More children in Philadelphia's foster-care system have been adopted or reunited with family in recent years because of incentive programs for providers, the commissioner of the Department of Human Services told a City Council panel yesterday.

Anne Marie Ambrose was among several speakers at a hearing called to address ways to reduce the time children are in foster care before they are adopted or reunited with their birth parents or other relatives.

Ambrose told the Joint Committees on Public Health and Human Services and Legislative Oversight that Philadelphia had 5,075 children in in foster care as of Nov. 26. She said the annual cost to keep a child in a foster home was $22,700, a little more than $62 a day.

In the last two years, adoptions have increased 26 percent in Philadelphia, from 357 to 449, she said.

Ambrose attributed the increase to an effort that since 2003 has offered various incentives to care providers to achieve more timely "permanencies" that include reunification with parents and or other relatives, adoptions or legal custodianships.

There are 659 children in Philadelphia whose parental rights have been terminated and are eligible for adoption, she said.

But the process has flaws, said Shirley Core, a foster parent to two girls for the last 13 months. She tesified that DHS brought the children to her house with only one set of clothing and no money.

"The agency gives them to you and steps back," Core said, adding that she had to work quickly on getting the children clothed and fed. She said the two girls were in need of mental-health care but had been unable to get it.

Ambrose said she did not know the details of the case.

Charles A. Williams 3d, director of the Center for the Prevention of School-Age Violence at Drexel University, testified that he was in foster care from 1987 to 1994.

Williams said that more children in foster care needed mentors.

"Research shows that children in foster care can benefit immensely from mentoring," Williams said.

He reflected on his own experience. "Even though I was taken from my home because of abuse and neglect . . . I wanted a decent quality of life. I wanted a decent education. I wanted to thrive," Williams said.

Several adoptive parents spoke of the often lengthy time it takes to get through the bureaucracy of the adoption process.

Ambrose said part of the problem is "looking at safety and seeing if parents can be reunified safely with their children."

"Our ultimate goal," she said, "is to try to keep kids in stable loving homes."

Contact staff writer Vernon Clark at 215-854-5717 or vclark@phillynews.com.