The Adoption Process
The process of adopting children in the United States is a very lengthy and stringent one. Potential adoptive parents must go through a litany of paperwork, character assessments, and huge financial hurdles to be considered as an acceptable match.
Under the Illinois Adoption Act, the Illinois adoption investigation process looks at many factors regarding the suitability of the potential adopting parents. It investigates, among other things, “the character, reputation, health, and general standing in the community of the petitioners.”
One important requirement is that a criminal background check be conducted. The investigation required under the Illinois Adoption Act includes a fingerprint-based criminal background check with a review of fingerprints by the Illinois State Police and Federal Bureau of Investigation. The process requires each petitioner to submit his or her fingerprints to the Department of State Police. These fingerprints will be checked against criminal history records databases to see if they have anything on file.
There is a fee associated with this background check. The background check includes “a listing of when, where, and by whom the criminal background check was prepared.” The criminal background check has to be less than two years old. The criminal background check review does not have to be filed at the same time as the initial adoption petition.
Exceptions to the Rule
Under Illinois Adoption Act, there is no requirement to do a background check for family member adoptions. In a highly publicized case in McLean County, a previous sex offender was allowed to adopt his new spouse’s daughter and grandchildren, despite his previous conviction as a sex offender. In 1989, Jason Mason was convicted of sexual assault of a 6-year old girl. His conviction was overturned and Mason took a plea deal in 1992. With the plea deal, he successfully avoided a new trial and the threat of returning to prison.
Mason’s criminal history did not arise in the private adoption approved in McLean County, as background checks for adoptions of family members are not a requirement under Illinois adoption laws. Mason’s 10-year requirement to register as a sex offender had ended before the adoption process began.
It is not quite clear why family members are currently excluded from the criminal background check process in McLean County. According to Illinois Department of Children and Family Services spokeswoman Karen Hawkin, family members are the first place to turn if a parent is not able to care for their child.
While keeping the child within the extended family does have many benefits, this should not mean a family member does not have to meet the basic requirements through which any other potential adopting parent has to go. Certainly, a previous status of being a sexual offender, no matter how long ago the conviction, must be a factor to be weighed in the investigation process to assess the overall suitability of the person as an adoptive parent. The purpose of the criminal background check under the Illinois Adoption Act is to uncover any issues that may speak negatively to one’s character and overall fitness to adopt.
There is no doubt the courts will revisit this issue to address the gap in the law that excludes family members from the criminal background investigation process.
The adoption process can be a confusing and overwhelming experience. If you are considering adoption and want to know more about the process, do not hesitate to contact our DuPage County divorce lawyers at (630) 932-9100 for a free consultation today.
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