Bethany Christian Services: A Christian Adoption Firm with Accusations of Manipulation, Negligence, and Trafficking

By Derrick Broze

For the last 80 years, Bethany Christian Services has marketed itself as a Christian non-profit providing adoption and foster care services. However, critics accuse the organization of failing to protect the children, and standing in the way of parents seeking to connect with their children.

Bethany Christian Services (BCS) is a non-profit focused on adoption and foster services, and pregnancy counseling. Ostensibly a Christian organization, BCS describes its mission as an effort to “demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus Christ by protecting children, empowering youth, and strengthening families through quality social services.”

But former clients and parents have filed lawsuits and flooded social media seeking to expose what they see as a dark underbelly of the adoption industry — one in which Bethany Christian Services is implicated. Some former clients of BCS are even afraid to speak out publicly for fear of being sued by the notoriously litigious non-profit. There are also concerns surrounding BCS’ contracts with the U.S. government to temporarily house migrant children who cross the border without a parent.

Bethany Christian Services was founded in 1944 by two friends, Marguerite Bonnema and Mary DeBoer, who “opened their home to care for a baby girl who needed emergency shelter”. By the end of the year, the women received help from Andrew VanderVeer and founded Bethany Christian Home as a non-profit on a 13-acre property in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Since its founding, BCS has grown to become what some call “one of the nation’s premier family preservation agencies”. According to their website, BCS also currently operates internationally in Colombia, Ghana, Ethiopia, and South Africa.

As a Christian organization, BCS and its leadership are vocal opponents of abortion access, and advocate for alternatives such as abstinence-only sex education, and “healthy marriage promotion.”

BCS had also refused to work with LGBTQ adoptive parents based on their religious beliefs. In March 2018, Philadelphia officials even cut ties with BCS due to their prohibition on same-sex adoption. However, in March 2021, BCS announced they would begin adoptions for LGBTQ couples.

DeVos Connection

One of the most curious relationships maintained by Bethany Christian Services is with the DeVos family. This connection received scrutiny during Donald Trump’s presidency because of his appointment of Betsy DeVos as U.S. Secretary of Education.

Betsy is married to Richard “Dick” DeVos Jr., a businessman and former politician. Interestingly, Betsy DeVos is also the brother of Erik Prince, a former U.S. Navy Seal and founder of Academi, a private mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater. In 1990, Betsy and Richard Devos founded the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation, a Grand Rapids-area foundation which donates millions of dollars to civic, artistic, religious, educational, community and free-market economic organizations.

Tax records obtained by ProPublica show that between 2001 and 2015, the Dick and Betsy DeVos Foundation gave $343,000 in grants to Bethany Christian Services. Between 2012 and 2015, BCS also received $750,000 in grants from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, which was founded by the now-deceased billionaire Richard DeVos Sr., and his wife Helen.

NPR has reported that DeVos family foundations have given $6 million to BCS between 1998 and 2016, the majority of the funds coming from Richard and Helen DeVos.

Furthermore, Brian DeVos, a cousin of the younger Richard DeVos, was the Senior Vice President for Child and Family Services at BCS until May 2018. He continues to work in adoption services today. Maria DeVos, the wife of Richard’s brother Doug, has also served on the board of BCS.

It’s not unusual to see non-profits, like the various DeVos foundations, donating millions of dollars to Christian educational and childcare organizations, especially considering the DeVos family has long been a force in the conservative Evangelical-Christian world.

In fact, recent years have seen a rise in the intersection of Christian philanthropists giving to Christian adoption services which seek to discourage abortion and, instead, see unwanted children adopted into Christian homes. However, it is unusual to see such public Christian figures supporting an organization like Bethany Christian Services which has been accused of manipulating parents and trafficking children.

Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” Immigration Policy

During his administration, former U.S. President Donald Trump implemented a “zero tolerance” immigration policy which saw children separated from their families. The Biden administration has fought to continue these same policies, but a recent settlement with families separated during the Trump administration now legally bars the practice of separating families for eight years. Nevertheless, some critics claim that Biden’s administration is still separating families.

