Senate approves legislation to protect adopted children from abuse

Bill aims to prevent tragedies after horrific death of two adopted children in Roane County

(NASHVILLE) – The Tennessee Senate today unanimously approved legislation requiring adoptive parents receiving subsidies to annually provide the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) with medical or school enrollment records to ascertain a health check.  State senators cast their votes in favor of the legislation while standing in honor and remembrance of two children who suffered horrific deaths after being abused by their adoptive parents.  Senate Bill 270, sponsored by Senator Ken Yager (R-Kingston), also authorizes DCS to initiate a face-to-face visit if the adoptive parent fails to provide the documentation and foul play might be suspected. 

“This was an abhorrent crime,” said Sen. Yager, who represents Roane County in the Tennessee Senate.  “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.”

The arrest warrant 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.  Roane County law enforcement authorities found the body of one of the deceased children, a young girl, buried in the family’s barn in Roane County.  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. 

“This legislation would ensure that DCS receives an annual notification on any child when the adoptive parents are receiving subsidy payments,” added Sen. Yager.  “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.”

The adoptive parents each face multiple counts of felony murder, abuse of a corpse, aggravated child abuse and aggravated child neglect. They also each face counts of abuse of a corpse, theft, TennCare fraud, and falsification of educational or academic records.  The adoptive parents had claimed the children were home schooled. 

Presently, DCS gives 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 the House of Representatives, where it is sponsored by Representative Mary Littleton (R-Dickson), before it goes to the governor’s desk for his signature.