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Adoptive parents form an organization aimed at improving state adoption, foster policies

From his desk at the state Capitol, Jeremy Harrell called the Department of Children’s Services to learn more about how adoptions through foster care work.

TENNESSEE, USA — If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade and gives the states the power to ban abortion, adoption systems are expected to take on more cases in Tennessee. However, some parents are concerned the system is already full of hurdles.

A new organization is working to ease the process and make it easier to foster or adopt in Tennessee. The Adoption Project was launched in March by two adoptive parents frustrated by the complex process.

Jeremy Harrell teamed up with a former coworker, Jennifer Donnals. They are both former public service workers in the office of former governor Bill Haslam. They said their first-hand experience in government helped them re-focus on a new challenge — adoption.  

"In that conversation, I very clearly got the response, 'Well, Jeremy, if you think it is so messed up then why don't you do something about it?'" Harrell said.

"If we can make it easier for other families to adopt, that's our goal and that's what's driving this work," Donnals said.

That personal experience is driving them to push for changes in the adoption process. For instance, children in foster care in Tennessee usually wait around 2 years and they believe that's too long.

"When I learned some different laws in other states I would think, 'Well, I don't understand why we don't do that. Why do we do this, this way? This seems a little more difficult,'" Harrell said.

They focus on three things: quickening the pace of private adoption, making it easier to foster and participate in foster-to-adopt programs, and finding mental health support for birth parents following an adoption.

"For example, how much grief a person goes through when they make that placement. Like I hadn't really thought about it until I saw it," Harrell said.

Harrell and his wife opted to grow a relationship with the birth mother of their two young daughters.

"What is it that she needs? Could really use that she could benefit from and how could an organization or non-profit help her access those things? Even things she may already have a right to but may not know how to access," Harrell said.

These adoption advocates said the decision facing the Supreme Court on abortion could make adoption an even more important issue in Tennessee.

"We want to make sure that every child that needs a family has a family," Harrell said.

The group is encouraging more families to adopt. Studies show children who age out of the foster care system have a 20% chance of becoming homeless. Boys aging out of the system face a 60% chance of seeing jail time in five years.

To learn more about The Adoption Project, click here.

Tennessee adoption policies were previously in the national spotlight when a Jewish couple was denied by an adoption agency because of their faith, in Jan. 2022. 

The state Senate also previously approved a bill that gave the Department of Children's Services more oversight after a horrific Roane County abuse case where a couple locked adopted children in their basement, feeding them a starvation diet.