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(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Sonia Q. Thomas and her husband, Jeff Thomas in their new Park City, Utah Tuesday, June 17, 2014. LDS Family Services, which has been one of the largest adoption agencies in the country for years, is getting out of the business of matching couples with children. Sonia and Jeff had planned to submit their application to be adoptive parents, but now worry whether they'll be able to afford an adoption without the subsidy the LDS Church provides.
Mormon church drops adoption business

Fewer and fewer pregnant single women are giving up their babies, church officials say.

First Published Jun 17 2014 12:04 pm • Last Updated Jun 20 2014 11:18 am

The timing of Tuesday’s announcement that LDS Family Services is getting out of the adoption business couldn’t be worse for Sonia Quiroga Thomas and her husband, Jeff Thomas.

After years of trying unsuccessfully to conceive, undergoing fertility treatments and building a new house designed for a family, the Park City couple attended a Family Services’ orientation session for adoptive parents earlier this month.

At a glance

What’s effect of church’s exit from adoptions

12:15 p.m. Wednesday » The LDS Church will no longer be a full-service adoption agency, with LDS Family Services shifting from front-line adoption brokers to counselors to expectant mothers and families considering adoption. Donna Pope of Heart to Heart Adoptions, Becky Davis of Children’s Service Society, prospective adoptive mom Sonia Quiroga Thomas and Tribune reporter Kristen Moulton join Jennifer Napier-Pearce to discuss how the change will affect birth moms, adoptive families and adoption services in Utah. You can join in by sending questions and comments to #TribTalk on Twitter and Google+. You can also text comments to 801-609-8059. › sltrib.com

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They had planned to submit their application Thursday to, at long last, become adoptive parents.

And thenQuiroga Thomas read the news that the social services arm of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints would end its decades-long service of matching adoptive parents with children.

"I understand why the church is doing this … but on a personal level, it couldn’t be worse timing for me," said Quiroga Thomas, a 41-year-old founder of a nonprofit that helps single mothers in Latin America.

Now, Quiroga Thomas worries that she and her husband, 37, will not be able to afford to adopt.

Subsidized by the LDS Church, faithful Mormon couples who are adopting pay from $4,000 to $10,000, based on their income, according to the agency’s website.

Fees charged by other adoption agencies, including birth mother expenses, average about $30,000 and often go higher.

Donna Pope, executive director of Heart to Heart Adoptions, another major Utah agency, said LDS Family Services’ exit from adoptions will leave a void.

The higher fees, she said, "are going to be a struggle for adoptive families."

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Plus, Pope said, "there is a certain degree of credibility that comes with the church. That’s going to be hard for adoptive families to move out of that mind-set."

LDS Family Services still will work with couples who want to adopt and with pregnant women — but as professional counselors, not adoption brokers.

"As a traditional adoption agency, it’s not working out for us," said David M. McConkie, manager of services for children at LDS Family Services.

At the heart of the decision is a trend that forced LDS Family Services to reassess how it can best serve Mormons: the fact that few unwed mothers give up their babies for adoption anymore.

Thirty years ago, 15 percent of single pregnant teenagers and young women chose adoption. Today, it’s 1 percent nationally and perhaps slightly higher in Utah, McConkie said.

One factor is that the social stigma attached to being an unwed mother has evaporated, explained Sherilyn Stinson, field group manager for LDS Family Services. If anything, there is now a stigma attached to putting one’s child up for adoption.

"It’s a different world for adoption," she said.

Pope said the typical birth mother today is in her mid-20s and unable to financially take care of the children she already has.

LDS Family Services, however, was set up on a different model, she said. "It was designed toward the 16-year-old who got in trouble and went to her [Mormon] bishop," Pope said. "That doesn’t happen anymore. They don’t place. They parent."

McConkie said Family Services executives noted that the same-sex-marriage movement has led some Catholic agencies to get out of adoptions, but that was not the driver behind the LDS Church’s decision.

In the case of Catholic agencies, government funding is typically involved. LDS Family Services has not accepted public money for its adoption work.

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