Six new bills signed into law in Georgia this week are intended to accelerate the state’s ongoing efforts to make adoption easier.
The bills signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp would, among other things, increase legal protections for caseworkers, lower the age at which someone can adopt, and offer free college tuition to adopted Georgia residents who recently graduated from high school, according to a report by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Kemp signed the package of bills in a ceremony Monday at the Capitol in Atlanta. “By making it more affordable to adopt, reducing bureaucratic red tape and championing the safety of children across our state,” he said, “we can ensure that Georgia’s children are placed in those homes.”
The newspaper reported that three of the new laws deal with sweeping away legal concerns that can hamper efforts to find families for children. They allow courts to consider “hearsay,” or secondhand testimony, during child protective hearings; protect case managers from arrest for alleged offenses committed while doing their jobs; and expand court access to child abuse records.
Another measure Kemp signed lowers the minimum age that a person can adopt a child from 25 to 21 years old, to enable more older siblings to take on full responsibility for family members.
The number of youth in Georgia foster care skyrocketed from 7,607 in 2013 to 14,942 in 2018, and has dropped back down to 12,371 as of March 2020.
The moves Georgia has made to the child welfare system in recent years – including a larger tax credit for adoptive families – have paid off in terms of driving down the number of kids in state custody, said one lawmaker.
“What’s so great is that it actually works,” said Rep. Bert Reeves (R) of Marietta. “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.”