The adoption and foster care system in Georgia is caught in a tug of war between the past and the future. While some areas of adoption and foster care laws have improved in the state, others are in danger of regressing.
Kin Based Placements
Currently, anyone over the age of 25 in the state can petition to adopt, but applying does not guarantee that the request will be granted . The state gives strong preference to relatives after birth parents opt out of raising their children. The rule used to be that after parents surrendered their rights to a child, family members could petition to become their primary caretakers at any point, even months or years after the child has been placed into a foster home or adoption agency.
This policy, however, posed a threat to the well-being of children who found themselves uprooted from a comfortable situation and placed with members of their family who were often complete strangers to them.
In response to this problem, the state legislature passed Senate Bill 167 last session. Under this new law, the Division of Family and Children Services still looks to kin first for placement, but the relative may be excused if they do not show interest in the child after six months. Additionally, if a relative steps forward after the child is already placed in a safe home, then the relative does not need to be considered .
Sex-Same Couples and Adoption
Currently, only eight states have laws that actually protect a same-sex couple’s ability to adopt without discrimination, and 10 states have laws that actually allow adoption agencies to discriminate. Georgia falls into neither category . Instead, there are no laws one way or the other. Elected officials in the state, however, are trying to change this.
A bill filed earlier this month would allow adoption agencies to refuse couples that “violate the child-placing agency’s written religious or moral convictions or policies.” This legislation, Senate Bill 368, would allow for discrimination against not only couples who identify as LGBTQ+, but also against couples of different faiths, or no faith at all . Proponents of this addition to the Georgia code claim that it will grant more choice to birth mothers and expand religious freedom in the state.
A similar bill passed the state Senate in 2018, but a bipartisan effort, including Governor Nathan Deal, ultimately killed the controversial aspects of it .
Bills that seek to prevent couples from adopting are not written to preserve choice for the birth mother or even to give greater freedoms to religious adoption organizations. Rather, they are thinly veiled attempts to deny parents the right to raise a child due to personal disagreements with how those parents live and identify. These attempts at discrimination have an unjust byproduct in that these laws would hurt children in the foster care and adoption system the most. With greater restrictions on who can adopt, these children have less of a shot at being raised in loving homes with two parents who care for them. The proposed legislation is essentially an attack on the institution of family in our state.
As of February 2020, there are approximately 12,837 children in foster care in the state . How many of them would remain there if this bill was passed?
Whether or not this bill passes will be determined by a single choice members of the state legislature must make; do they aim to represent all Georgians, or just those who share their beliefs?
Georgia is caught in the cross-roads of progressive adoption policies and discriminatory policies. Senate Bill 167, which allows for children to stay in homes to which they are already adapted instead of being forced to move in with relatives, demonstrates lawmakers’ desire to put the needs of the kids first, and to put dated preferences second. Senate Bill 368, however, puts children’s welfare at risk by allowing adoption agencies to refuse candidates on the basis of sexuality, religious preferences, or other characteristics. This current legislative session may determine the direction in which the future of adoption in the state is headed.
Written by: Vivian Bridges