In January, Bethany Christian Services announced that it would not be renewing its accreditation to do international adoption. As one of the largest providers of international adoption services in the U.S., this is quite a blow. But Bethany’s leadership has seen the writing on the wall. In 2018, there were only about 4,000 intercountry adoptions to the U.S. That’s compared with a high in 2004 of almost 23,000.
These drastic changes are partly the result of other countries like Russia shutting down their adoption programs and partly the result of our own State Department making international adoption more difficult, as I wrote last year. The bureaucratic headaches and expenses have multiplied. According to the State Department, adoption service providers charged a median price of $6,000 in 2008, compared with a median of over $30,000 in 2018. A lot of this money is going for lawyers or to grease the palms of bureaucrats in other countries. And it doesn’t even include, say, the cost of hotels where families have to stay for days if not weeks in another country waiting for paperwork to go through. (As Mark Montgomery and Irene Powell point out in their book Saving International Adoption, what’s amazing is that none of this money can ever go to a birth mother—even to pay for the education or healthcare of her other children.) It is not uncommon for families to borrow money from family or friends or to raise money through their church community to help defray these expenses.
Given how difficult and expensive it is to adopt internationally, it is not surprising that Bethany has determined its resources could be put to better use. And Bethany is not alone. In the past few years, other adoption agencies, including Adoption Matters, Inc. and Christian Family Services, have also relinquished their accreditation.
Bethany is trying to put the best face on this decision that they can. Their statement read in part:
Bethany began serving children in South Korea because orphanages were overwhelmed with vast numbers of healthy infants. Today, many children who can’t be cared for by their own families are being adopted into loving homes in their country of birth. This is a good thing, and we praise God for it. We look forward to building on the foundation and relationships made by Bethany’s international adoption programs to help those same kids and many more within their home countries.
It is certainly true that it would be better if children could be adequately cared for in their own countries and that some countries have become more open to the prospect of taking in strangers’ children. But frankly, that’s still a rarity in most of the world. Yes, as Montgomery and Powell explain, it is often possible to get people to take in a child if you offer them enough money, but other countries don’t necessarily have the same conception of adoption as we do. The child that they take in is not considered their “real” child in the long term. An adoptive child would be unlikely to inherit, for instance.
Other cultures might be more open to what we think of as adoption but never across racial lines the way Americans do. Harvard Professor Elizabeth Bartholet has chronicled the “disgusted” reaction she received in Peru from a pediatrician when she adopted a dark-skinned child.
And then there are the children with special medical needs, whose home countries do not have the resources to care for them. Maybe Bethany and other organizations can use their funds to provide the kind of medical care that these children would need in order to fix cleft palates or partial blindness. But for other kinds of issues that require long-term treatment, it is hard to imagine how countries with families already mired in poverty and dysfunction are going to start taking in strangers’ children that require this kind of intensive intervention. There’s a reason that these children end up in orphanages in their home countries to begin with. All of which is to say that for the tens of thousands of American parents who would welcome an infant of any race and with all kinds of problems, but even more so for the children who will be left to languish, the collapse of international adoption is a tragedy.