A felony conviction brings about many significant life changes. Firstly, there is the loss of freedom that comes from incarceration. And later when released, you have to concede the loss of several key rights.
For many felons, the greatest loss is that of family. Bonds are easily strained or broken during the prison sentence. Trying to reconcile and reconnect when back on the outside can be hard.
Many consider becoming a foster parent as a way to compensate for this loss. But, can a felon become a foster parent?
Felons lose custody of their children when imprisoned. That along with the time apart creates a disconnect that is trying to later bridge. With kids being older and partners having moved on, things rarely go back to being the same.
The decision to pursue foster parenting often stems from a desire to want to recreate a family. For others, it is a chance to save kids that are likely to follow a bad path. Hopefully, with the right guidance, they can avoid ending up in a juvenile hall or prison.
Some felons believe had they received good parenting, they may not have ended up as they did. Becoming a foster parent lets them save younger ones from making the same mistakes. Studies have shown that about 40% of juvies do end up in adult prison by the age of 25.
However, even with the best of intentions, the question remains. Can the system entrust the care of vulnerable minors into the hands of felons?
Before we answer this, let’s first consider how kids end up in foster care. Also, what it is to be a foster parent.
The Foster Care System
We often hear of foster care on TV and in movies. The depiction is that of a system designed to care for bad kids. The reality however differs.
This system caters to the welfare of kids whose parents are unable to care for them. It refers to a social service system or court arrangement.
The end goal is to see families reunited or result in permanent adoption. But in the meanwhile, it makes for a temporary arrangement of care.
In some cases, the child may end up adopted by their foster parents. This can often happen when the birth parents have their rights terminated.
On average, children remain in state care for up to 2 years. The majority will live in family settings, while about 10% end up in group homes and institutions.
Providing stability and comfort for these children is vital. It is problematic when some end up aging out of the system without being reunited or adopted. These kids are more likely to end up in prison, homeless, and unemployed.
Finding a safe family environment is however not easy. Many of these kids can end up in the hands of abusers. This can happen in foster care, which is temporary, and when adopted, that is permanent.
Children are taken into foster care after a report has been made to Child Protective Services (CPS). If the social worker assigned deems it necessary, the child is removed from the home. This action is taken in the best interest of the child.
Some of the reasons may include abuse, neglect, or abandonment by the parents or guardians. Reunification can be achieved if the parents or guardians prove they can rectify their behavior. If ultimately considered unfit by a court, the child can then end up adopted.
What Is a Foster Parent?
A foster parent is the person given the care of a child while they are in the foster system. This custody is arranged and supervised by certain social service agencies.
Legal guardianship is still retained by the government agency. As said, it is a temporary arrangement.
If the child is adopted, then legal rights are taken up by the adoptive family.
Foster parents are essentially state-certified caregivers. They demonstrate a desire to provide safety and care for children.
Foster parents can come from all kinds of backgrounds. This diversity is vital as the children themselves also come from various backgrounds. It is best when a child can be matched to foster parents that are familiar with their way of life.
Becoming a foster parent can be quite tough. As mentioned, many kids come from abusive or neglectful homes. This often triggers behavioral and emotional problems.
Foster parents must be able to give the support needed to deal with these issues. This must be done even when knowing the arrangement is temporary.
While foster parents can adopt, the goal is mainly reunification or kinship care. The authorities will always prefer to see blood family take up care.
Another error about foster care in media is that foster parents are paid. They are actually reimbursed a certain amount each month that has gone into caring for the child. This stipend is determined by the county and typically paid out monthly.
So never go into foster care expecting to make a good return. The truth is that the amount is often quite small. It just barely covers the basics like food, clothing, and transport.
Let’s now move on to what criteria are used to assess foster parent candidates.
Requirements to Become a Foster Parent
To become a foster parent can be complex. Every state has its own set of rules. Some of the criteria are based on the experiences the state has had with prior foster cases.
However, at a minimum:
- Should be over 21 years of age
- Have a sufficient level of income that can cater to the needs of a potential foster family
- Have a home with enough bedrooms to lodge foster kids
- No felony or misdemeanor convictions related to sexual, child, or elder abuse
- Submit to a home assessment to gauge suitability of the environment and all family members
- Attend foster parent training provided by the county or non-profit agency that will supervise foster care
Despite these conditions, a foster family does not need to have a large home or high income. For instance, younger kids can share bedrooms. Single parents and married couples can both qualify to be foster parents.
But that’s not all. Some additional qualities that foster care agencies consider include:
- Consistency and stability in home and work-life
- Ability to create a conducive and welcoming home environment
- Prior experience with children, particularly those with special needs
- The potential foster parents’ maturity, resilience, adaptability, and flexibility
- Ability to handle challenging situations
- Ability to communicate well and discipline kids without physical harm
While these requirements are not exhaustive, they give a good idea of what is needed for foster care.
How Felons Can Foster
We have mentioned that certain felonies are cause to be denied becoming a foster parent. Generally, this pertains to offenses that were violent and involved abuse.
The rules on this can also vary depending on jurisdiction. However, it is vital to know background checks are mandatory. Under the Child Welfare Information Gateway (CWIG) statutes, it is necessary in assessing the suitability of caregivers.
The best defense against this is to have the record expunged. If you can accomplish this, you can legally state that you have not been convicted of a criminal offense.
In lieu of this, the next best option is patience. The longer it has been since you were convicted and released, the better your odds.
Non-violent offenses are also less likely to disqualify you. Many states have expiry on certain convictions that will disappear from your record after some years.
Have your application backed by three referees that are upstanding as well. They need to attest that you can provide suitable care for a child. The better an impression you make on the welfare agency worker assessing you, the better chances you have.
Becoming a foster parent is possible for many felons that had non-violent cases. Even some violent charges can earn this privilege. If you mend your ways, build a good life, and make yourself an ideal candidate, you could qualify.
With over 250,000 kids entering foster care annually, there is a need for homes that can take them in. If you have the desire and capability to offer this care, then do apply.
While there are no assurances that you will be accepted, it is still a possibility. You may need to wait a little longer or seek legal recourse like expungement to boost your chances.
Take advice from other foster parents or a social worker who knows the system. Do not be discouraged, especially when you know you have a loving home to offer.