Foster Parent Background Check Process Explained in 4 Steps

Background check repair icon.Written by Background Check Repair

Background Checks | January 2, 2023

Man standing next to a child in front of a house looks at a foster parent background check document on the right wondering howe long does a foster care background check take and how many foster parents are there?

Many individuals who are considering becoming foster parents have questions about the the foster parent background check process.

Thankfully, the process can be explained 4 simple steps.

Because children are vulnerable, the federal government outlines strict mandates concerning the background screening that is used to approve foster care.

The following 4 steps outline the foster parent background check process and how to ensure that the people living in the home will not pose a threat to the safety and well-being of the children who are placed there.

Foster Care Background Check Steps

Although the background check steps for a foster parent application will be different in every state, there are a few basic things that individuals should know, regardless of where they live.

Screenshot of State of California website page for Department of Social Services with yellow arrow on how to become a foster parent.

The Department of Social Services in each state can outline the steps for being a foster parent, which includes a fingerprint background check mandated by the federal government.

Step 1: Access the State Social Services Website

The social services agency in each state will oversee the entire foster care program in the state. This will be an individual point of contact for any foster care-related questions and concerns.

It can also be a good place to learn about the entire process so individuals can get a general idea of what to expect beyond the background check discussed above.

Example: Individuals considering adopting in California can access details on how to become a foster parent and information page on the California Social Services website.5 In California, individuals are required to obtain a childcare license as well as meet some basic home requirements.

Step 2: Background Check Prep

Before the background check is actually submitted, there are a few things individuals should do first.

Screenshot of Child Welfare Information Gateway website page for laws and policies with yellow arrows on state statutes search.

Before having the official background check performed, it can be a good idea for foster parent applicants to conduct a background check on themselves to identify any records that are inaccurate.

First, individuals should learn about the child welfare laws in their state using the state statutes search provided by the Department of Health and Human Services.6 This will allow individuals to learn about any laws that are unique to their state.

For example, individuals with a criminal record of any kind will be required to obtain an exemption to remain eligible for foster care in California.7

Second, individuals will likely want to perform a background check on themselves.

Performing a check on yourself is extremely easy and can be a massive help down the line. Not only will this let individuals know exactly what is going to show up on the official background check, but it will also give them an opportunity to fix their background check if there are any mistakes that could delay the process.

Individuals can perform a background check on themselves using the search bar at the top of this page. Simply enter your own name to perform a public records search.

Finally, individuals should learn about the specific process in their state, mainly where they need to go to submit their background check information and have their fingerprints taken.

Related Reading: How to Get a Criminal Background Check on Yourself or Others in 2022

Step 3: Submit Background Check Forms

Once individuals have everything in order the next step is to submit the background check information itself.

As mentioned, every state has slightly different steps but individuals will not be expected to have all the checks performed themselves. Instead, social services will guide individuals through their state’s specific process.

Example: In California, social services will guide individuals through the process and individuals will only need to submit basic information and their fingerprints to the California DOJ.7

In California, fingerprints are taken and submitted electronically by livescan.8

Step 4: Await Results

With all the proper information submitted the only thing left to do is to wait for the results and ensure that there were no mistakes on the information submitted that needs to be corrected.

As mentioned, in most states the background check process will take less than two weeks. Assuming it was passed, social services will provide the next steps to obtain the required licensure.

Foster Parent Background Check Overview

The foster parent background check does have some misconceptions surrounding it that can confuse many individuals who are trying to figure out the exact checks that are needed.

The first thing that individuals should know is that the foster parent background check is largely the same as the child care background check. Although the foster parent background check does have some unique aspects to it, being a foster parent meets the legal requirements of being in child care, which has a specific background check that is required by the federal government.1

Basically, anyone that has unsupervised access to children in an official capacity, such as a teacher, school administrator, bus driver, etc. will be required to pass a childcare background check.2 Since foster parents will be housing a foster child on behalf of the state, then these regulations will also apply to all potential foster parents.

Individuals should keep in mind that when it comes to undergoing a child care background check as part of the foster parent process that this portion of the check only serves to ensure that the individual does not pose an immediate risk to the child, not if the individual is actually fit to be a foster parent.

