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Can a Felon Adopt a Child?

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Can a felon adopt a child? Let’s learn about it in this blog post. Felons are typically incarcerated for a number of years.

During this time, they are separated from their families.  All involved suffer from this time apart.

Felons long to be home as they are missing time with their spouse, significant other, and their kids.

For some though, spouses may divorce them as a result of their conviction, leaving them because they feel unable to trust them and anticipating that the future will not be any better.

Then there are those felons who have a spouse or significant other but have no kids.

When felons do return home, they often desire to start a family, having children.

Just as with other couples who are unable to have a baby and decide to adopt, felons’ thoughts and desires may run along the same lines.

Does having a felony conviction prevent felons from being able to adopt?

This blog post will address the issue of whether felons are able to adopt a child.

  • Criteria for Adopting
  • Considering Each Member of the Household
  • Home Study
  • Encouraging Felons Who Want to Adopt


Criteria for Adopting

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On the surface the answer would appear to be no.  After all, so many rights and opportunities are lost or taken away as a result of their criminal record.  Why would this be any different?

It may seem that adopting a child would rank right up there with finding a job.  That certainly is difficult enough, right?

As with anything else pertaining to felons, the question of being able to adopt is not an easy one to answer.

The reply is as usual, it depends.  Doesn’t it always depend on something, most often something that is out of their control?  It is something that they can’t have.

Well, not so quick there.

The issue of felons being able to adopt a child depends on the state where they reside as each state has its own criteria.

Generally, regulations for adopting a child specify that any applicant who has been convicted of a felony involving child abuse or neglect, spousal abuse, a crime against children (including child pornography), a crime involving violence (including rape, sexual assault, or homicide) are not eligible to adopt a child.

They may also not have been convicted of a felony for physical assault, battery, or a drug-related offense within the past five years.

Ok.  It is possible.

Considering Each Member of the Household

The Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act was passed originally in 1974 and updated most recently in 2010.

It states that not only do these felony provisions pertain to applicants but to all persons over 18 years of age residing in the potential adoptive home.

That means that the background of each person over 18 in the household is considered, and all of them are subject to these stipulations.

Typically, fingerprinting and a national sex register search is conducted.

Actually that makes a lot of sense.  An adopted child would be living with and influenced by everyone living in the home.

While this may seem strict, the child’s welfare is most important.  Would a child be safe living where there is a significant criminal element?

That isn’t all though.  There is another law passed to protect the welfare of children stating that state child abuse records must accessed also.

That law is the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 and applies to each person in the home older than 18.

This law states that a State record search must be conducted covering child abuse records in all States in which persons over 18 in that household have lived in the past five years.

Wow, isn’t that a lot?

Of course that is a lot of background to check, but the question is how important is it to be able to adopt a child, especially for a childless felon couple?

Home Study

Following the criminal background check, a home study is also conducted for felons’ homes, just as it is for non-felons.

The goal is to ensure that any home into which an adopted child is placed must be considered safe.

A home study is somewhat different depending on the state involved.

Typically, the important issues concern the physical, mental, and emotional status of all adults in the home.

Also, the condition of the home, the financial standing of the applicants, their ability to care for a child, and any counseling in which the applicants have been involved.

This is where it is to the felons’ advantage to have completed all terms of their sentence, including probation.  Then having gone through a re-entry program would be helpful, along with other rehabilitation efforts.

An essential point here is to do what it takes to find a job.  This includes getting more education or training for new job skills.  Remember the success stories from the Guide to Getting Employment.

This is also when having their record expunged would help present a stronger case for re-establishing an honest life.

Laws and Policies Relating to Foster Parenting and Adoption for Individuals with a Felony Record

The minimum standards for background checks on potential foster, adoptive, or kinship caregivers are established by federal laws and policies. The Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 is a crucial legal document that necessitates state-level criminal record checks, fingerprint-based checks on national crime information databases, and child abuse and neglect registry checks for any person desiring to become a foster or adoptive parent. Every adult living in the prospective home is subject to these checks, including past residences spanning the last five years.

ASFA outlines specific felonies that automatically disqualify an individual from being a foster or adoptive parent. These felonies include child abuse, neglect, spousal abuse, a crime against children (including child pornography), crimes involving violence such as rape, sexual assault, or homicide (excluding other physical assault or battery), and any felony conviction related to physical assault, battery, or a drug-related offense committed within the past five years.

Nevertheless, ASFA also provides states with the leeway to grant waivers or exemptions from these disqualifying crimes on a case-by-case basis. The criteria for granting these waivers or exemptions are left to state discretion, which may consider factors like the severity of the crime, offender-victim relationship, time since the conviction, and any evidence of rehabilitation.

However, state-specific laws add a layer of complexity. Different states have their unique definition of a felony, varying statutes of limitations for certain crimes, and an assortment of disqualifying crimes. These state-level discrepancies in background check procedures and the evaluation of prospective caregivers create challenges for prospective caregivers who cross state lines or seek to foster or adopt children from other states. This state-by-state variation results in inconsistent treatment of prospective caregivers with felony records across the country.

The Impact of Different Types of Felonies

Felony records’ impact on foster parenting and adoption eligibility varies, contingent on the nature and severity of the crime.

Non-violent felonies, including crimes like fraud, theft, forgery, or tax evasion, are less likely to disqualify a person than violent felonies such as assault, robbery, manslaughter, or murder. However, non-violent felonies could raise questions about character, honesty, or financial stability.

Drug-related offenses are common among prospective parents with felony records. These offenses, particularly if they occurred within the last five years, often lead to disqualification under both federal and state laws. However, waivers or exemptions may be granted in certain states if the person demonstrates sobriety, successful treatment completion, and avoidance of further involvement with drugs.

