Q&A with Rita Soronen CEO of The Dave Thomas Foundation.

An interview with Rita Soronen
By Brenda Horrocks

It doesn’t matter when we meet our child….
it just matters that we do!

Who is waiting to meet YOU??
~
I recently had the opportunity to interview

 Rita Soronen.
Rita Soronen is the President and CEO of The Dave Thomas Foundation.  Rita has been a champion for children for over 30 years and has lead the Foundation since 2001.
I am thankful for the opportunity I had to ask her some questions and I am excited to share them with you!


1.     When presenting Foster Care Adoption as an option to couples, some feel they couldn’t handle the challenges some children face.   If you were speaking to one of these couples what would you say to help them understand how their role in a child’s life can make all the difference?
Our founder, Dave Thomas said, “These children are not someone else’s responsibility. They are our responsibility.” When children in foster care are permanently removed from their families of birth, we make what should be an unbreakable promise to them: Wewill find them a family. And we will do it in a way that cherishes their childhoods and their developmental needs so that they can grow and thrive within the birthright of every child – a safe and secure family of his or her own. 
But we also understand that children in care have experienced not only the trauma of family violence or neglect, and the grief and loss of separation from their birth families, but while in care, they too often must cope with frequent moves. These circumstances can interrupt normal growth stages, lead to trust or attachment issues, or underscore clinical diagnoses of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder or other needs. 
Parents should assess their wishes and abilities to understand, support and work with children who have been through these experiences. Critically important, as a nation, we must understand and commit to a family for every child who is waiting to be adopted and the appropriate resources to assist families for those children who need post-adoption support. And we must understand the negative consequences of children turning 18 and aging out of care without families. Without a family in a young person’s life, there is no one to provide a safety net when a youth missteps; to provide a celebration for a birthday or graduation or marriage; to simply be there at the end of the day.
2.     I always hear potential adoptive parents say they just can’t handle adopting through the foster care system because they don’t want to say goodbye to a child they have grown to love.  What do couples need to think about when looking to adopt through foster care?
There are few more selfless acts than fostering children who need a temporary placement while their family of origin is working to be a safe and nurturing environment for the child. To provide a child a temporary home in foster care is a public activity that becomes very personal when you see the issue through the eyes of a hurting child, and hear the mandate through Dave Thomas’ words. These children are our responsibility. The loss that a foster parent may feel in having a child placed back in the home is diminished in remembering that the help provided to that family may have saved a child’s life.
3.      How do you explain the difference between foster to adopt and adopting a waiting child?   
The differences between the two ways to help children in foster care are really very slight. Foster-to- adopt provides a dual licensing status to the parents (after completion of a home study and required parent training), both as foster parents and as adoptive ones. The notion is that both children and parents benefit from this by minimizing placements and filling a need for safe and potentially permanent placements for children. Last year, for example, 85% of the children adopted from foster care were adopted from their foster care home (54%) or a relative placement (31%). A foster-to-adopt situation allows the child the security of a stable foster home with a family that, once freed for adoption, can also become their forever family and the transition into adoption is relatively seamless with the developing family bonds already in place.
Some families, though, prefer to simply move to adoption without the step of fostering a child. Agencies also will assess, train and license a family to adopt waiting children directly.
4.     Why are there so many children waiting to be adopted and what can we as a community do to help these children?
This is such an important question that really has two layers. Children are waiting, first and foremost, because they have been abused, neglected, and/or abandoned. Last year in the U.S., there were an estimated 3.4 million referrals for child abuse, representing more than 6 million children, and ultimately involving nearly 700,000 children in substantiated cases of abuse or neglect, with 252,300 children entering foster care and 1,574 abuse fatalities. These are overwhelmingly compelling statistics of child maltreatment that invade every community. We simply need to do more to help families break cycles of family violence, substance abuse and the stress of family poverty.
Additionally, once a child moves into foster care and the family is found to be so profoundly unsafe that he or she is freed for adoption, we need to dispel the notion that some children are “unadoptable.” Today in America, more than 100,000 children are waiting to be adopted from foster care; the average age of the waiting child is 8-9 years old. We know from a national survey completed by the Foundation that, unfortunately, a majority of Americans have deep misperceptions about the children waiting to be adopted and the process to adopt.   
We need to do three things to help these children: 1) address and dispel the misperceptions that surround these children, 2) increase awareness about the amazing children who are waiting for families to step forward, and 3) drive home that EVERY child waiting to be adopted can and must be adopted. Not just some of the children, but all of the children, including older youth, children in sibling groups, children currently residing in group or institutional care and children with mental or physical challenges. Unadoptable is simply unacceptable.
5.    How can adoption advocates help potential adoptive families understand the blessings and benefits of adopting a waiting child?
We need to raise our voices in traditional and social media, at the workplace, in our faith communities and at public gatherings and highlight the challenges and joys of foster care adoption. And we need to be willing to spend the time to interact, answer questions and provide potential adoptive families with access to resources and networks of adoptive families to provide them information and support. The Foundation’s website is a great place to start!
6.     What is a waiting child’s greatest challenge when it comes to being found by the right family?  How can we help increase their opportunities?
Many children who have experienced the trauma of abuse and the loss of their biological families will find it hard to trust a new family or may be feeling disloyal if they attach to a new family. The resulting tension can be difficult for the adoptive parents. It is so important for the adoptive parents to understand this is not an issue of rejection by the child, but issues of grief and loss that will need patience, understanding and unconditional acceptance by the adults in their life. Surrounding adoptive families with support and professional services, if necessary, not only increases the likelihood of a permanent family for the child, but helps the child manage what can be very frightening times in his or her childhood. 
7.    Who can be an adoptive parent of a waiting child?
Children who are adopted need parents who are committed to creating a bond that is permanent, safe and loving – as if the child had been born to them. Potential adoptive parents will need to participate in background screenings and checks; complete a homestudy and parent training, assuring that the home is safe and the parents are well trained in the issues of child development, cultural sensitivity, and the dynamics of abuse, neglect, separation and loss; and finalize through a legal process of adoption in court.
The environment of foster care adoption is quite diverse. Income, age, marital status and sexual orientation are not reasons to disqualify someone from adopting from foster care. For example, single parent adoptions occur in about 30% of foster care adoptions. Owning a home or having substantial wealth are not requirements – as long potential parents can provide for a child’s needs in a safe and nurturing environment, they may qualify as adoptive parents. Potential adoptive parents may be older, have already raised biological children, may currently have children in the home, or may never have parented.
Because laws differ from state to state, it is a good idea to understand your state’s rules. A detailed list of requirements for licensing adoptive parents can be found at this link: https://www.childwelfare.gov/systemwide/laws_policies/state/index.cfm
8.    Once you understand the need for adoptive families for all of these wonderful children your heart begins to change. How do you believe we can help change hearts and help others see the need and respond with a heart ready to love?  How do we help them want to share that love?

The one aspect of life that we all share is that we were once children. And as children, we can remember a time when we were alone, or afraid, or distraught because a favorite comfort item – a stuffed animal, a blanket, a toy – was missing, or we were separated from our parents. Children in foster care waiting to be adopted feel that loss in a much more profound way each and every day. Contemplating the challenges of foster care adoption is made a bit easier when we see the act of adoption, of forming a family, through the hopeful eyes of a waiting child.

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