Local woman inspired state lawmakers to close loophole in law protecting newborns

Published 4:40 pm Friday, July 2, 2021


NASHVILLE — A new state law called Eli’s Law, inspired by a local child protective shelter owner, which adds extra safeguards to protect newborns from previously adjudicated abusive parents, went into effect Thursday.

According to a release announcing the new law, the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) will now be able to review the birth of “subsequent children born to parents who have had a previous child removed from their custody.”

In the past, existing protocol prevented DCS from investigating abusive parents who decided to have an additional child while also having another child in foster care.

Tennessee law required a new case to be initiated by DCS personnel for each subsequent child of abusive parents. This process, coupled with a court granting an actual separation order, could take several months.

Ronda Paulson is the founder, and executive director of Isaiah 117 House. The house provides immediate shelter to children whose parents have been arrested or otherwise unable to care for their children. It also provides the same for children removed from abusive homes because of court action. Paulson took exception to this apparent loophole in the law.

“When I started questioning this [the loophole],” said Paulson, “I was told by everyone that every child is a new case.”

Eli’s Law is named after a newborn born to the parents of Isaiah. Paulson adopted Isaiah after the child had been taken away from his parents in 2015 for reportedly extreme abuse.

“That same mom and dad had a new baby. A five-pound little boy named Eli, and they were allowed to take that baby home,” said Paulson.

“Even though the home had been deemed unfit and they were not allowed alone with an 18-month-old, they were allowed to take a newborn baby home.”

According to Paulson, Baby Eli would only last three weeks before DCS removed the child for the same abuse experienced by his brother. 

“…There was a domestic disturbance, and the police were called out and he [Eli] was taken into custody,” explained Paulson, “and he came to us through foster care that day.”

Paulson said they were able to adopt brothers Isaiah and Eli in 2018.

However, there was still a loophole. 

“I just kept fighting,” she said, her voice slightly breaking, “because I felt what is more defenseless than a newborn. A toddler can run. A toddler can hide. A toddler can rummage and scrounge for food, but a newborn is totally reliant on its caregivers.”

The new legislation that would become Eli’s Law, and officially cited as Public Chapter 107, received strong bipartisan support in both the Tennessee House and Senate when its ardent supporters, Representative John Crawford and Senator John Lundberg, presented it.

More information about the new law can be read at https://publications.tnsosfiles.com/acts/112/pub/pc0568.pdf.