It may be the case that you have been through a felony conviction and have turned your life around. Now, you want to give back to your community. One way you might consider doing this is by fostering children that need homes.
In the United States, there are thousands of children in foster care waiting for homes. But, there are not the same amount of families that are willing to take them in. Making this decision is a serious, but important one. By opening your home, you are giving a child a second chance.
But, fostering children can be a difficult process to break into. It is hard enough as is, but can be much harder for those with felony convictions. In general, people with felony convictions are not able to be foster parents. But, there are options for clearing your record if you still wish to do so.
Read below for information about the foster care system and felony records.
Foster Care Eligibility
Eligibility for foster parents varies from state to state. According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, certain felonies are automatic disqualifications. But, a crime in one state may not be a disqualification in others.
The following crimes are automatic disqualifications in all states:
- Felony child abuse or neglect
- Spousal abuse
- Crimes against minors
- Certain violent or sexual crimes
- Physical assault, battery, drug offenses in the past 5 years
- Any crime that shows risk to children
The following factors are disqualifications in some states, but not all:
- Sex offender registry (any household member)
- Domestic abuse
- Certain misdemeanor violent or drug offenses
- Human, labor, or sex trafficking
- Unlawful “rehoming” of a child
- Certain weapons charges
- Certain financial crimes
* Domestic abuse is different than spousal in that it can be against any household member.
In most states, a certain amount of time (several years at least) needs to have passed since conviction. This is true even if the crime is not listed as an automatic disqualification.
Age is another factor in every state, although it does vary some. At the very least, you must be at least 18 years old. Most states, though, only approve foster parents who are 21 years old and older.
No household member can be on the central registry. Otherwise, the state will disqualify you. The central registry is a way for states to track people convicted of child abuse or neglect.
Other Requirements for Foster Parents
There are more requirements even if you are not disqualified because of your past felony.
You will need to have a steady income. Finding a job can be difficult for felons, but trade and technical work is usually accessible.
You do receive a financial stipend as a foster parent. But, you need to be able to support yourself without that stipend to get approved. You may only use the stipend for the child’s benefit. The amount varies depending on the state and situation.
You also need to have a home fit for a child. Housing can also be difficult to find, but it is a must for fostering. The state will inspect your home in a home study before approving you, so make sure it is set up for children.
Preparing a house includes routine maintenance, passing safety inspections, and “child-proofing”. This means taking the time to assess any potential safety risks and get rid of them. For example, make sure there are no exposed wires or electrical outlets. For younger kids, you will also need to have a way of blocking stairs.
You may also need to have certain training before the state approves you to be a foster parent. This may include training such as CPR, first aid, and basic parenting classes.
What if a Felony Conviction Disqualifies You?
If you have a felony conviction that disqualifies you, but you still want to be a foster parent, you have options. Depending on your state and type of crime, you may be able to get your record cleared.
Getting your record expunged can help you with this. This is when you get your record cleared through the court. In this case, the record does not appear on a background check. It also allows you to say that you do not have a criminal record.
Every state is differs for which felonies are eligible for expungement. You will need to check with your local court for specific state laws. If it is an option, then you need to seek expungement through the court.
Getting a record expunged also allows you to remove yourself from various registries. This is not an option in all states, though. Again, you will need to check with your local court to be sure.
Becoming a Foster Parent: Background Checks and Approval
Getting approved to be a foster parent is a state government process. But, you can start this process by contacting local foster care agencies. Your county’s child protective service agency will also be able to provide information.
The first thing they will do is a background check. They may run several different types of background checks.
Background checks include criminal history, driving history, and child abuse clearances. They will also check if you are on the sex offender registry. After this, you may need to take a drug screening as well.
Criminal history checks pick up both felony and misdemeanor charges. Driving history checks include traffic violations, DUI’s, and accident history. The state needs to know that you will not put the child at risk.
If you pass all background checks, then you will need to take a foster parenting class. This is usually offered by the foster care agency, but they may also contract with other agencies. They will be able to give you more information when you apply. In most states, 10-30 hours of training is what you will need.
Classes will be different depending on where you take them. But, they will include basic parenting skills and health and safety information (ex. CPR, first aid).
In some states, you receive a license at the end of the qualification process. If you are in a state that does not have licensing, then you will get a written approval from the state.
You may also need to complete licensing or approval renewals. This may also include redoing background checks on occasion. The foster care agency will be able to give you more information about this.
Becoming a Foster Parent: Meeting and Fostering the Child
At the end of approval, the foster agency worker will take note of what type of child you would be best matched with. Although it will not always be perfect, they want to make sure it is the best match possible. Foster children move from home to home a lot. But, their chances of staying with you for longer are greater when you have good chemistry.
You will meet your potential foster child before proceeding. If it is a good match, then they the agency will place them with you.
The agency will also continue to follow up with you to make sure everything goes well. This may include phone, mail, email, or home visitation. The caseworker may also speak to the child in private, to make sure that the child has no concerns.
Keep in touch with the foster agency. Do not hesitate to reach out about any concerns you may have. You want to have the child’s best interest in mind.
Adopting a Foster Child
Some people want to take fostering a step further. Adoption of a foster child is sometimes an option. This can be harder if the end goal is to return the foster child to his or her biological parents. Again, keep the child’s best interest in mind.
Adoption can also be a bit pricey, so make sure you have enough money saved for it. You will not need to pay for the adoption, itself. But, you may need to pay for a home study or any addition training, like with fostering.
The qualifications to adopt a child are the same as those to foster. To find out about the exact process, contact the foster agency for more information. Adoption processes may vary from state to state.
As the child’s adoptive parent, then, you have the same legal rights as their biological parent. They will be in your custody and you are able to act on their behalf.
You can also consider an open adoption, which allows the biological parents to keep in touch. The foster care agency can offer information about this as well.
As a foster or adoptive parent, you are responsible for the child’s well-being and quality of life. This includes, but is not limited to, health, safety, education, and extracurricular activities.
It is important that you get all information possible before starting the process. This article has provided helpful information on qualifications for becoming a foster parent. You also now know what you need to do to be successful and help a child in need.
Aizman, D. (2018, October 5). The complete guide to obtaining a certificate or rehabilitation. Retrieved from https://aizmanlaw.com/certificate-of-rehabilitation/
Becoming a foster parent. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://nfpaonline.org/foster/
Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2018). Background checks for prospective foster, adoptive, and kinship caregivers. Retrieved from https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/background.pdf
Pardon information and instructions. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/pardon/pardon-information-and-instructions
San Jose State University (2018). Criminal record clearing in a nutshell. Retrieved from http://www.sjsu.edu/justicestudies/programs-events/rcp/rcp-expungement-law-resources/Criminal%20Record%20Clearing%20in%20a%20Nutshell%20-%20May%202018.pdf
What is expungement? (2018). Retrieved from https://www.americanbar.org/groups/public_education/publications/teaching-legal-docs/what-is-_expungement-/