ATLANTA - The first bill in a wave of legislation aimed at cutting red tape for foster care and speeding up adoptions in Georgia cleared the state Senate late last week.
Gov. Brian Kemp and other top officials have made legislation easing rules on foster care a priority in the 2020 legislative session.
Several bills have already been filed that would lower the minimum age for someone to adopt a foster child and toughen penalties for foster parents who sexually abuse those in their care.
Senate Bill 335 would let the state Division of Family and Children Services contract with private groups to assist state child welfare caseworkers.
Its sponsor, Sen. Matt Brass, said bringing in outside help should ease the workload for state caseworkers providing services for thousands of children in Georgia.
“This has to be a team effort,” said Brass, R-Newnan. “It can’t start and stop with government.”
The bill would also waive fees to state park admissions for foster kids and their adopted families, create a database to track what happens to juvenile delinquent children in foster care, prioritize dependency cases over all other non-jury court cases and create a state-run training program for foster parents.
The bill passed by a 53-1 vote on the Senate floor.
Opposing the measure was Sen. Zahra Karinshak, D-Duluth, who said she was concerned the training program would add to the already heavy workload for state caseworkers.
Around 12,600 children were in Georgia’s foster care system as of December 2019, according to DFCS Director Tom Rawlings. The state agency helped adopt out roughly 1,400 children last year, he said.
Last month, Kemp urged passage of bills lowering the minimum foster-parent age from 25 to 21 and tripling the state’s adoption tax credit to $6,000.
On Thursday, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan said he expects Brass’ bill will be the first of several on foster care that make it to the governor’s desk.
“There is an attitude of bipartisan support all over this building,” Duncan said.