TN legislation to improve adoption and foster care processes
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDEF) — Tennessee lawmakers announced legislation to make adoption and foster care easier, cheaper and faster. The legislation was proposed at the Adoption and Foster Care Caucus meeting on Monday.
Some improvements proposed include removing red tape in the adoption process, increasing the number of children people can watch in their home and reducing the caseload of Department of Children’s Services (DCS) caseworkers.
Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile supports the legislation.
“As a pro-life lawmaker, it is imperative we protect life not only of the unborn but also beyond the point of birth. This means we have to strengthen the social welfare system that takes care of children in Tennessee,” Haile said. “We need to make adoption and foster care cheaper, easier and quicker so that we can increase the number of adoptive and foster care families in Tennessee. I am very proud of the work we have done over the last six months to craft legislation that will make a positive impact in the lives of Tennessee children.”
Along with Haile, House Republican Caucus Chairman Jeremey Faison led the meeting.
Faison said, “Being pro-life isn’t just about defending the unborn. As an adoptive parent, this is an issue very close to my heart. Every child deserves to be protected and cared for in a loving home. Republicans in the General Assembly are going to take aggressive steps to make Tennessee a national leader when it comes to protecting children as well as the most adoption-friendly state in the nation.”
Legislation discussed in the meeting includes:
- Adoption and Foster Care Omnibus Bill – This would allow non-foster care parents to adopt from DCS, allow more time for adoptive parents to pay for birth related expenses, allow foster parents to be involved in court proceedings, prohibit the overturning of adoptions after six months and increase options for pre-birth and post-birth surrenders.
- Mother’s Tax Cut – would eliminate sales tax on baby formula, diapers and wet wipes.
- First Lady’s Children’s Trust Fund – would create a long-term funding strategy for organizations in Tennessee providing services to children instead of funding on a one-time, as needed basis.
- Caseload cap for DCS workers – based on recommendations from an audit by the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, this legislation would change the way caseload caps per DCS caseworkers are calculated from an “average” to “actual” cap of 20 cases per case worker.
- Best interest of the child – legislation would require DCS to amend their mission statement to include “best interest of the child” as the department’s main goal.
- Sick Leave Bank / State employees – a proposal would allow state employees with children who have prolonged illnesses to use the state sick leave bank to care for their sick child after they have depleted their personal time.
- Safe Haven Law – legislation would require DCS to transfer guardianship of an infant to a certified adoption agency if left at a Safe Haven location. It would also allow a court to waive the six-month waiting period to finalize an adoption of a baby who was surrendered under the safe haven law.
- Abandonment – a measure would revise the definition of abandonment for purposes of terminating parental rights to include circumstances where the parent or guardian fails to visit or support the child for a period of three consecutive months if the child is less than four years of age.
- Severe Child Abuse – legislation would add offenses that constitute severe child abuse for the purpose of juvenile court and termination of parental rights proceedings.
- Incarcerated individuals – legislation would lower the amount of time a parent or guardian must be incarcerated as grounds for termination of parental or guardianship rights from 10 to six years.
- Paid FMLA for adoptive parents – a bill would provide six weeks paid family medical leave to state employees who are first-time adoptive or foster parents.
- Neighborhood childcare – legislation would increase the number of non-biological children a person can watch in their home without having to register as a childcare facility.
- DHS Childcare Improvement Fund – legislation would create a state fund to assist entities seeking to improve or create childcare facilities.
- Unlicensed child placement agencies – legislation seeks to crack down on unlicensed, out-of-state placement agencies operating in Tennessee that offer quick adoptions for high fees.
- Guardian Ad Litem (GAL) – to ease the workload for DCS caseworkers, legislation would require DCS to hire GALs to review cases that might need parental rights terminated.
- Adoption and Foster Care Resolution – a resolution calls on the governor and state agencies to contemplate various issues and ideas to improve adoption and foster care in Tennessee.