Wendy's Wonderful Kids

a program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption

Finding permanent homes for children in foster care who are most often overlooked, including teenagers, children with special needs, and siblings.

The Scale of the Problem

Right now, more than 115,000 children, through no fault of their own, are waiting to be adopted from foster care in the United States. Between 30 – 50K of those children have characteristics that make them hardest to place with adoptive families. These young people have often suffered abuse or neglect and countless layers of trauma in their lives. Without our help, many will linger in the system for years only to age out at 18 or 21 with no permanent family and no safety net, putting them at a much higher risk of homelessness, unemployment, and other negative outcomes. This human tragedy costs our society billions of dollars every year. 


youth leave the foster care system every year without a family

1 in 5

youth who age out will be homeless after age 18

Only 50%

will be employed at age 24

An Evidence-Based Solution

Through its Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption supports the hiring of adoption professionals, also known as recruiters, who use a child-focused model to find forever families for youth who have been waiting in foster care the longest. A five-year, national evaluation by Child Trends comparing Wendy’s Wonderful Kids to business-as-usual in child welfare revealed that a child served by the program on average, is 1.7x more effective than traditional foster care adoption services in finding permanent homes and up to 3x more effective for older youth. In 2017, the Foundation launched an aggressive, multi-year business plan to scale Wendy’s Wonderful Kids across the United States. 

> $500M

in cumulative public funding leveraged to support scaling efforts


children have been adopted

Blue Meridian’s Investment

In Phase I of the Foundation’s multi-year business plan (2017–2020), Blue Meridian’s $35M investment supported scaling of Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in 11 states. In Phase II, we are committed to helping the Foundation deepen and sustain its impact in Phase I scaling states and pursue expansion of WWK in at least 10 more states to serve children in foster care who are most often overlooked.

Up to $57M invested over 5.5 years

Deepen and sustain impact in Phase I scaling states: CO, KY, LA, MI, NY, NV, NC, OK, OH, UT and WA

Pursue program expansion in at least 10 new states by 2026

Why We are Excited about Wendy’s Wonderful Kids

Every organization in our Nationwide Solutions investment portfolio has embarked on significant scaling and continues to make progress toward their goals. Here are a few reasons why we believe the Foundation’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program is poised for continued growth and impact:

Strong Evidence Base

Of the children served by the program, 92% are older than age 8; 35% have had six or more placements; 22% have been in foster care for 4 or more years; more than 85% have had minimal or no adoption recruitment efforts on their behalf before being referred to Wendy’s Wonderful Kids.

Despite those odds, more than 11,000 children have been adopted since the launch of the Dave Thomas Foundation Agency. Evidence suggests that those adoptions hold up and have the potential to influence life outcomes.

Sustainable Impact at Scale

The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption proved its ability to work with state and agency partners in several contexts to scale the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program within Phase I of its business plan. Now in Phase II, the Foundation continues to nurture relationships with stakeholders in those states and invest in national awareness campaigns to ensure long-term support for Wendy’s Wonderful Kids and fidelity to the evidence-based, child-focused recruitment model. The Foundation is also in active conversations to scale the program in additional states.

Value Proposition to Government

The Foundation’s home state of Ohio became the first to scale Wendy’s Wonderful Kids in 2012. Based on a state analysis, the program has helped to save Ohio taxpayers more than $130M to date by moving children out of foster care and into permanent, loving families. This is proven evidence of the program’s model delivery in multiple states.

About Wendy's Wonderful Kids

Through its Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption provides funding and establishes innovative co-investment partnerships with states to support the hiring of adoption professionals, known as recruiters, who serve the hardest-to-place children in foster care. That includes youth ages 9 and older, children with special needs, and siblings. Wendy’s Wonderful Kids recruiters use an evidence-based, child-focused recruitment model to find the right family for every child. To date, more than 11,000 children and counting have been adopted through the program.

Learn more about Wendy’s Wonderful Kids

Rita Soronen

President and CEO

For more than 30 years, Rita Soronen has worked on behalf of abused, neglected and vulnerable children. She has served as President and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption since 2001. Previously, she held positions as Executive Director of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) of Franklin County, Ohio and President of the Board of Trustees of the Ohio CASA/GAL Association.

Stories of Impact

After spending years in foster care — often separated — brothers Taye, Kemarquez and Kiondre were adopted with help from the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption’s Wendy’s Wonderful Kids program. “I don’t have to worry because we’re all together,” says Kemarquez.

Stories of Impact

Other Nationwide Solutions Investments