When he was handed the reins of “Wednesday’s Child,” a television news segment featuring foster care children in need of adoption, William Wong prepared himself for a difficult 12 months.
One year was how long the social worker figured he would have to wait before requesting an assignment transfer from his employer, the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services.
A decade later, Wong, 40, has helped produce 425 TV segments that have resulted in more than 400 adoptions.
Mary Cates, whose oldest son Darnell was featured on the program, said Wong was a constant presence throughout the family’s months-long adoption process.
“He was like a hovering dad, watching over us and trying to make sure we had Darnell’s best interest at heart,” Cates said.
U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein honored Wong, a 15-year La Crescenta resident, as a 2011 “Angel in Adoption” in Washington D.C. earlier this month. He said he was elated by the recognition, but was quick to share credit with his colleagues at the county Department of Children and Family Services.
“It is a very unique camaraderie,” Wong said. “For a lot of us, it is more than just a job, it is an identity.”
“Wednesday’s Child” is financed by the Freddie Mac Foundation and produced in partnership with Christine Devine, a television anchor at Fox News. Wong’s responsibilities include sifting through referrals from social workers trying to find permanent families for foster children.
He works to present the child in a setting that is representative of his or her interests. One boy with aspirations to become a pilot was given a flight lesson. Another was filmed during a meet and greet with members of the Los Angeles Lakers.
“He has a unique ability to cultivate community partners and to maintain those relationships so that ‘Wednesday’s Child,’ after so many years, still captures repeat watchers segment after segment,” his supervisor, Bryan Miller, said.
“Wednesday’s Child” serves to de-stigmatize foster children, showing them for who they really are, Wong said.
“When a child airs and the family watches and feels that connection, all of the stereotypes sort of slip away,” Wong said. “That is what we want to do. We don’t want to create extra labels for the kids; we don’t want to vilify them.”
He also keeps in mind that anybody could be watching, Wong said.
Once, an undercover police officer caught an airing while on break during a late-night shift and thought that one of the children looked familiar.
“She contacted us,” Wong said. “We did an investigation. We found, in fact, she was a distant aunt and she ended up adopting the entire sibling set of five kids.”
The family has to meet the needs of the child, not the other way around, Wong said. And he tries to give priority to older children because they are often considered the least desirable in the eyes of potential adoptive families.
Those featured on the show have an adoption rate between 40% and 50%, Wong said. An additional 20% of the children are able to make some sort of connection with previously out of touch family members.
In her book detailing her work on the segment, Devine described an inauspicious start to what would later bloom into a strong partnership.
“Will went to work first and foremost for the children,” Devine said. “I grew to respect his strength, experience and education…We began to build [Wednesday’s Child] into what it is today.”