As mentioned, these checks are required at the federal level, so every state will need to follow the childcare background check requirements at a minimum. However, many states have adopted their own laws that further strengthen these background check policies to create an even more thorough and comprehensive screening process.

What Does a CPS Background Check Consist Of?

There is a fair amount of confusion regarding childcare background checks. Some people will refer to these as CPS background check, teaching background check, daycare background checks, and more.

The important thing to remember is that anyone that meets the requirements for needing a childcare background check and having unsupervised access to children, will be required to undergo a childcare background check.

Screenshot of Child Care website page for guides to ensure safe and healthy child care with yellow arrow on what you need to know on background checks for child care.

Child care background checks are similar to the ones used for foster parents.

For example, a teaching background check will have all of the checks required for a child care background check, as well as several additional checks pertaining to education specifically. With all that being said, many individuals will still be wondering, what does a CPS background check consist of?

The first thing individuals should know is the basic requirements of the check. The federal laws govern not only who will get checked, but also how often they get checked and what databases will need to be checked.

The following checks must be performed at a minimum on anyone who meets the requirements.

  • FBI Criminal History Check (Fingerprint-based)
  • National Sex Offender Registry check (Name-based)
  • State criminal history check (Fingerprint-based for the current state, name-based for previous states of residence)
  • State sex offender registry check (Name-based)
  • State child abuse and neglect registry check

As mentioned, how often the above checks must be performed is also an important part of the laws. Federal law requires individuals to undergo the above checks at least every 5 years.

However, many states require that individuals who meet the childcare requirements will need to undergo the checks every 3 years. Individuals should research their state laws on the issue to see if their state has any requirements in addition to the federal requirements.3

Finally, when it comes to foster care, there is another detail that individuals should be aware of. Since anyone that will potentially have unsupervised access to children will need to pass these checks, this means that any and all residents of the foster home will need to pass this check, rather than just the foster parents themselves.

Keep in mind that in this case, anyone over the age of 16 will need to undergo a check.

Related Reading: Child Abuse Background Checks: Search Database (Child Neglect, Abuse)

How Long Does a Background Check Take for Foster Care?

With so many checks required, many individuals will be wondering how long does a background check take for foster care, however, the timeline is shorter than some might expect. In most cases, the background checks will take less than two weeks from the time the fingerprints are submitted.

In many states, individuals will need to go through the state police department to complete the child care background check, and in some cases, the state police may even be able to handle the FBI portion of the check and send the fingerprint information to the FBI on the individual’s behalf.4

Can a Foster Child Live With a Felon?

Many individuals with criminal records will assume that having a criminal record will prevent them from becoming foster parents. However, this is not actually true, and for individuals wondering, can a foster child live with a felon, the answer is yes.

Having a criminal record, even a felony will not automatically disqualify individuals from becoming foster parents. However, there are a handful of crimes that will be disqualifiers.

Each state will have slightly different rules and regulations when it comes to what information is considered an automatic disqualification for foster parents but the following crimes can be expected at a minimum.

  • Violent convictions of any kind
  • Crimes against children convictions of any kind
  • Sexual crime convictions of any kind

What Disqualifies You From Being a Foster Parent?

Even individuals who are familiar with the child care background check laws will still be wondering what disqualifies you from being a foster parent, unfortunately, the answer will depend on the state. Each state will have its own regulations regarding what they require for foster parents.

The requirements include not just the criminal history check but also the parent’s health, living conditions, and a variety of other factors. Many of these things can disqualify an individual.

Assuming all of the criminal record requirements are met, there are still a few things that individuals should be aware of when it comes to potential disqualifiers. One of the difficulties with explaining what can disqualify an individual is that many of these things are hard to quantify and will be up to the judgment of social services.

Below are some of the more common disqualifiers.

  • The residence is not able to properly provide for the needs of a child
  • The applicant or resident of the home is unfit to provide care
  • The parent is in poor mental or physical health
  • The applicant does not have the required training or experience to provide for the child
  • The applicant does not meet the income requirements

How Many Foster Parents Are There?

Some individuals might have heard that the number of foster parents is slowly dropping due to tighter restrictions and requirements to become foster parents.

