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Legislative Update

Posted on Thursday, October 19, 2023 at 12:00 pm

from Senator Joey Hensley, MD
2023 Session of the 113th General Assembly

New 2023 laws improve adoption and foster care services
When Tennessee ushered in our current fiscal year on July 1, 2023, a slew of new Tennessee laws passed by the General Assembly went into effect. I was proud to pass new laws to care for children by improving adoption and foster care services, as well as strengthening resources to the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) and the Wilder Youth Development Center in Fayette County.
A new law went into effect this year to protect prospective adoptive parents and expectant parents from illegal adoption facilitators. Unfortunately, unlicensed and unregulated adoption facilitators, often based out of state, take advantage of those seeking adoption services by charging high, nonrefundable payments in advance – typically upwards of $50,000 – to match expectant parents with adoptive parents.
These facilitators provide no other service other than matchmaking and prey on victims through online advertising. In Tennessee and in most states, these facilitators are currently prohibited, but enforcement has been a challenge.
The law strengthens enforcement of existing prohibitions against illegal adoption facilitators by enhancing the Consumer Protection Act to address the problem more specifically. It creates an adoption facilitation claim under the state’s tort law. Furthermore, it allows for civil penalties against illegal facilitators of at least $100,000 in damages to deter the crime by making it so cost prohibitive illegal facilitators won’t risk operating in Tennessee.
Additionally, another new law will now make several improvements to adoption and foster care proceedings after July 1 by eliminating red tape and burdensome regulations. It gives foster parents more input and participation in cases of children who have been in their care. The new law also reduces the timeframe for when finalized adoptions can be overturned to provide more stability to adopted children and families. To protect children from abuse and further trauma, it also requires DCS to timely file a petition for termination of parental rights with the court when a case involves egregious circumstances.
To ensure our justice system is equipped with prosecutors to go after child abusers, a new law went into effect July 1 to create lead prosecutors for crimes committed against children. This law requires each District Attorney General to designate at least one Assistant District Attorney General as lead prosecutor in cases involving crimes committed against children. The law also requires the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation to provide annual training to the lead prosecutors which will help them make informed judgements on these heinous crimes.
Another new law provides more tools to disincentivize escapes at the Wilder Youth Development Center in Fayette County. It allows courts to charge juveniles who escape from youth development centers and are at least 16 years old as an adult and possibly move the juvenile to a Tennessee Department of Corrections facility. Under the law, the juvenile would only be charged as an adult for the crime of escaping. The law is a result of recommendations from the General Assembly’s Joint Ad Hoc Committee on Juvenile Justice.
Finally, another new law went into effect July 1 to ensure qualifying DCS teachers receive performance and longevity pay increases. It also ensures that special school districts educating juveniles in youth development centers are eligible for the same federal funding as other school districts in the state.
In Tennessee, we are making great strides in improving our adoption and foster care services; however, there is more work to be done. I am committed to working with my colleagues, DCS and adoptive and foster care families to ensure Tennessee is one of the most adoption friendly states in the nation.
You May Contact Senator Hensley at 425 Rep. John Lewis Way N., Suite 742, Nashville, TN 37243