Like anyone, felons are people, too. Some want to get married and have children, others may be unable (or their spouse may be unable) to have children for whatever medical reason. Some want kids but would rather adopt an existing child in need than to go out and create a brand new one!
Whatever the case, being childless can leave a void in a person’s life if they have a strong desire to raise a child. So does a felon have any options? Can a felon adopt a child, or does their past criminal record prevent them from ever being able to do so?
The answer is not straightforward. Yes, in some instances a felon is able to adopt, but keep in mind that even for non-felons, adoption can be a tricky and complex process. So if a person has a criminal record, especially one listing felony convictions, then the road will be bumpy to say the least.
Can a Felon Adopt a Child?
Adoption is a long process that can be confusing, frustrating and sometimes expensive. For felons adopting a child or baby the “home study” will be the most difficult step. Some felons will be able to adopt a child while other felons will not be able too. It all depends on the crime, time since you were convicted and what the investigation reveals about you and your family.
The Home Study
In order to adopt a child, a home study is first performed, and during this time the hopeful adoptive parent has to be forthcoming about their felony background. All adoptive hopefuls have to go through this, not just felons. But as with most issues involving felons, be it applying for a job, passport, or applying for a loan, one must maintain complete integrity when answering questions and filling out paperwork asking about the past. It does no good to try and cover anything up; in fact, just the opposite, because if a lie is discovered, it’ll provide all the grounds needed to end the application then and there.
So take the home study very seriously and plan ahead. When asked about criminal history, and especially any history of domestic violence or child abuse, if those are crimes for which you’ve ever been convicted you must let the inspecting coordinator know all the details. There are some felony convictions that will immediately disqualify you from adopting a child.
“Federal approval for adoption will not be granted if the applicant has ever been convicted of a felony for child abuse or neglect or spousal abuse, any crime against children, including child pornography or kidnapping; or a crime involving violence, including rape, sexual assault, or homicide. The applicant also cannot have been convicted of a felony for physical assault, battery or a drug-related offence in the past 5 years.”
Source: MLJ Adoptions
Understand, their job is to evaluate the home to ensure it is a safe and suitable environment to raise a child, so this includes all of the people residing in the home with, of course, a focus on the parent or parents (unless there are persons over 18 living there. We’ll talk about that below).
Explaining a Felony Record During a Home Study
It may seem awkward to discuss sensitive matters such as a felony with this stranger, but they have a vast amount of experience in their field and are not there to judge, only to try and determine if you and your home would be a good option to child placement. Remember, there are thousands of people out there looking to adopt kids, and the coordinator has to find the best match.
In some cases, they would rather hear a person be honest and tell the story of their felony conviction than, for example, interview someone convicted of lesser crimes but who refuses to disclose everything. So be especially open about your efforts to rehabilitate, and to make amends, as applicable.
Whatever you tell during the interview can be taken back for evaluation by others at the local and federal level; the interviewer isn’t acting alone nor are they making a determination themselves. They are only one piece of the picture, but they are your liaison to the others who you’ll likely never meet. But with that said, don’t underestimate the influence they hold. In other words, you’ve got to make your best impression on this person, because even though they aren’t making the decision solely, they’ll be offering their opinion and advice to those who are.
Be Honest About Your Criminal Background and Everything Else
If you fail to convince the coordinator that you and your home are a perfect choice for a child, then clearly they will not really be able to convince anyone else. Therefore make it your goal to ensure you answer all their questions and all their concerns; they shouldn’t leave with any lingering doubts. Let them know what happened. What was the charge and conviction, and how long ago was it? Most likely it’ll all come out during the background investigation, but this interview is your time to add things the cold facts in a file cannot relate.
The Background Investigation
Keep in mind, too, that the investigation will cover both federal and state agencies. It’ll crosscheck any crimes against children, especially any offenses of a sexual nature. In most states, fingerprinting will also be required.
If a person has been convicted of a felony related to child, it is almost certain their application will not be granted. Similarly, crimes of spousal abuse are also taken very seriously, as are convictions for rape or other forms of sexual assault. And perhaps this goes without saying, but ex-cons who served time for homicide will almost certainly never be granted permission to adopt.
Various states maintain differing criteria in terms of what other offenses can ban a felon from adopting a child. Most require at least five years to have passed since any assault-related conviction. Same with drug offenses. Other states refuse adoption to anyone who was found guilty of kidnapping, fraud, arson, illegal weapons use, or in some cases even property crime, so it is important to research each specific state.
Naturally, if a crime has been expunged from one’s record, this usually makes things easier…but not always. Check your own files to ensure that, if a crime was expunged, that all traces of it are gone. It doesn’t hurt to mention that there was an expungement performed. You can let them know the reason it was expunged, if it was due to no charges filed, or some other situation. Again, just be honest and tell your story. Because once they leave, it’ll be harder to explain why you left anything out.
After the home study is completed, the adoption agency will, along with a judge, make their determination.
A little More About the Home Study
A few last notes regarding the home study. Put yourself in the shoes of the evaluator. They are looking for any problem areas. Is there any potential for physical injury? Is anyone in the home suffering from any sort of outward displays of mental instability? What is the overall emotional feeling between the individuals within the residence? Any hostility? Any drama?
Other things they will consider are the household economics.
Does it appear the homemaker is financially stable? Will there be any issues with the house, or with heating and cooling and clothing? Is there enough food on the table? These common daily issues are vital; if a person’s home is in disarray, if there are bugs on the floor or the fridge is full of nothing but beer cans, this is going to give an unfavorable impression.
How about employment? Is the adoptive parent working, or if it is a couple, is at least one of them earning a decent income? If not, it is advisable to seek work prior to bothering with any child adoption paperwork. If someone isn’t able to provide for themselves, it will likely be decided that they cannot provide for a child, either. Kids, after all, are expensive. Diapers, clothes, school supplies, toys, games, entertainment, healthy meals, extra utility costs, extra fuel costs for driving them around, holidays, birthday presents, etc. Believe me, yes, kids may be small but they can cost more to support than an adult dependent!
Note, if a potential parent is wanting to adopt an international child, then they won’t be able to with a felony conviction. U.S. law simply doesn’t permit that. Indeed, even if the conviction was expunged, an international agency is still within their legal rights to say no to the request for adoption, regardless of what the crime was, regardless of how long ago it was.
It is the agency’s choice, and frankly many international parents who are putting their children up for adoption are doing so in order to offer them a brighter future than that which they’d have in their own country of birth. If those birth parents see that an agency is willing to give their children over to convicted felons, then that international agency might lose business due to the perception. So in those cases, it boils down to their fiscal bottom line.
Child Protection Laws
Two specific laws pertinent to adoption of children are the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, which proclaims that ‘felony provisions’ apply to all persons over 18 who live in the residence, not just the adoptive parents. In other words, anyone over 18 years old is going to have to meet the same background criteria as the parent, including fingerprinting and cross-checking against sex offender registries.
The second law is the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which ensures that a state record search is conducted for all persons over 18 who reside in the applicant’s home. Both of these laws are in effect in order to ensure maximum safety of the child who might come to live there.
We hope this article, Can a Felon Adopt a Child, helps you better understand your potential for being able to adopt. Having kids can be a wonderful, life-changing experience. Not all persons are considered viable potential parents by the state and federal government, however. But if you’ve taken an objective analysis of your behavior and lifestyle and living conditions, and believe you are a suitable candidate to be an adoptive parent, then, as long as you meet the necessary criteria, you are ready to begin the process!