When asking how many foster parents are there, in 2020 there were around 214,000 licensed foster homes in the United States.9

Although this number has been steadily dropping for several years, it is dropping at roughly the same rate as the total number of children in foster care.

Foster Parent Statistics

Some individuals are curious about foster parent statistics regarding ethnicity, religion, and income levels.

Unfortunately, the identity of a foster parent is not automatically considered public information and many of these individuals become foster parents privately. This means that data regarding foster parent demographics is extremely difficult to obtain and is generally unreliable.

Foster Parent Background Check: Foster Parent Requirements

Foster parent requirements vary from state to state, however, the differences between states are generally minimal. This is due to the fact that most of the criminal history disqualifiers are already mandated at the state level, and other disqualifiers are generally based on the opinion of social services, rather than anything specific.

Individuals should contact their state social services branch for more information.10

Can You Be a Foster Parent With a Felony?

One of the most common questions that individuals have when it comes to becoming a foster parent is whether can you be a foster parent with a felony, and the answer is quite simple. Having a criminal record will not be an automatic disqualifier when it comes to foster parent eligibility.

However, every state will have specific crimes that are disqualifiers such as violent crimes, sex crimes, crimes against children, or if the individual has a pattern of low-level crimes.

Can You Be a Foster Parent With a Misdemeanor?

When it comes to can you be a foster parent with a misdemeanor, although only violent misdemeanors are automatic disqualifiers, there are still more individuals who should know. Even with low-level crimes, individuals run the risk of being disqualified.

Many states have a disqualifier for individuals who exhibit a pattern of criminal behavior. What constitutes a pattern is somewhat open to interpretation but most states will disqualify individuals with more than 3 misdemeanors in the last 7 years, even if they are low-level crimes.

Foster Parent Income Requirements

Many individuals assume that there are strict foster parent income requirements, however, this is not the case. This is another example of the opinion of social services that come into play, the only requirement regarding finances is that the individual or couple that wants to become foster parents is in good enough financial standing to care for the child.

Home Requirements for Foster Care

Similar to the financial requirements the home requirements for foster care are largely up to the opinion of social services. In most states, the term adequate is used again to describe the required living conditions.

Basically, the home must be large enough for the child and all residents to comfortably eat, sleep, study, etc. Both renting or owning the residence is allowed and apartments and houses are both considered adequate accommodation.

Do You Get Paid for Being a Foster Parent?

Those wondering, do you get paid for being a foster parent, will be pleased to know that states do provide financial assistance to foster parents. However, individuals should not expect to profit from this payment, in most cases, the assistance will cover the basic needs of the child.

While some parents have reported breaking even with the money provided by the state, most agree that individuals will still have to pay out of their own pocket for the care of the child. The payment is intended to help ease the financial burden, rather than cover all the costs of the child.

What Reasons Can They Deny Foster Care?

Many individuals are concerned about their chances and will wonder what reasons can they deny foster care, unfortunately, there are a ton of reasons social services could potentially deny care. However, the background check will be the main reason that many individuals do not pass.

Individuals should always discuss the basic requirements for being a foster parent with social services before submitting any applications. This way individuals can prepare their homes, and finances to increase their chances of being approved.

How Far Back Does a CPS Background Check Go?

With so many misconceptions regarding criminal history checks and how far they can go, many individuals will be unsure as to how far back does a CPS background check go, however in this case the answer is very simple.

A CPS background check or child care background check involves an FBI fingerprint-based background check.

FBI background checks only have to follow the regulations set by the FCRA, and can ignore all state background check laws.11 This means that a CPS background check will go back forever.

Who Is the Non-Offending Parent in CPS Case?

Some individuals may find themselves being investigated by Child Protective Services and will be wondering who is the nonoffending parent in a CPS case, and what is at stake.

The nonoffending parent in a CPS case is the parent that is not under investigation. Although this is a slightly better situation to be in, individuals should contact a lawyer immediately so that they can better understand the process and what the possibilities are if the investigation goes poorly.

Foster Parent Background Check

The foster parent background check may seem intimidating but individuals should know that the disqualifiers when it comes to criminal history are fairly extreme. Those worried about the check should perform a background check on themselves so they can be as prepared as possible and avoid any surprises.

