Case study: Improving adoption rates

Case StudyChild WelfareNov 17 2016

Since its inception in 1992 the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (DTFA) has aimed to increase the numbers of adoptions for children waiting in the U.S. foster care system. In 2004, DTFA launched the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids (WWK) initiative to focus specifically on this goal. The WWK model assigns a small caseload of children needing adoptive homes to designated “recruiters” who aggressively seek families for each child. The model was designed to find adoptive families for children traditionally more challenging to find homes for, including older children, and children with emotional challenges.

Two years after the launch, DTFA partnered with Child Trends to conduct a rigorous evaluation of the WWK program and measure its impact. Despite the need for evidence-based adoption recruitment programs, there was little available research on best practice to increase the number of foster care adoptions at that time.

Our Work

Child Trends’ evaluation included an impact study to assess whether the WWK program improves permanency outcomes for children waiting to be adopted, relative to traditional adoption services. We also conducted a process evaluation to explain the results of the impact study by documenting how services are implemented and the agency context in which the WWK program operates.

From August 2006 to January 2010, Child Trends researchers compared the outcomes of 517 children served by 21 Wendy’s Wonderful Kids grantee agencies to those of 497 children who received traditional recruitment services from similar agencies. Researchers also interviewed adoptive parents and older children to hear directly about the WWK services.

The evaluation showed that children served by Wendy’s Wonderful Kids were 1.7 times more likely to be adopted than children not served by Wendy’s Wonderful Kids. Furthermore, the program’s impact was strongest (up to three times) among older children and those with mental health challenges—groups that are traditionally the least likely to achieve adoption, or who tend to wait longer for placements.

The resulting report, Evaluation Report Summary: The Impact of Child-Focused Recruitment on Foster Care Adoption: A Five-Year Evaluation of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids, presents the findings and discusses implications for how to continue to enhance adoption recruitment.


The evaluation demonstrated that use of innovative strategies can lead to higher rates of adoption, especially for children for whom it has traditionally been difficult to find adoptive families. Child Trends’ evaluation became a cornerstone of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids’ scaling, as well as the broader policy discussion around adoption and foster care.

“We can no longer accept unevaluated, anecdotally based strategies for assuring safety and permanency for our most vulnerable children. By engaging the skilled teams at Child Trends to implement a rigorous evaluation, we not only found a profoundly dedicated partner in this complex arena of child welfare, but as a result of the transformative findings, launched a successful foster care adoption practice that is now moving to scale across the United States and Canada.”

–Rita Soronen, President & CEO, Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption