Bethany Christian Services, the largest Christian adoption agency in the United States, said it will soon end international adoptions and will instead focus on supporting children in their home communities.
In a blog post, Bethany Christian Services revealed that its international adoption accreditation will expire in 2021. After that, 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 Christian Services, in the Jan. 21 post.
“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.”
According to its website, Bethany assisted in 15,000 adoptions over the course of the last four decades. In the blog post, Gleason noted that international adoptions to the U.S. dropped from nearly 30,000 children in 2004 to just over 4,000 in 2018.
The dip in numbers is not due to a lack of evangelical interest, however.
“In the last decade, international adoption practices have dramatically changed around the world,” Gleason wrote. “Nations like Russia, Guatemala, and Ethiopia have closed their doors to international adoption altogether. Other countries have changed their laws and practices, making it nearly impossible to adopt children internationally. In some places where we once helped hundreds of children find loving homes, we now process fewer than a dozen adoptions each year.”
In the future, Bethany will work 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.”
Gleason contended that other countries are growing their capacity to care for children in need, adding that Bethany “praises God” that many children who can’t be cared for by their own families are being adopted into loving homes in their country of birth.
Additionally, Gleason noted that the average international adoption for one child through Bethany costs approximately $50,000. With that same money, Bethany can “help 50 children in our Africa programs leave an orphanage and find loving foster or adoptive homes nearby,” she said.
As Bethany phases out their services placing international children with American families, the organization “will be able to increase our capacity to serve children and families in their communities.”
“Bethany will continue to implement programs that support and strengthen families, recruit and support temporary foster families and find permanent, adoptive families for kids who need them,” Gleason said.
She told ABC News Grand Rapids that Bethany will continue to work with the 200 families in the process of adoption internationally and will provide post-adoption services for families.
“At Bethany, our work is founded on the belief that children are made in the image of God, are known by Him and have inestimable worth — no matter where they are from or what has happened to them,” she said. “We’re going all-in, spearheading international efforts to change the emphasis from bringing children to the U.S. to finding families for children in their home countries.”
A 2018 survey of 1,010 Protestant churchgoers from LifeWay Research found that 15 percent of Protestants say someone from their church has adopted a child from another country.
In recent years, Christians have begun to challenge the church’s response to the global orphan crisis.
“Christians who feel strongly the biblical call to care for the widow and orphan, and who have led the missions work to build orphanages in the past, are uniquely qualified to lead a movement of change within the Western Church,” Gleason wrote in a June op-ed for The Christian Post. “It is time to stand against orphanage-based care and instead support local, community-based foster care around the world. Foster care was the right decision in the U.S. in the early 1900s and it’s the right decision now on a Global stage.”
“But the Global effort must foremostly empower the local leaders and social work professionals to lead the change in their own communities,” she added.
The number of children orphaned worldwide is 140 million, according to estimates from Christian Alliance for Orphans. Those who are “double orphans,” meaning children who’ve lost both parents, is estimated to be 15.1 million. Children who are living either on the streets or in residential care is between 2 million and 8 million.
Last November, churches in 92 countries participated in Orphan Sunday initiatives worldwide. The Orphan Sunday campaign, which is led by the Christian Alliance for Orphans, has more than 180 participating organizations, including: Family Life, Bethany Christian Services, Show Hope, Focus on the Family, Buckner International and Compassion International with the goal of helping widows, orphans and foster families in a myriad of ways.
Sebilu Bodja, the director of Africa Operations for Bethany Christian Services, told The Christian Post that while churchgoers were aware that vulnerable children were living among them, many didn’t know how to allocate their resources and organize a response to support them. Now, they have plans in place to support orphans and struggling families.
Former Audio Adrenaline lead singer Mark Stuart, who has two adopted children with his wife, told The Christian Post that the Church must be on the frontlines fighting poverty, both within the United States and internationally, to best help needy children.
“Poverty steals the innocence and childhood of kids all over the world,” he explained. “We strive to break the bonds of abject and extreme poverty so that families aren’t broken apart. A lot of kids are trafficked because families can’t afford them.”
“The real lever to make a difference is to help end extreme poverty so kids aren’t abandoned in the first place. What I’m pushing for is a solution rather than a reaction. Orphanages and adoption are a knee jerk reaction, but it can exacerbate the problem rather than solve it. We’re always going to have the poor and rich, but if we can pull together and make a sacrifice to pull families out of the danger zone where they’re not giving up their babies, then we’re doing something significant.”