, of teenagers and teenagers to begin with, with with are the racial injustice issues that still permeate this country and the child welfare system, quite honestly. And somehow, then we say, well, you know, if they were 16, in their foster care must because they’ve done something wrong. They’ve, they’ve, you know, they’ve, they’ve, whatever, whatever in the imagination comes up, they’ve done something wrong, as opposed to something has been done to them. And if they have behaviors that are challenging, it’s because of the trauma, the grief and the loss that they’ve experienced in their life, not because they’re bad kids. And so we’ve got a lot of work to do at the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption to continue to to change that narrative about who these children are in the foster care system and why they are there.


Gloria Riviera  24:41

Okay, sit tight, everyone. We’re going to take one more quick break, and we’ll be right back with more Good Things.


Gloria Riviera  26:16

In your work, and you’ve been with the Dave Thomas Foundation since 2001. And also because I am a glass half full sort of owl. When you look at the stories that you’ve seen develop over time. I would imagine you’ve seen the word that comes to mind immediately is I don’t know if this is correct. I would imagine you’ve seen a lot of positive blossoming that happens with these children […] you’re nodding yes. Can you share with us some of those stories because I don’t like to do shows that are all about the challenges. There are silver linings here there are wonderful stories, do any come to mind that you feel comfortable sharing with us.


Rita Soronen  27:18

There’s so many stories, there are so many stories and and I would want direct people to our website and our YouTube channel because we’ve video as many of these as we can to show that this isn’t a hopeless situation, that children can thrive and families that that the stereotypes can be dispelled and the misperception to spell but I think of a couple in particular, there was one young lady that that we focused on who had grown up in a horrendous situation. And in fact she had been in foster care and was essentially re abused in foster care. She had chronic ear infections that were not taken care of. And as a result became partially deaf and are fully deaf in one ear and partially deaf in another. And all she wanted to do was become an artist and express herself through art. And finally through through one of the programs that we support here at the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption. This this incredible worker found the perfect family for this young lady. She was adopted at age 15, when most kids are on the track for leaving foster care without a family and not only was thriving in this family, but was creating beautiful art once she was able to feel safe where she was. And and really expressed the the artists that she wanted to be an end was on the track for going to college when she had given up all hope for going to college. There’s another one that I think about of this one young man who had been in foster care for about eight he was probably around 12 had been in foster care for seven years. And no one knew it he kids don’t talk about that they don’t want to talk about the fact that they’re in foster care. And so his best friend from school was going back and forth with his his best friend and loved loved his family, his best friend’s family but his family didn’t realize what his circumstances were quite honestly, which seemed a little bit odd but didn’t know his circumstances. And again, from a program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption, this we call them adoption recruiters, this recruiter, their job is to get to know these kids and find out who’s in their lives and do deep dives into into their case files. And this this young man at age 12 was pretty shy, but the more she got to know him. He talked a lot about this, this best friend and his best friend’s family. So this recruiter just went right to the best friend’s family and said look at is this somebody who you might think about bringing into your home and they were they were they were absolutely amazed one that he was available for adoption and immediately said yes. And so long story short, he was ultimately moved toward being adopted into this family and when they got to the court hearing, so this was about two years later. So at this point, he was about maybe 13 ish and, the judge does what they’re supposed to do. They talked to everybody at that hearing, but they talk to the youth, if they’re old enough and say, what do you think about this? Do you want to be adopted by this family? And again, he was so shy, and it took a couple of proteins from the judge, to say, you know, I really would like some kind of answer from you. Because this is important to me to know if this is the right place for you. And finally, the young man looked up at the judge and said, yes, because now my best friend will also be my brother. It’s those kinds of stories that we see.


Gloria Riviera  30:32

In that story that you just told there are two things that I want to touch on. One is this program of recruiters through the Dave Thomas Foundation. And can you just start with how that program started? And how you felt it was going and then scaling it? What does that look like? What has that looked like?


