GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Bethany Christian Services announced an end to their international adoption program. It’s a big change for the organization that has placed 15,000 children into U.S. homes through the program in the past 37 years.

“That’s why we made the decision 14 months before the accreditation expired,” said Kristi Gleason, the vice president of global programs for Bethany Christian Services. “We didn’t want to tell parents a week or a month in advance, and say ‘sorry, we can’t service you.’ We feel very strongly we can serve the families we have in process.”

Gleason says there are about 200 families in that long, and often, expensive process of international adoption. The organization will work with these families to complete the process. It will also continue post-adoption services for families.

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According to the U.S. Department of State, the number of international adoptions across America has dropped dramatically over the years. In 2005, there were 22,726 adoptions, but in 2018, there were only 4,058. Gleason says this is one of the reasons the organization made the decision to end their program.

“One of our biggest country programs was Korea,” said Gleason, “We started with Korea. At the peak, we did 200-300 adoptions a year. Last year we did 85.”

Instead of the program, the organization will work with its existing programs in other countries, like Ethiopia. This decision allows it to reallocate funding and resources.

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“For the cost of one inter-country adoption,” said Gleason, “the average cost for a family is $50,000 to $60,000. For that, we can serve 100 kids in Ethiopia, to have them adopted into families as well, just in their home countries.”

The programs in these countries look similar to the American foster care system. Bethany Christian Services works with local churches and governments, to find places for these children in loving families, and remove them from orphanages.

“We’ve learned a lot from the decades of doing inter-country adoption,” said Gleason, “There’s a lot of grief and loss that a child experiences when they are adopted to a new country. There’s a loss of culture, language, food, and family. So this decision is not us criticizing inter-country adoption. It’s a way of us saying, hey, if we can prevent some of that trauma, we’re going to focus on that."

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