ATLANTA - - doption and foster care reformers got a boost from Gov. Zell Miller, who Friday announced a $7.7 million initiative that would create incentives for adoption of foster children and quicken the rate of placing children in permanent homes.
Child advocates praised any attempt to expedite the slow process of adoption; eligible children have to wait more than a year, sometimes more than two, to be adopted.
"I'm delighted the governor is taking a strong interest in adoption," said state Sen. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur, who was chairman of a Senate study committee this year on improving the adoption and foster care system. The governor "has taken our ideas and gone further with them," she said.
There are 17,000 foster children in the state waiting for permanent homes, according to state officials. The backlog is great because there aren't enough financial incentives and adequate case workers to handle the load. Also, there aren't enough children who fit the most-desired adoption "ideal," state officials say.
Though Ms. Oliver welcomed Mr. Miller's support, the proposals don't follow the committee recommendations to the letter.
The committee had asked for an increase in the daily stipend for foster parents from $10.50 to $11, and that the payment be extended to adoptive parents. Members also want Medicaid benefits extended to financially strapped adopting parents.
Under Mr. Miller's proposal, adopting parents' daily stipends will be the same as foster parents', but Medicaid benefits aren't addressed.
The state Division of Family and Children's Services can still budget an increase in the daily stipend and possibly pay for it through the 5 percent "redirection" of existing funds Mr. Miller has requested in all state departments.
Mr. Miller's move to include adoption and foster care funding in his legislative package boosts the chances of the General Assembly approving it, Ms. Oliver said.
"There is no stronger politician in the state," she said.
Forrest Burson, who directs a suburban Atlanta DFACs office, has been named the state's adoption director.
A 22-year veteran of the Department of Human Resources, Mr. Burson will make about $60,000 in his new job.
Mr. Burson said he will follow Mr. Miller's request that state services move toward privatization. He plans to contract out the more labor intensive adoption work - such as home visits and following up on placements.
The new office is not a negative reflection on the present system as run by DFCS, he said.
"I do not see the creation of this office as any kind of condemnation of the current system," Mr. Burson said. "The current system has to focus on protection of children from child abuse and neglect ... a lot of good placements were made but DFCS was never able to get the kind of resources needed to do it in a very rapid fashion."
He would not specify in numbers what he hopes to do to improve the number of adoptions.
"I'd like to refrain from setting any goals until I get this office up and running. Right now that would be a little premature," he said.
The other points in Mr. Miller's adoption and foster care initiative include: