NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, (KNWA/KFTA) — The state of Arkansas tightened its adoption laws, giving future birth parents, who choose adoption more protections.
The Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese and Shared Beginnings, a birth support agency tell us these new laws will elevate the standards of adoptions to prevent cases like the multi-state adoption scheme that targeted and impacted the lives of dozens of Marshallese mothers.
The organizations say Arkansas is a traditionally closed adoption state, which means biological parents don’t normally have ongoing contact with adoptees.
House Bill 1388, now Act 838 – grants voluntary post-adoption contract agreements. It would allow birth parents and adopting families who want to join in an open adoption and have communications following adoption the ability to legally do so.
House Bill 1379, now Act 599 – requires birth parents and adopting families to have separate legal representation overseeing the adoption.
“In Arkansas, one single attorney has been able to process the entire adoption process in the past… that attorney is usually looking for the adoptive families interest who is paying the money,” said Shared Beginnings, Executive Director, Michaela Montie.
Under this bill, birth parents whose native language is not English must have access to court-certified translators, especially in dealing with terminating parental rights and consent.
This bill also requires a full breakdown of all expenses relating to the adoption.
Montie says these changes will ensure adoptions are done in an ethical way.
Both organizations also worked on a new law in Arkansas that will establish safe harbor laws for victims of human trafficking and protect them from being unjustly criminalized.
This new law protects victims of human trafficking and allows them to have an affirmative defense in court.
Under House Bill 1554, now Act 1106 – victims of human trafficking who participate in unlawful acts like drugs, prostitution-related crimes and fraud to name a few have additional protection from prosecution – an affirmative defense. Now, if the individual can prove they engaged in the criminal acts as a result of their human trafficking, the charges would be dismissed.
The Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese and Shared Beginnings hope this new law will help put more traffickers behind bars and encourage more victims to speak out.
“Whether they are being sex trafficked, labor trafficked, adoption trafficked, were hoping this empowers them to come forward and provide testimony against their traffickers,” said Montie.
“These laws will also have predators think twice about the choices they are making,” said Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese, Food pantry Coordinator, Faith Laukon.
Over the last 15 months, Shared Beginnings enrolled about 120 Marshallese women in its trafficking victims assistant program
These bills go into effect this summer.