SALT LAKE CITY — LDS Family Services announced Tuesday it no longer will operate a full-scale adoption agency, instead shifting all of its adoption-related resources to counseling for birth parents and prospective adoptive parents.
"The adoption program of LDS Family Services is changing," said David McConkie, the organization's group manager for services for children. "Our goal is to provide more opportunities for LDS families to adopt. Our goal also is to provide a broader array of services, more services, to single expectant parents, unwed parents, in the church primarily."
McConkie said his organization expects the new model will enable more LDS families to adopt because it will broaden the options for prospective adoptive parents.
LDS Family Services is a private, nonprofit corporation owned and operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It provides professional counseling services and an addiction recovery program, among other services. For decades, it has been operating one of the largest, private, nonprofit adoption agencies in the world.
Tuesday's announcement comes at a time when religious-based adoption agencies around the country are under pressure to facilitate adoptions for same-sex couples. LDS Family Services also has been the subject of lawsuits about fathers' rights in adoption cases.
"None of these issues drive this decision," McConkie said.
"This predates any of these court cases," said Sherilyn Stinson, field group manager for the Salt Lake Valley offices of LDS Family Services.
Officials made the announcement Tuesday morning in a meeting with employees, all of whom will be retained and, if necessary, retrained.
The 600 or so couples who were in the process of waiting for adoptions through LDS Family Services will be able to complete that process if they choose, or they can move to the new model, which could increase their chances of adopting.
LDS Family Services will partner with local agencies for services it no longer will provide, such as home studies.
The consulting provided by LDS Family Services will be free.
Changes in adoption trends prompted the change. The largest pressure in domestic adoption has been the reduction in children available for adoption. As the U.S. population has increased, the number of adoptions has leveled out at about 50,000 per year.
That's despite a marked increase in the number of unwed pregnancies, to 41 percent of U.S. births as of 2013, according to a report released last month.
Recent statistics also show that just 1 percent of births to unwed mothers result in adoption. That's down from 9 percent in 1973.
McConkie said those statistics are similar among the LDS Church population, and that LDS Family Services hopes to provide more counseling to birth parents who choose to raise their child.
In the past, Stinson said, some LDS bishops and single expectant mothers saw Family Services as an adoption agency and expressed concern that as such, it would work to persuade mothers to place their children for adoption.
Stinson said that has not been the case, but now that Family Services will no longer be an adoption agency, she hopes bishops and birth parents will be more willing to use Family Services resources to find information about options and to connect with appropriate outside resources.
Family Services now will partner with local community resources, including adoption agencies, that will do licensed regulatory work like home studies.
Stinson said that prospective adoptive parents will benefit from the guidance Family Services will be able to provide them to plug into multiple resources.
If couples want to adopt, they should turn to LDS Family Services, Stinson said.
"We'll teach you how to be an entrepreneur," she said. "We've seen that the ones who get placement sooner are those who take control of their adoptions and who are out seeking other possibilities. That's the shift in our role, is to empower them."
Catholic adoption agencies in multiple U.S. cities have closed their doors in the past year because they could not, according to the Catholic News Agency, in good conscience place children with same-sex couples.
LDS Family Services also would not place children with same-sex couples, but McConkie and Stinson said discussions about the changes announced Tuesday began long before those pressures mounted.
Stinson said she long has advised her employees to earn master's degrees and seek licensing so they could act as full-fledged counselors in anticipation of such a shift.