Rita Soronen  30:52

Sure, and it goes back to one of your questions about you know, when you walked in the door, were you ready? One of the things that I did, because is once I decided, yes, this is where I’m going to stay, I’m going to make a go of this, it really did a deep dive into what we were doing. And we were very much in awareness organization, but Dave Thomas passed away. About six months after I started the position. And so we were grappling with that, as well as here’s the sort of public face of the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption, what do we do in his absence. And so trying to decide, you know, is awareness exactly where we need to be, of course, we still need to raise awareness. But there’s this issue of year over year over year, and it hasn’t changed that much 20,000 of the children’s so when we rattled off 108,000 children are waiting to be adopted, every year, about 20,000 of those children turn 18 and leave foster care without a family. They’ve been freed for adoption. But we we didn’t live up to our promise of a family for them. And we know that as a result, any child at that age, and 2019, 18 is still a child, right? Without the safety net of family. They’re much more at risk of negative outcomes of homelessness, of unemployment of being under under educate the substance abuse all of those negative not because they’re bad kids, because they don’t have the veteran safety net of a family. And so we began to look at that. And we did a scan of organizations that we were funding and others. What’s keeping you from getting these kids adopted, it’s your sort of moral and actually legal obligation to get these children adopted, why aren’t these children getting adopted. And what we heard to an agency is we don’t have the time or the resources to focus on these children. We’re back at the other end triaging kids coming in the door. And these kids are, you know, they’re placed there, they’re steady in a foster family. And, and we’ll give them some training and teach them how to age out of care. That’s where the lightbulb went off for us. Here’s the gap, the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption needs to fill will continue to raise awareness. But we’ve got to figure out a program that works on behalf of those children most at risk of aging out of foster care. And that’s teenagers, children and sibling groups, children with special needs, and children who have been in care for so long, that they oppose every effort at permanency on their behalf. And so that’s where we began to pull together, what are the existing best practices help us understand how you work with this population of children. And there were some emerging best practices, but nothing at an evidence base level. And so we pulled together what we call the child focused recruitment program based on bits and pieces of these emerging best practices. It’s really just good social work. And we said, we will give grants to organizations that use this model we’ve created that says, carry a smaller caseload of children, do a deep dive into the case file, find out who’s already in their lives that people have forgotten about, or ignored. And work with this child, meet with them regularly get to know them, gain their trust, and work as hard as you can to get these children adopted, stick with them until they’re adopted. So we tested it in seven pilot sites across the nation 2004. And what we send this will give you grant dollars to hire a full time adoption professional, a skilled professional, somebody who already understands these dynamics, and carry a caseload and implement this model. And let’s see if it works. Let’s just see if it works. And if it doesn’t, okay, at least we try. But if it does, then let’s figure out a way to grow it, by 2007. We had grown this program large enough by going to our Wendy’s friends and saying can you help us fundraise because we need dollars to do this to grow this program, and by and so we called it Wendy’s wonderful kids to recognize the incredible work that they did fundraising for us. And by 2007, we had enough presence in all 50 states across the nation that we could do a rigorous evaluation to say, is this really working? We saw the numbers working. And at the end of five years, what it told us is it’s not only working, it’s working up to three times better. And counter intuitively, more than three times better the older a child is, the more likely it is that it will be adopted. And so we said all right, it’s not unlike you test a medicine and it works, we’ve gotta get it out there. And so that’s when we began this journey of saying, it’s great that privately as a as a nonprofit organization, we can find, for example, six recruiters across the state of Ohio. But they need 80 to 100 to serve as our population.


Gloria Riviera  35:14

In Ohio alone, in Ohio alone.


Rita Soronen  35:17



Gloria Riviera  35:17

So you can find six to seven, and you think the need is for ad, right.


Rita Soronen  35:21

And that’s what we did, though so as soon as that research came out, we went to the state of Ohio, and we said, look, we’ve been leaping funding significantly in the state, we’ve got this research, we’ve tested this program, and this was 2012 for eight years, we think we’ve got something here, is there any possible way that we can come up with a different strategy for putting these recruiters in place, and that means a public private partnership and a co investment relationship, because we can raise billions of dollars, but we’re not the child welfare system, we shouldn’t just be the ones that these children are in the custody of the state, they’re in the custody of the counties in the state, there’s gotta be a way for the states and the counties to do a better job. But plant B can be at the table. And Ohio came back immediately and said, Yes. And we currently have 83, full time adoption professionals working across the state of Ohio, they finalized more than 1600 permanent placements for children in Ohio alone. So that put us on the path for scaling nationally, we’ve had other funders come to the table to help us do this. And we’re now scaled are scaling just like Ohio in 19 states across the United States, we finalized more than 14,000 permanent placements. And the good news is it’s doing it for the population exactly that we intended to serve. The average age of a child being served through this Wendy, we call again, the Wendy’s wonderful kids program is about 14, where I know from research the day a child turns nine, their likelihood of being adopted decreases significantly, because we also know from that Harris, research that we do that 60% of Americans would prefer to adopt a child aged five or younger. So we’ve got all these disconnects. But we’re working on it. We’re working to fix that by saying these children can move to permanency. They do have every right that every other child has to a thriving adulthood. And we can make this happen.


