The Senate determined Thursday that those wishing to become adoptive or foster parents should be granted increased vaccine exemptions. This bill would still require that individuals and that individual’s household undergo vaccinations in order to either adopt or foster children 18 months of age or younger, or children with “significant documented medical needs.”
During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the bill, one mother named Kim Carter testified that she was denied foster care opportunities because her children weren’t fully vaccinated at the time. She added that her story wasn’t unique.
“One of my children has a medical exemption, and therefore we were told that we would never be eligible to care for the children outside of the foster care industry,” explained Carter. “There are many families like mine that are ready and willing to step up but we are denied in the process based solely on the fact of religious or medical exemptions that we fall under.”
Carter further explained that Tennessee daycares and child care centers even accept six-week-old children based on religious and medical exemptions.
Under current policy, the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services (DCS) requires potential adoptive or foster parents to be immunized. Certain exceptions are made for individuals with health or religious limitations – but those individuals can’t foster children under 5 years old or with special medical needs.
The original version of the bill, prior to amendment, would’ve allowed individuals with immunization exemptions to adopt or foster children of any age. The amendment stipulating a health needs exception and an age limit at 18 months came under the recommendation of TDS.
Additionally, the original version of the bill specified that individuals had to submit documentation that vaccinations violate their religious beliefs, or that vaccines are harmful to their health. The amended version didn’t make those clarifications. Instead, TDS can’t require any individual or members of that individual’s household to undergo immunization.
State Senator Joey Hensley (R-Hohenwald) first introduced the legislation. His spokespersons told The Tennessee Star that he’d been contacted by a constituent, not Carter, who’d been rejected as a foster or adoptive parent based on their inability to be immunized.
The House is still considering the bill. It was last assigned to the Civil Justice Committee after receiving recommendation for passage by subcommittee on Wednesday.
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