DSS threatens Upstate faith-based foster care program

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GREENVILLE, SC (WSPA) – A faith based foster care program is at risk of losing its license. South Carolina Department of Social Services is challenging Miracle Hill Ministries to stop recruiting only Christian families. “A year ago, they [DSS] say that they received communication from the Department of Health and Human Services in Washington saying that it was illegal and they wanted to be sure no one in South Carolina was doing this,” said Miracle Hill Ministries CEO Reid Lehman. “I think that was the catalyst for it.”The Greenville based non-profit organization has been doing foster care for 29 years, having been licensed with the state since 1995. “We’ve always been open and completely above board about our practices and nobody had a problem with it before,” said Lehman. Miracle Hill Foster Care served 418 children in 2017, with 31 of those being adopted into forever homes. The program has 241 foster families currently serving to care for abused, neglected or abandoned children.  “There’s a state lawsuit called the Michelle H Lawsuit that essentially says South Carolina has had two many kids in residential facilities – they need to use more families,” said Lehman. “Miracle Hill has done its very best to ramp up the number of families we’ve been working with and we’ve gone from 45 to 241 in the last five years.”Jason and Mary Reardon have always wanted to be parents. “We weren’t able to have children,” said Mary Reardon. “We thought we would have our own children and eventually adopt children because we both agreed we wanted to adopt but we thought it would be in a different way.”A conference about adoptions and fostering granted that dream through Miracle Hill Ministries.“We were very excited to not only have a means of getting into foster care but a means that stayed strong with us as a Christian family,” said Jason Reardon. “Miracle Hill is there to help the community. This country was founded upon God. We may not want to agree with that these days, sadly enough. So, as a Christian based organization – who’s impacted the community – I think we need to step back and look at whatever’s in place and begin to evaluate that for the sake of these children.”Miracle Hill Ministries said it’s the largest and most successful foster care program in South Carolina. “DSS believes and Miracle hill believes that family style care is the very best form of care,” said Lehman. “As a non-denominational christian ministry, we work hard to recruit them out of churches.”Lehman said DSS believes screening on the basis of religion is unacceptable under state and federal law, but he said families of other faiths – or no religion at all – can use other agencies.“If they inquire with us, we’ll introduce them to the right place and help them as much as we can because kids need these families,” said Lehman. “We’re just committed that our belief is that we’re to work with Christian families.”They took their concerns to Governor Henry McMaster. McMaster sent a letter to Miracle Hill Wednesday saying he’s “committed to protecting religious freedom and to ensuring that miracle hill continues serving our state’s foster children.”“I just need to say this about DSS – they’re good people. They’re sincere people. They’re job is to keep children safe and to obey laws and regulations as best they know so it’s not a case of us against them,” said Lehman. “It’s a case of we need to get together to clarify these regulations and to clarify that religious freedom is not circumscribed by regulations that say you can’t discriminate on the basis of sex and ethnicity and things like that.”The governor’s office is working with the Department of Health and Human Services  to get a waiver of requirements  that adversely affect religious entities.“Hoping and praying through this whole process that the state will realize the seriousness,” said Jason Reardon. The couple has fostered 15 children, and adopted 4 as their own. “We’ve been blessed with four beautiful girls – two sets of sisters – one who’s now 18, graduating, who came to live with us as a teenager,” said Jason Reardon. “There’s such a need for foster parents in the scheme of things, especially for children who are starting to age out of the system.”DSS has given Miracle Hill a provisional license for 6 months instead of a year. Lehman said they don’t think this will affect current families caring for children. “We’ve had 15 foster children come through our home and we’ve loved each one like our own,” said Mary Reardon. “I just feel like God’s really given us a huge family. We have four we’ve adopted but we have all these other children that we love so much and always pray for and remember.”

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