Gloria Riviera  37:12

Hearing you tell that story right now I come out of it. And I think a you know who are these recruiters, but I also think, who are the people doing the adopting? Can you just talk a little bit about the people that you meet who are open to this, who end up adopting these children nine or older? I mean, to me, it’s like angels on earth, right. But I know it’s not an easy path. But there is something very acutely recognizable when you have a conversation with someone who tells you. Yeah, I was open to this in here’s why.


Rita Soronen  37:50

And sometimes it’s just about touching that that little piece of them that didn’t realize the children were there waiting, right? If they had known, they might have put that into their sort of life. Plan sooner. But typically, and not always, they tend to be a little bit older. So they are they’ve already raised children, right. And so they understand what it’s like to raise an infant to raise a toddler, they don’t want to do that again. But they also understand the joy of family. And I’d like to have family in my life again. And so or, you know, I have two kids, I don’t want to have a third biologically, but I’d like to have more children. So it tends to be people that have already have some familiarity with raising a family, but not necessarily. We have a lot of single parents who who delayed marriage or decided not to marry or have delayed children or have decided not to have children. And so single parents are adopting certainly same sex couples are adopting significant numbers, who say, you know, I need to do something, I can jump into the foster care system and adopt, so that the dynamic of who’s adopting has changed significantly in the time even that I’ve been at the at the Dave Thomas Foundation for adoption. And and you don’t have to be 30 to adopt, you can be 50, you can be 60. You know, as long as you can care for a child in your home, you don’t have to be wealthy, you don’t have to have your own home. I think those are all the kinds of misperception and one of the things that we know is people self select out because they think it’s too expensive. Well, it’s expensive to adopt an infant domestically, it’s expensive to adopt an infant internationally, and not to devalue children in foster care at all. But those costs are covered typically by the county or the state. And so other than some small costs, and certainly the cost to raise a child, it’s not expensive to adopt from foster care. So once we get those stories out, and and again, continue to change the narrative of who these children are. They’re not too old. They’re not too damaged. They’re not too dangerous. They’re just kids that need a family.


Gloria Riviera  39:49

Yeah, and something that comes to mind is what we can do, right. We want to help our listeners know what they can do and yes dollars are valuable. Not everyone has the capacity to make a significant contribution. I will share with you I’m one of six through several marriages. And my older brother was adopted as an infant in 1964, you know, incredible person, I was just talking about him last night. He’s no longer with us. But I have that experience. You know, he’s close to my heart. And here I am, I’m a mother of three, I’m working and I don’t have a close connection to the foster care adoption world. You know, I have the personal experience of having a brother who was adopted, what can I do?


Rita Soronen  40:45

Absolutely, and there’s so many ways to jump in, just knowing about this conversation and sharing it in your circles, whether it’s your faith based community, or or you know, that whatever groups you are involved in, talk about this in your communities, just so you know more about it and can find more out about it. But then that next level of volunteering, look, again, from my CASA days, it’s CASA volunteers, volunteer guardians ad litem who advocate for children in court proceedings, and the training is provided. And judges listen to the CASA volunteers, because they have an independent vested interest in a child’s well being. And so they make recommendations to a judge. It’s an intensive volunteer position. But it’s such a valuable one, to be a community member in an arena where typically community members aren’t involved unless they have personal legal involvement. To understand what happens in courtrooms to understand what happens to these children at that level.


Gloria Riviera  41:45

That’s a volunteer position. I mean, this is new. This is Rita, I’m embarrassed to say, I’m very embarrassed to say, listeners, this is news to me, like this opportunity is out there. I mean, my youngest is eight, I’m just getting my feet back on the ground but that sounds like an incredible opportunity for somebody who cares about children who are in the system, such an incredible what would I do? What would how would that work?


Rita Soronen  42:11

Yeah, there’s a national network of Casa programs all across the nation. And, and so just, you know, we can certainly, you know, reach out to the National CASA association that has a list of all of those organizations, and then reach out to that organization, they’ll tell you, when their training times are, what the requirements are, you know, you have to have a background check, you have to be safe, you have to be at least 21. But, beyond that, you have to go through their training, so you understand, but you’re mentored and supported by the staff of the Casa organization. So you’re not out there on your own. But I can’t tell you how many times judges say, look, I have social workers in front of me, I have paid attorneys in front of me, I’ve got all kinds of people in front of me, I really listen to the CASA volunteer because they’re here, for one reason not to get a paycheck not to prove a point to anybody in the agency, but simply to advocate for this child. So yeah, absolutely, but it isn’t, it’s an intensive position. And you only take one or two cases at a time because it is such an intensive position.


Gloria Riviera  43:12

Now this is so I mean, I feel like I feel the energy in my body just hearing about this.


