The bill comes in the aftermath of the deaths of two adopted children in Roane County, which Yager represents in the Senate, along with Scott County.
Senators cast their vote on Thursday while standing in honor and remembrance of the two children. The legislation also authorizes DCS to initiate a face-to-face visit if the adoptive parent fails to provide documentation of medical care and education and foul play might be suspected.
“This was an abhorrent crime,” Yager said of the Roane County children’s deaths. “About 99% of adoptive parents do an outstanding job. However, there is a fraction who abuse children while pocketing their adoption subsidy, which is intended to help support the child’s needs. That is who this bill targets. We must do everything we can to ensure this never happens again.”
An arrest warrant in Roane County said the children were fed a “starvation diet of light bread and water” by their adoptive parents. They were also locked in a basement and caged in isolation. Authorities found the body of one of the children, a young girl, buried in the family’s back yard. The second child, a boy, was found buried in the back yard of the adoptive parents’ adult biological son in Knox County.
Authorities believe the children were buried several years before discovery. The adoptive parents continued receiving financial benefits for both children after their death. They are facing felony murder charges, and are also accused of abuse of a corpse, aggravated child abuse, aggravated child neglect, theft, TennCare fraud, and falsification of educational or academic records. They had claimed that the children were home schooled.
“This legislation would ensure that DCS receives an annual notification on any child when the adoptive parents are receiving subsidy payments,” Yager said. “Most importantly, it provides DCS with the authority to check on the child when that information is not received and foul play is suspected to hopefully prevent such tragedies.”
Presently, DCS provides an incentive for foster families to adopt their foster children by promising a monthly adoption subsidy until the children are age 18 to 21. Once the adoption is finalized, DCS caseworkers do not check back in. Parents are requested to sign an affidavit to promise they are adhering to the agreement every two years.
The bill now must pass in the State House of Representatives, where it is sponsored by Rep. Mary Littleton, R-Dickson, Tenn. It will then go before Gov. Bill Lee for his signature before becoming law.