The state’s estimated 14,000-plus children in foster care are expected to have faster routes toward adoption under a Cobb lawmaker’s legislation taking effect Saturday.
House Bill 159 from state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, expands options for both in-state and out-of-state adoptions and eliminates a six-month residency requirement in Georgia.
The bill also lifts a prohibition in state law to allow adoptive parents to help a birth mother with reasonable living expenses in private adoptions, as overseen by a judge — something that had already been allowed for agency adoptions and in surrounding states. Also among its effects is the shortening of the length of time a birth mother has to change her mind and take back custody of her child from 10 days to four.
“The 10-day revocation and the living expenses, those are really reasons why people leave the state of Georgia (to adopt),” Reeves told the MDJ Friday. “We have Georgia-born babies that need to be adopted here. (And) it’s a benefit to our Georgia families so that they do not have to travel to Oklahoma or wherever it might be in order to find a state that has the most adoption friendly policies — they can adopt locally.”
The bill earned favor on both sides of the political aisle. In February, the state House approved the bill with a unanimous vote, with the Senate passing it just days later 53-2.
Gov. Nathan Deal wasted little time in signing it, putting his pen to parchment on March 5.
Though other new state laws, such as the hands-free driving law, took effect July 1, Saturday was chosen as the start date of the adoption bill, Reeves said, due to the significant changes it contained. Reeves said he wanted to allow judges, attorneys, adoption ages and others involved in the process an extra two months to go through training to learn about the bill’s effects.
In a press conference Thursday afternoon highlighting the law changes, House Speaker David Ralston, R-Blue Ridge, called Reeves’ bill “the most important piece of legislation” lawmakers worked on during the General Assembly’s 2018 session.
“The reason is very, very simple: All children deserve a family,” Ralston said. “(With this bill), it is about to become easier for Georgians to adopt a child. It is about to become easier to find permanent, stable and loving homes for children in Georgia awaiting adoption.”
Also lauding the legislation was Justin Hester, president elect of the Georgia Council of Adoption Lawyers. Hester said that before Reeves’ bill, the state’s adoption code had not undergone a comprehensive update in almost three decades. He expects much faster adoptions under the changes brought by the bill.
“We believe that this bill will benefit the entire triad of the adoption process — the adopting parents, the biological (or) birth parents, and of course and most importantly, the children that are involved in adoption.”
According to the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, the state had about 14,400 children in foster care as of June, with children in DFCS custody able to be placed in kinship homes, foster homes, adoptive homes, private agencies, group homes, hospitals or youth detention centers.