Rita Soronen  43:17

It’s great, it’s phenomenal. And I still as you know, support CASA programs, I sat on the National CASA board and, and an advisory board member as well. So it’s a really valuable, I think unsung heroes in in communities in particular, folks can also reach out and and just mentor you know, lots of adoption organizations have mentor positions, not unlike Big Brothers, Big Sisters or something like that. You can even something as simple there’s organizations that provide backpacks for kids going into foster care, the you know, there’s too many horrendous stories of a child has to move quickly from one place to another and all of their belongings are put into a trash bag, we still have those trash bag stories, which is, again, so sad, but there are organizations out there that, that provide backpacks for kids and fill them up. And you can help, you know, do that at a at an organizational level. So many ways to I think step in and volunteer but just understanding who these children are talking about it with groups of people and deciding, you know, do we can help with Christmas presents at Christmas time. Or we can help with school backpacks at school time for these kids in foster care. Just to make sure they don’t feel like they’re forgotten.


Gloria Riviera  44:32

Yeah, absolutely. And that is something that I take my kids to do with me go buy presents, take them to our church, wrap them talk about it. But interestingly, I don’t talk about it in the context of my own brother, I talk about it in the context of doing something good for the church and I feel like the conversation needs to be more personal if you’ve had any experience with it with your own children within your own family. Speaking of family, what are the prerequisites that youth I think people should have before they even consider fostering or adoption. I mean, I, you know, I would not have said before I did these shows on foster care adoption, that I would be someone who might be a candidate, but but now I feel like I might be a candidate. So what do I need to know?


Rita Soronen  45:18

I think I think really look at what is your current for family circumstance? And it’s okay to say it’s not right at this time, you know, I want to do this, but it’s not the right time to do is too much going on talking with your own children, you know, what, what do you think about the idea of somebody coming in and coming in for a short stay, because there are those issues of, it’s very hard when you get to know on a temporary basis, a foster child whose goal is to go home, and it may not be the kind of home that you think that child should be in, but it’s their home. And so how do you make sure that if you’re going to be a foster parent, that you can, you can effectively make sure that this child can go home to their biological family, and that you’ll you’ll grapple with the sense of loss, because they might be there a year, and in a year’s time you come to love a child, and and understand that this for this child, they may not be able to express it, but you might be one of the best things that happened in their childhood. And at some point, they’ll know that, and at some point, you’ll continue to recognize you are good for them. So really assess your own family circumstance can can you absorb this kind of dynamic, it’s hard dealing with the child welfare system, it just is even with the best of social workers, sometimes you don’t get returned phone calls, or you have a need that that you think they should be providing, and they’re not. And so you take it out of your own pocket to do that. So assessing all of that, and can you handle that moving into particularly in adoptive situation? Will this how will this change the dynamic of of the order of children that I have in my family at this point? You know, how will they respond to somebody new coming into the into the family? How will I handle all of the new things that I have to do from court hearings to, to perhaps after care kinds of things? Again, these are children who have experienced intensive layers of trauma, grief and loss. And so love is absolutely what every child needs, but it doesn’t necessarily fix everything right away. And so, do I have the fortitude to begin to think about after permanency support systems, from counselling to networking with other adoptive families to making sure that every resource that might be needed by my, my, my child, I can go after and I can advocate for because, gosh, I thought it was all done the day I adopted and it might just extend up but but what you would do for any child, of course in your family, but you might think about it differently from an adoptive point of view. And so just understanding I think all of those dynamics and the same, okay, deep breath, are we ready?


Gloria Riviera  47:52

Deep breath, are we ready? Okay, you know, I want to thank you, because that is not a question I would have asked myself before. But I know I’m coming out of this conversation with that question on my mind, thanks in large part to the work that you have dedicated your career to, and that everybody at the Dave Thomas Foundation is working towards. So under the Lemonada mantra of making life suck less. A plus to the Dave Thomas Foundation, a lot of work ahead. But a lot of incredible work has been done and read I just want to say thank you so much for being on the show.


Rita Soronen  48:29

Oh, it’s my pleasure. And thank you for focusing on this. You help us get the word out. And I’m so grateful for that. Thank you.


CREDITS  48:43

Thank you for listening to GOOD THINGS. This episode is presented by the Marguerite Casey Foundation. This series is produced by associate producer Dani Matias. Our supervising producer is Jamela Zarha Williams, mixing and Sound Design by Noah Smith. Steve Nelson is our SVP of weekly content. Executive Producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs and Jessica Cordova-Kramer. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Thanks so much for listening. See you next week. Follow GOOD THINGS wherever you get your podcasts and listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.

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