Foster parents trying to fix 'broken' system

By Hatzel Vela  bio | email | Twitter

SUMMERVILLE, SC (WCSC) - A Summerville couple familiar with the foster care system says the recently adoption law is only the first step in fixing a broken system.

George and Karen Milner have been foster parents for 14 years. In addition to raising their three biological children, over time they have taken in 45 foster kids.

They recently stopped being foster parents; instead they started to focus on fixing the foster care system. Milner is part of the Governor's Children in Foster Care and Adoption Services Task Force, which helped create a new law that is supposed to speed up the transition from foster care to adoption.

The task force, made up of 26 individuals from every aspect of the foster care system in the state, came up with ideas.

"They constantly live in a state of 'where am I going to be next week, next month and next year?' It's scary," said Karen Milner, referring to foster children.

Children struggle because they don't have any stability in their lives as they're always being moved around from home to home, she added. About 9,000 kids go through the Department of Social Services system annually. In 2009, the number spiked to about 12,000. Milner thought the bad economy might be to blame.

The new state law which passed Tuesday will help judges think more about what is in the best interest of that child, instead of the parents, George Milner said. "For any kid, if you want to take them out of the home and put them in foster care or adoption...all that has to be approved by a judge and the family courts system is clogged," George Milner said.

The new law also allows DSS to start the adoption process 60 days after a judge decides to remove parental rights from inadequate parents. But problems still exist which slow down the process, George Milner said. DSS lacks authority to change rules and the agency continues to get their budget slashed by the legislature. "You can't solve all these problems being funded at a level that we have in South Carolina at this time," George Milner said.

"By not spending the money up front to help children, it's really costing us more when they become adults," Karen Milner said.

South Carolina ranks last when it comes to the amount of money the state spends on child welfare issues. DSS has a tough time keeping employees, especially case workers, George Milner said. "It takes the competency of the case worker to make a huge difference in each one of these kid's lives. But the pay and the salary system don't allow that…so many case workers come in, get their experience in DSS and then move other to tasks that might have better pay ," he added.

The Milners have a grandson who came to them as a foster child in 2002. It took their daughter three years to adopt the child. Private attorneys sped up the process, George Milner said.

The use of an attorney is a resource likely to suffer because of budget cuts.

The new law also increases adoption incentives from $250 to $1,500.

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