Gov. Brian Kemp is continuing his push for an overhaul of the state’s adoption and foster care system.
Lawmakers in the House and Senate this week filed bills that would lower the age at which someone can adopt a child from 25 to 21, increase the tax credit for families who adopt children from the foster care system and make changes to the juvenile court process for children in foster care.
“The most fundamental need for any child is a safe, loving home,” Kemp said in a statement. “By making it more affordable to adopt, reducing bureaucratic red tape that stands in the way of loved ones adopting kids, and championing the safety of children across our state, we can ensure Georgia’s children are placed in those homes and secure a safer, brighter future for generations to come.”
Legislation that Kemp signed last year took steps toward the overhaul he announced at the beginning of the 2020 legislative session, but a few of the governor’s priorities didn’t make it across the finish line after the Legislature was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic in the spring.
Among the measures returning this year are House Bill 114, which would increase the tax credit for families that adopt a child from foster care from $2,000 to $6,000 per year for five years, and House Bill 154, which would allow people who are 21 to petition to adopt a child — something often seen among older siblings.
“Keep in mind that the standard the judge (uses) in an adoption is the best interest of the child, and based on that it would be a narrow lane, practically, where younger adults would be permitted to adopt,” said state Rep. Bert Reeves, a Marietta Republican who sponsored HB 114 and HB 154. “This is by no means an absolute right for anyone of any age to adopt. It just lowers the age that one can petition (for adoption).”
Senate Bill 28 would, among other things, allow the court to consider testimony from witnesses that includes second-hand information during certain child protective hearings. Judges typically do not allow what is called “hearsay” in court proceedings.
Children can be unreliable witnesses when discussing potential abuse or neglect they’ve experienced.
Reyahd Kazmi with the Ohio-based National Youth Advocate Program, a nonprofit that advocates for foster children and families, applauded the package of legislation.
“Juvenile courts should have all of the information available to them, even if they negate typical courtroom evidence rules, if the information is reliable and assists the court in making decisions that are in the best interest of the child,” he said.
Last year, Kemp signed bills that, among other things, aim to make it easier for foster parents to hire child care and move court cases involving children in foster care more quickly through the legal process. He also signed legislation last year that closes what Kemp called a “loophole” in Georgia law, making it illegal for a foster parent to engage in a sexual activity with those in his or her care — specifically after that child turns 16, Georgia’s legal age of consent.
“It is our solemn duty, as elected leaders who long to see our children grow and thrive in a sometimes dark and dangerous world, to take meaningful action,” Kemp said.