What we know for certain is that Bethany Christian Services has existing contracts with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide “refugee resettlement” services. BCS offers long-term care for refugees and immigrants, and short-term care to house migrant children. “Thousands of unaccompanied migrant children need a safe, loving home until they can be reunited with family,” their website states.

BCS’ contracts with the federal government made headlines in 2018 when West Michigan Fox affiliate FOX 17 reported on local protests against BCS’ arrangement with the government. It was reported at the time that BCS had arranged for 81 children to be settled into news homes because of the crisis.

Dona Abbott, Bethany Christian Services‘ director of refugee and foster care programs, told FOX 17 that the organization is against the policy of separating families, but, “That’s a decision that has been made. It’s been announced the zero tolerance policy, and we believe children should be in family.”

FOX 17 asked Abbott if BCS will work to reunite refugee children with their parents if their parents don’t meet BCS’ religious standards, or if their parents have been charged criminally or deported.

“It is always our goal to reunite children and families,” said Abbott. “It isn’t our intention to see these children placed for adoption or be permanently separated from their families.”

Abbot told another Grand Rapids news station that she was uncertain if they would be able to get all the children back to their parents.

“Prior to this, we had a fairly organized, kind of systemic way of ensuring children got back to family. Now, we’re just not certain,” she stated. “You have parents deported, separate from their children, and being deported to unsafe situations. So it would be easy for a parent to get lost in that situation.”

In June 2018, a BCS spokesperson told Snopes — the infamous defender of establishment narratives — that they could not provide a specific number of migrant children who have been taken into BCS’ care because the number “is constantly changing.” BCS also chose not to provide any information on the locations where separated children were being fostered.

The spokesperson told Snopes that, “Bethany does receive funding to support our work with unaccompanied and separated children based on the services these children need, including a clinician, case manager, trauma-informed teacher, and foster family to provide trauma support.”

BCS made the news again in November 2021 when Tennessee state Rep. Chris Todd accused BCS of facilitating human trafficking via their work with the federal government.

“This whole thing reeks of impropriety, and I’m very concerned about these children that are being pushed into this trafficking situation,” Todd said. “Our own federal government is trafficking. They’re hauling them all over the country and dropping them in neighborhoods, flying them in in the middle of the night.”

Todd made the comments during a meeting of a special committee convened by Tennessee lawmakers to investigate claims of children being flown in at night to a now-closed shelter in Chattanooga. Leaders of Bethany Christian Services were called to testify during the committee’s final meeting.

Todd said he would be reluctant to trust any documents provided to prove an alleged relationship with a child and asked why Bethany Christian Services would not place an unaccompanied child with a family member in their home country.

At the end of 2023, it was revealed that former youth counselor at a Grand Rapids shelter run by BCS had sexually abused and harassed more than a dozen children.

Alfredo Ramos Quixan, 24, was arrested and charged in one of those cases in August 2023. Ana Raquel Devereaux, one of the managing attorneys for the children’s program at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), told Wood TV in Grand Rapids that they believed Quizan had been abusing the children during his entire employment with BCS . “There (were) instances of displaying (inappropriate) images, of touching, of requests for sexual acts,” she told the local news station.

Concerns surrounding a connection between adoption and potential trafficking and abuse are not new. Journalist Kathryn Joyce, author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption, has warned that U.S. government programs with BCS and other adoption services could lead to immigrant children being adopted by American families without their families approval or knowledge. Immigrant parents who have been deported have limited ability to fight lawsuits to terminate the parental rights.

Joyce’s book also documents how Christian adoption services have been accused of manipulating vulnerable pregnant women into having the child and signing away their parental rights. These organizations will claim to provide assistance in the form of therapy and counselors as part of an “open adoption” process. It is this adoption process which has created a backlash from parents who say they were deceived by BCS.

