Kristi Gleason of Bethany Christian Services on Why the Future of Adoption is in a Child’s Own Community

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Kristi Gleason is vice president of global services at Bethany Christian Services. The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1.


The number of international adoptions has plummeted in recent years. In 2004, nearly 30,000 children from other countries were adopted by U.S. families; in 2018, that number had dropped to 4,059, according to U.S. State Department statistics.

This trend represents a tremendous shift in the culture of adoption in this country and has put new stresses on the global adoption system. The prosecution of Arizona official Paul Petersen for smuggling pregnant women from the South Pacific to supply parents in the United States with babies shows how badly we need a new approach to child welfare.

In 1982, Bethany Christian Services assumed responsibility for an international adoption program operated by the state of Michigan that placed children from South Korea with American families. In the years since, intercountry adoption has been an important part of Bethany’s mission and identity. We have placed nearly 15,000 children from Asia, Eastern Europe, Africa and Central America with safe and loving U.S. families.

We’re proud of this work. But the needs of vulnerable children around the world are changing. That’s why we are spearheading international efforts to change the emphasis on bringing children to the U.S. and instead help find adoptive homes for children in their home countries.

In the past decade, nations such as Russia, Guatemala and Ethiopia have closed their doors to intercountry adoption altogether. Other countries have changed their laws, making it nearly impossible to adopt children internationally. In places where we once helped hundreds of children find homes, we now process fewer than a dozen adoptions each year. Other adoption agencies have experienced the same drop off.

Many of these changes are politically driven or are the result of scandals in which foreigners broke adoption laws to take children out of the country. But many countries’ thinking about adoption itself is changing as well. Governments that once prioritized orphanage care for children are now supporting family preservation, family reintegration and domestic adoption for children. This change should be celebrated and supported.

The needs of families have drastically changed as well. Bethany began working with countries in Africa because the AIDS epidemic had devastated many villages and families. Today, however, the number of new HIV infections is declining, and treatment options are allowing people to live longer and better lives. We can help preserve and support those families.

When children are removed from their homes in the U.S., foster care workers try to keep them as close to their biological home as possible to minimize change, trauma and loss. The same should be encouraged and supported in our child welfare work overseas. 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 and safe in-country child welfare systems.

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Source: Religion News Service