COLUMBIA -- Gov. Mark Sanford signed a bill Tuesday that will shorten the time children must wait to be adopted.

The governor held the ceremonial bill signing outside the Statehouse, surrounded by children, their adopted parents and advocates George and Karen Milner of Summerville, who have been foster parents to about 50 children.

"Foundational to this larger notion of quality of life in South Carolina is this notion of a home for every child," Sanford said. "If you want to talk about quality of life in South Carolina, I think you have to start there."

The new law is intended to reduce the time it takes for children in foster care to be adopted.

It allows the courts to immediately terminate parental rights in the most severe abuse cases, and it requires the courts to be less lenient in the time given to biological parents to address problems that caused the child to be removed from their care in the first place.

Sanford has made it a priority to shorten the time children spend in temporary homes. He has done so in part by encouraging his Cabinet agency, the Department of Social Services, to make some policy changes and by creating the Children in Foster Care and Adoption Services Task Force in 2007.

The governor's office said the changes include:

--Fully restoring the adoption incentive benefit from $250 to $1,500.

--Looking for ways to give foster parents some of the same rights as biological parents.

--Working with faith-based groups to recruit potential foster families.

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--Helping with the court system to identify ways to speed up the adoption process.

More children are being adopted in South Carolina now than in 2003. Seven years ago, 329 adoptions were finalized, compared with 2009 when 523 children were adopted.

Also, the average time a child waits to be adopted has been reduced from 45 to 39 months in the last two years.

George Milner, chairman of the adoption task force, was joined by six grandchildren, five of whom have been adopted by his daughter, Christy Irons of Newberry, and her husband, Nigel.

"This law has given waiting foster children the gift of a better chance," Christy Irons said.