Felonies involving crimes against children or family members are among the most serious types and often result in automatic disqualification under federal and most state laws. These crimes raise significant concerns about the individual’s capability to provide a safe, nurturing environment for children.

Lastly, the time elapsed since the felony conviction is a critical factor in determining a person’s eligibility and suitability to become a foster or adoptive parent. The more time that has passed since the conviction, the less likely it is to affect approval. However, certain crimes, such as murder or sex offenses, may have no time limit in some states.

The Application Process for Potential Foster or Adoptive Parents with a Felony Record

The journey toward becoming a foster or adoptive parent can be challenging for applicants with a criminal record. While the process can indeed seem daunting, obstacles can be surmounted with diligent preparation and perseverance.

Primarily, the application process entails background checks and home studies, essential components in determining the suitability of prospective parents. Those with a felony record must transparently disclose their past while cooperating fully with these processes. Key steps include explaining past crimes, demonstrating personal growth and reform, and providing supporting documents to substantiate this change.

Home studies assess applicants’ living conditions and parenting capabilities. Here, applicants should validate their readiness to provide a stable home, adequate financial resources, access to necessary services for the child, and realistic fostering or adoption expectations.

The evaluation process of foster or adoptive parents focuses on the best interests of the child, the prospective parent’s motivation, commitment, character, and integrity. Those with a felony record must demonstrate their alignment with these criteria, providing evidence of their positive attitudes towards children, ethical standards, reliability, and respect for rules.

However, those with a felony record should brace themselves for potential hurdles. Rejection based on criminal history could occur, especially when crimes involve children or family members. Some agencies or states may have limited waivers for certain offenses. Despite possible denials, applicants should persist in their pursuit, explore alternatives, and consider legal advice or other parenthood avenues.

The societal stigma associated with a felony record can lead to discrimination, reinforcing negative stereotypes about the individual’s parenting suitability. Applicants must be ready to debunk these myths by highlighting their strengths and contributions to society.

Lastly, the lengthy and intrusive nature of the application process might induce emotional stress or anxiety. Prospective caregivers should view these feelings as a natural reaction, not allowing them to deter their goals. Utilizing support networks such as professional counseling, support groups, and trusted friends or family can be extremely beneficial during this process.

The road towards becoming a foster or adoptive parent with a felony record is undeniably tough, but with the right mindset, resources, and support, it’s a journey that can lead to a rewarding destination.

Alternatives and Solutions for Felons Looking to Adopt or Become Foster Parents

For individuals with felony records wishing to foster or adopt, various alternative routes and potential solutions can be pursued. These approaches include appealing disqualifications, seeking waivers or exemptions, and accessing support services.

For those disqualified, it may be possible to appeal or challenge the decision. The specific grounds and procedures for an appeal can vary based on the regulations of the specific state or agency involved, but often involves submitting a written appeal letter detailing the reasons for the appeal and providing any supporting evidence of rehabilitation and suitability to the parent. Some states allow for an administrative review or hearing where applicants can plead their case.

Waivers or exemptions may be an available avenue in some states. These are special permissions granted to individuals who might otherwise be ineligible to foster or adopt. The process typically involves an intensive review of the person’s history and circumstances, including the nature and timing of the crime, rehabilitation efforts, and current lifestyle.

Those seeking to adopt or foster should also explore resources and support services such as legal aid services, support groups, and nonprofit organizations that specialize in assisting people with criminal records navigate various legal and societal barriers. Some organizations, like the Family Defense Center, help families navigate the child welfare system.

There are also international best practices worth exploring. Canada, for instance, assesses applications on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the nature of the crime and the rehabilitation efforts of the applicant. Their approach reflects a belief in second chances and an individual’s capacity for change.

In 2018, Louisiana passed a law allowing people with felony records to foster children under certain circumstances, acknowledging that rehabilitation and redemption are possible. This law allows people who have served their sentences and shown evidence of reform to provide a loving home for children in need.

Despite the challenges, success stories exist. John, from Ohio, despite having a past felony for drug possession, was granted a waiver after proving that he had turned his life around by completing a drug treatment program, obtaining a stable job, and volunteering at a local church. Today, he is a successful foster parent to three siblings who were removed from their abusive home.

While the journey to foster or adopt for individuals with a felony record can be tough, there are available options. By exploring these alternatives and leveraging available resources, these individuals can navigate the path toward providing a nurturing home for a child in need.


In conclusion, despite the complexity and bias of the foster care and adoption system against individuals with felony records, there are pathways for these individuals to become foster or adoptive parents. Federal and state-specific laws govern this process, with the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997 being a crucial document outlining minimum standards for background checks and disqualifying crimes.

However, the ASFA provides leeway for states to grant waivers or exemptions based on factors like the severity of the crime, time since conviction, and evidence of rehabilitation. State-specific laws add further complexity, with different definitions and treatment of felonies and varying disqualifying crimes.

Nonetheless, through diligent preparation, perseverance, appealing disqualifications, seeking waivers or exemptions, and accessing support services, individuals with felony records can potentially navigate this challenging process and provide loving homes for children in need.

Families of felons are usually very invested in adopting a child and creating a loving family.

Stand by your loved one.  Encourage them and help them do what it takes to seek approval for adoption.

This can be a frustrating, discouraging process to go through.

But to adopt that child to love and guide them in how to live a clean, honest life will be a vital reward.

What do you think about this blog post?  Have you or someone you know tried to adopt a child as a felon?  What was that like for them, and what happened?  Please tell us in the comments below.

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