A History of Complaints and Lawsuits

While Bethany Christian Services has managed to protect their image as a Christian-based adoption firm that helps children and families, there is another side of the story. Critiques of the company range from social issues, such as their choices regarding LGBTQ parents, to complaints about data breaches.

For example, in August 2019, Motherboard reported that Bethany Christian Services had left PDFs with information on children available to the public on its website. The PDFs were called “Children Medical Examination Records” and included the names, dates of birth, the hospital or orphanage they were based in. The documents also included a child’s HIV status, number of teeth, lab test results, and whether the child has any physical deformities.

In February 2011, BCS had numerous violations from the Michigan Department of Human Services Bureau of Children and Adult Licensing. Family members of two children placed in foster homes by BCS filed complaints stating that Bethany Christian Services staff failed to properly consider a relative’s desire to adopt the two children.

According to a Special Investigations Report conducted by the Bureau, BCS was cited for numerous violations for failing to “appropriately consider placing children with relatives”. The report states that BCS “had an obligation to evaluate additional relatives prior to considering a non-relative placement.”

The report also stated that BCS told the family of the children — whom are African-American — they could not find African-American homes to place the children so they placed them in Caucasian homes. This led investigators to conclude that there is a “pattern of not taking into account the children’s racial, ethnic, and cultural identity, heritage, and background when they are clearly an issue”.

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Another lawsuit filed against Bethany Christian Services in Virginia relates to the adoption of a young boy from Russia. In August 2003, William and Julie Harshaw were approved by BCS to adopt a Russian child between the ages of 12 to 36 months.

The Harshaws specifically requested a child with at most “a minor, correctable medical/health issue with good prognosis for normal development.” They were told by an employee of BCS that a “Dr. D”, also known as Dr. Michael Dubrovsky, had conducted a regular examination of the child, Roman, and found his health to be on par with the Harshaw’s request.

However, upon flying to the orphanage in Russia in December 2003, the Harshaws discovered that Roman looked “thin and ill”. They were told by interpreters that he had bronchitis, and that this was common for children in foster care. When they requested more information about his mother’s medical and social history they were told there was no information available.

By January 2004, the Harshaws had returned to Russia to attend the final adoption hearing. They were once again told there were no records available relating to Roman’s medical history. Shortly after taking him back to the United States the Harshaws noticed that Roman was not developing and acting normally forhis age. They spent more than a year taking him to various medical professionals.

By January 2006 they were given a diagnosis that suggested Roman was suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome. Following the diagnosis, the Harshaws once again asked BCS for more medical information from Roman’s family. BCS denied having anymore information until October 2006 when they provided two reports — a ten-page Russian-language version of Roman’s medical records and history, and a six-page English translation.

The Harshaws filed a suit against Bethany Christian Services claiming that for more than 24 months after the January 2004 adoption BCS social workers ignored their concerns about Roman and told them he could “grow out of” the problems with a loving family. The Harshaws also claimed that BCS either had the two documents the entire time or could have obtained them for the parents to review before they made the choice to adopt Roman. The Harshaws allege that they relied on BCS to provide all information reasonably available to it and if BCS had done so, they would not have pursued Roman’s adoption.

In a court document dated 2010, the judge notes that a “fact finder could reasonably find that the defendant’s failure to turn over the longer document before the adoption was part of a pattern of carelessness rising to the level of actionable negligence”. However, the judge also stated that a fact finder could also “reasonably reach the opposite conclusions as well, which would result in a verdict of no liability for the defendants”.

The two sides would eventually reach a confidential settlement in March 2011. A decade later, in early 2022, Bethany Christian Services would voluntarily relinquish their accreditation to provide intercountry adoption services. The relinquishment was posted by the U.S. Department of State and notes that, “the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME) notified the Department that Bethany Christian Services voluntarily relinquished its Accreditation to provide intercountry adoption services, effective February 11, 2022.” The document states “agencies or persons that are not accredited or approved may not offer, provide, or facilitate adoption services”.