Screenshot of State of California website page for Department of Social Services with yellow arrows on background check search.

Each state has its own process for foster parent approval, but most offer a portal that can be used to check the status of an application.

Becoming a foster parent can be an incredibly exciting and life-changing moment for many individuals. However, individuals should do their research before submitting any paperwork so that they can be prepared for the foster parent background check.

Frequently Asked Questions About Foster Parent Background Check

Can I Be a Foster Parent With a Felony?

Individuals with felony records will not be automatically disqualified from being a foster parent.

Can Felons Be Foster Parents?

Individuals with felonies can be foster parents as long as the felonies were not for violent crimes, sex crimes, or crimes involving children.

What Are Foster Parent Disqualifications?

Foster parent disqualifications usually involve criminal history, or submitting false information during the process.

What To Do if I Want To Foster But My Partner Has a Criminal Record?

Everyone that resides in the foster home will need to pass the foster care background check in order to qualify. However, only certain criminal records are considered disqualifiers.

How Long Does a Child Care Background Check Take?

Most child care background checks will be completed in less than two weeks.

How Long Does a DCFS Background Check Take?

The DCFS in each state will usually conduct fingerprint-based background checks that take about two weeks to complete.

What Is an FBI Adoption Background Check?

Individuals who are wanting to adopt will often be required to undergo a background check performed by the FBI.

What Is a CPS Background Check for Employment?

Individuals who are applying for jobs that work with children will be required to undergo a CPS or Child care background check.

What Is an Adoption Background Check?

The background check that is required for foster parents is the same as the check required for individuals who are considering adoption. These all fall under the laws for child care background checks, which is required by the federal government.12

What Is a Child Protective Services Background Check?

A child protective services background check is another name for a child care background check which is required for individuals who work with children.

What Is My CPS Background Check Status?

Individuals who want to know the status of their CPS background check should contact the state police or whatever agency that is conducting the check.

Can You Adopt With a Criminal Record?

Individuals with criminal records are eligible to adopt in many cases, however it will depend on what crimes are on the record and how many there are.


References

1Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2019, June). Families Considering Foster Care and Adoption. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubpdfs/f_fospar.pdf>

2Childcare.gov. (2022). Background Checks: What You Need To Know. Childcare.gov. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://childcare.gov/consumer-education/background-checks-what-you-need-to-know>

3Childcare.gov. (2022). See Your State’s Resources. Childcare.gov. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://childcare.gov/state-resources-home>

4United States Government. (2022). Rap Sheets (Identity History Summary Checks). FBI. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://www.fbi.gov/how-we-can-help-you/need-an-fbi-service-or-more-information/identity-history-summary-checks>

5California Department of Social Services. (2022). How to Become a Foster Parent. California Department of Social Services. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://www.cdss.ca.gov/inforesources/foster-care/foster-care-and-adoptive-resource/how-to-become-a-foster-parent>

6Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2022). State Statutes Search. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/state/>

7California Department of Social Services. (2022). Caregiver Background Check – Background Check Process. California Department of Social Services. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://www.cdss.ca.gov/inforesources/community-care/caregiver-background-check/background-check-process>

8California Department of Social Services. (2022). LiveScan. California Department of Social Services. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://www.cdss.ca.gov/inforesources/community-care/caregiver-background-check/livescan>

9The Administration for Children and Families. (2021, November 19). National Data Shows Number of Children in Foster Care Decreases for the Third Consecutive Year. The Administration for Children and Families. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://www.acf.hhs.gov/media/press/2021/national-data-shows-number-children-foster-care-decreases-third-consecutive-year>

10Child Welfare Information Gateway. (2022). Licensing Foster Parents. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/outofhome/foster-care/fam-foster/licensing/>

11United States Government. (2022). Fair Credit Reporting Act. Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://www.ftc.gov/legal-library/browse/statutes/fair-credit-reporting-act>

12US Department of Health and Human Services. (2022). Background Checks for Prospective Foster, Adoptive, and Kinship. Child Welfare Information Gatewy. Retrieved December 7, 2022, from <https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/systemwide/laws-policies/statutes/background/>

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