The largest Christian adoption agency in the United States announced that after 15,000 international adoptions over its 37-year history, it will no longer be bringing children into the US and will instead focus on supporting children in their home countries.
Bethany Christian Services shared in a blog post last week that its international adoption accreditation will expire in 2021, and it will no longer accept new applications.
“Our decision to phase out international adoption is not a criticism of the program, but a reflection of our desire to serve children in their own communities,” wrote Kristi Gleason, the vice president for global services at Bethany.
“The future of adoption is working with local governments, churches, and social services professionals around the world to recruit and support local families for children and to develop and improve effective, safe in-country child welfare systems. Through these efforts, we served more children around the world in 2019 than we previously served in a single year.”
Bethany, like fellow agencies, has seen the orphan care landscape shift and evolve over the years, particularly in the past two decades. International adoptions to the US dropped from nearly 30,000 children in 2004 to just over 4,000 in 2018, after years of historic lows.
The decline is not due to lack of interest from American families—in fact, funding to orphan care ministries has been on the rise. Instead, places like Russia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia have eliminated international adoption, and others are following suit with tighter restrictions and regulations around the practice.
Another factor is that other countries are growing their capacity to care for children in need. Gleason said Bethany “praises God” that child welfare systems are improving so orphaned children need not leave their communities to find a safe and loving home. Working domestically makes Bethany’s involvement more effective and impactful.
“It makes sense to empower local families to care for children in their own community, not just because of the benefits for the children and the community, but also financially,” she said. “For example, the average international adoption for one child through Bethany costs approximately $50,000. With that same amount of money, we can help 50 children in our Africa programs leave an orphanage and find loving foster or adoptive homes nearby.”
Bethany reports partnering with governments in more than 10 countries over the past 30 years to help establish in-country foster care and adoption programs—in some places, the first of their kind.
The move away from international adoptions parallels greater concern from orphan care advocates around prioritizing family unity and a deeper understanding of the childhood trauma that often accompanies adoption. About 1 in 7 Protestants say someone at their church has adopted a child from another country, according to LifeWay Research.
As CT previously reported, Christians have also begun to challenge the place of orphanages and institutional care for needy children. Krish Kandiah, who works with children in the UK, recently wrote “The Christian Case Against the Orphanage.”
Earlier this month, Bethany was awarded a $920,000 USAID grant to work with the Ethiopian government to transition children from orphanages to family-based care.