Manipulation of Parents

While the Harshaw lawsuit provides some examples of BCS’ negligent actions, the vast majority of the complaints about the organization stem from parents who say there were manipulated into giving up their children and cut out of the open adoption process.

According to BCS, an Open Adoption is supposed to allow parents who place their children up for adoption to communicate with the child regularly, to interact with the foster parents, as well as access to counselors and support from BCS. However, many parents claim that after signing up for an open adoption, BCS cut them out of the process or otherwise failed to deliver on their promises.

Take one look at Yelp reviews or Complaints Board and you see plenty of people who claim to have dealt with Bethany Christian Services only to later regret doing so. “The children are taken under false pretenses while using religion as a mask to hide behind,” one reviewer wrote on Yelp. Numerous reviews are deleted from the Yelp page as well. Reviewers on Complaints Board were even more direct in their criticism of the open adoption process. One post from August 2019 from The Smith family, says they participated in an open adoption with BCS in January 2018. They write:

“In the beginning, we made it known to the agency and the adoptive couple that we wanted to be natural active grandparents and both sides agreed. To sum it up, the agency and the adoptive couple gave us the impression we were in an Open Adoption agreement, only to shut us out of our baby’s life post finalization.

In Oct. 2018, we asked for our baby to be returned. The agency refused and tried to proceed to finalization against our wishes. After learning of this, we hired an attorney who identified this to be Open Adoption Fraud. Since Nov. 2018 we have been in court. The attorneys representing the agency and the adoptive couple have used every legal avenue against us. The adoption is not finalized and we’re fighting to get our grandbaby returned and to raise her in a loving and diverse household.”

While the reviewer is somewhat anonymous, the story reflects what many other parents on social media and in advocacy groups have been saying for more than a decade — Bethany Christian Services is not providing reliable care for parents, children, or foster parents.

One prominent example of these claims stems from the 2017 story of then-17 year old Alex Robinson of Detroit, Michigan. Robinson had no idea she was pregnant when she took a trip with friends to the beach. When friends noticed she had blood running down her legs they rushed her to the hospital where she delivered a premature baby boy named Maverick.

Robinson said she was afraid and did not know what to do. “I was, like, ‘I can’t tell my friends. I can’t tell my mom. I can’t go home with a baby,’” Robinson told local news. Before she had time to process the experience, a hospital counselor told her she ought to consider adoption and no one would know if she did place the baby in foster care.

The hospital eventually put her in touch with a representative from Bethany Christian Services. Only hours after giving birth, she was encouraged to sign paperwork to relinquish her parental rights after a 28-day waiting period.

Alex Robinson later told her mother about the experience and changed her mind about wanting to keep Maverick. When they returned to the hospital they were told they signed away parental rights and had no say in the matter.

The family filed suit against BCS and a judge ruled in favor of the birth mother and father before the waiting period expired.

More recently, in May 2023, the story of a Florida man fighting for his daughter who was given up for adoption without his permission, made local news. Ulysess Carwise says that in 2018 Bethany Christian Services took his daughter two days after she was born without his knowledge or consent. When the baby was born she tested positive for cocaine, a result of her mother’s drug use. Carwise says the mother told him she put the baby up for adoption because she was angry at him.

The father contacted the Florida Department of Children and Families to get his child back. After taking a DNA test to prove his relationship to the child he expected to receive the baby. However, Bethany Christian Services and the potential adoptive parents sued Carwise to sever his parental rights.

BCS lost the suit and Carwise kept his rights, but this was not the end. The foster parents appealed the decision and lost, before eventually filing suit again in another county. Carwise continues to fight for access to his daughter.

In upcoming parts of this series we will talk to former clients and parents who contracted with Bethany Christian Services, as well as the organizations who are trying to expose the flaws and mistakes made by BCS.

Source: The Last American Vagabond

Derrick Broze, a staff writer for The Last American Vagabond, is a journalist, author, public speaker, and activist. He is the co-host of Free Thinker Radio on 90.1 Houston, as well as the founder of The Conscious Resistance Network & The Houston Free Thinkers.

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