Update on Hana’s Legacy, “Hana’s Law”

So many people around the world keep Hana Alemu (Williams) in their hearts. Many of us have also hoped for a positive legacy, something good that might come from the tragedy of her suffering and death. To its credit, Washington state has been working to improve pre-adoption standards and post-adoption resources in light of Hana and other adopted children.

In 2012, the Washington state Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman produced this sobering document: “Severe Abuse of Adopted Children Committee Report.” It contained many excellent recommendations to strengthen adoption policy, for private, foster care, and international adoptions. Yes, I know for some folks it’s not enough. Still, it’s progress, and other states would do well to look at it as a guideline.

Some of the recommendations require legislative action in the state. Last year, HB 1675 was introduced, and passed the Washington State House by a vote of 90-7. The bill went to the Senate and died there, unfortunately. I wrote about the bill and more here “In Remembrance of Hana.”

This past Tuesday, (February 11, 2014) HB 1675 was again considered by the House, and was amended slightly. It passed the House by a vote of 98-0. That is very good news.

For the most current version of the bill, click here: HB 1675 as passed by the House.

There are few especially significant parts to the bill.

In terms of pre-adoption training, here are standards for persons preparing pre-placement reports (home studies):

In addition to meeting education and experience requirements, all such persons must receive at least thirty hours of training every two years, either in-person or online, on issues relative to adoption including, but not limited to:

Pertinent laws and regulations; ethical considerations; cultural diversity; factors that lead to the need for adoption; feelings of separation, grief, and loss experienced by children; attachment and posttraumatic stress disorder; and psychological issues faced by children.

While I have no insider information, I can’t help but think of Immanuel Williams (Hana’s adoptive brother) and his diagnosis of PTSD, and wonder if the legislators didn’t have that in mind as they crafted the language.  I also credit them with insisting that home study preparers be knowledgeable about all of the factors above.

Another significant new requirement is this section:

The report shall be based on a study which shall include an investigation of the home environment, family life, existence of extended family and community connections to serve as support, planned approach to child discipline and punishment, health, facilities, and resources of the person requesting the report.  

What stands out to me here is that the home study shall investigate and include information on “the existence of extended family and community connections to serve as support,” something that seemed not have happened in the case of Hana and Immanuel. We will all wonder if these children might have fared differently had the Williams’ family reached out and embraced the Ethiopian community as a resource. (See my post Hana’s Legacy for further information.)

Another significant part of this legislation is this language:

On all preplacement reports filed after January 1, 2015, the preparer shall verify that the prospective adoptive parents were provided with: (a) Copies of Washington state child abuse statutes and (b) the list of informational and resource materials developed and posted pursuant to section 7 of this act. 

Washington state law allows spanking and other disciplinary techniques that don’t leave a mark. If this legislation passes, prospective adoptive parents will have to be specifically provided with that information. Larry and Carri Williams significantly violated the law, even before Hana died. Perhaps this new requirement will help more children to not be abused, especially in the guise of parental “discipline.”

Section 7 of the bill is a new provision that requires the Washington state Ombudsman for Children and Families to convene a work group every two years that compiles a list of “informational and resource materials that must be provided to prospective adoptive parents.” Included on the list must be information such as child abuse statutes and rules in the state; availability of mental health services; training and educational opportunities for parents in general and adoptive parents in particular; respite services; ethnic and cultural organizations;  and information, services, and outreach opportunities available to adopted children.

That is a big deal: requiring a state to provide much-needed, current, and useful information and resources for adoptive families.

By December 31, 2014, if the bill passes as it is currently written, the list will be posted on the Washington Office of Family and Children’s Ombudsman’s site and disseminated to agencies and others.

I see this legislation as a legacy of Hana. There are some folks, especially those who have kept her story alive and honored on her Facebook page, who would like to see the legislation called “Hana’s Law.” My understanding is that legislators see this law as having a wider focus, covering other children as well. In any case, the unanimous passage of HB 1675 is a positive development. Here’s hoping it moves quickly and successfully on the Senate side.

Hana Alemu (Williams)

Hana Alemu (Williams)

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