Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a package of six bills into law Monday designed to promote foster care and adoption by increasing legal protections, lowering parent age limits and offering free college tuition.
The bills are the latest in a series of efforts to make it easier for children to find families and homes.
“By making it more affordable to adopt, reducing bureaucratic red tape and championing the safety of children across our state, we can ensure that Georgia’s children are placed in those homes,” Kemp said during a bill signing ceremony at the state Capitol.
Kemp announced plans to overhaul the state’s foster care system at the beginning of 2020, making life easier for the children in the system and encouraging parents to adopt children from foster care. But many of those plans got sidelined when the legislative session had to take a two-month hiatus at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic.
When lawmakers returned, Kemp again rolled out the package of legislation.
The number of children in foster care has declined to about 11,000, the lowest level since 2015.
“What’s so great is that it actually works. We have seen adoptions increase, we have seen Georgia families adopting in Georgia as opposed to going to other states, and most significantly we’ve seen our foster care populations reduced by literally thousands,” said state Rep. Bert Reeves, a Republican from Marietta.
House Bill 154 decreases the age at which Georgians can adopt children from 25 to 21, something often seen among older siblings.
Another measure, Senate Bill 107, waives in-state tuition for foster and adopted students whose families receive adoption assistance from the state, provided the students enroll in college within three years after obtaining a high school diploma or GED certificate, among other requirements.
Three bills deal with legal protections, allowing courts to consider secondhand testimony during child protective hearings, protecting case managers from arrest warrants for alleged offenses committed while doing their jobs, and expanding court access to child abuse records. Those measures are Senate Bill 28, House Bill 562 and House Bill 548.
The sixth bill, Senate Bill 20, adds appointees of the governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House to the Child Advocate Advisory Committee.
Kemp previously signed House Bill 114 in March, which increases the tax credit for families that adopt a child from foster care from $2,000 to $6,000 per year for five years.
The latest bills are a continuation of foster care measures that Kemp signed in 2020, which, 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.
Major adoption changes also became law in 2018 by reducing adoption waiting times, legalizing the reimbursing of birth mothers for their expenses in private adoptions, banning middlemen who profit from arranging adoptions and simplifying out-of-state adoptions.