If you're contemplating adopting or becoming a foster parent in Pennsylvania, you know that it can be an intense and invasive experience. If you or someone in your immediate family have an arrest or criminal record, you're undoubtedly wondering how this might affect your ability to adopt or your application to become a foster parent.
Adoptive and Foster Parents in Pennsylvania
As part of the process to become an adoptive or foster parent in Pennsylvania, you must complete both a pre- and post-placement home study. The home study is an evaluation of your ability to provide a nurturing and stable home to a child. As part of this evaluation, the state will consider your criminal history.
Under Pennsylvania law, each foster parent and anyone over 18 living in the household must submit a criminal history and a certification from the state child abuse database.
- Pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. Ch. 91 (relating to criminal history record information), a report of criminal history record information from the Pennsylvania State Police or a statement from the Pennsylvania State Police that the State Police central repository contains no such information relating to that person. The criminal history record information shall be limited to that which is disseminated pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 9121(b)(2) (relating to general regulations).
- A certification from the department as to whether the applicant is named in the Statewide database as the alleged perpetrator in a pending child abuse investigation or as the perpetrator of a founded report or an indicated report.
- A report of Federal criminal history record information. The applicant shall submit a full set of fingerprints to the Pennsylvania State Police for the purpose of a record check, and the Pennsylvania State Police or its authorized agent shall submit the fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation for the purpose of verifying the identity of the applicant and obtaining a current record of any criminal arrests and convictions.
23 Pa. C.S. § 6344(b) (2022).
The department can't approve a potential foster parent for foster care if they've verified the applicant is in the central registry as a perpetrator of a “found” case of child abuse in the last five years. The department also can't approve an application if anyone in the home has a criminal conviction for:
- Criminal homicide
- Aggravated assault
- Stalking, kidnapping, or unlawful restraint
- Rape, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, involuntary deviant sexual intercourse, indecent assault, or incest
- Concealing the death of a child
- Endangering the welfare of children
- Dealing in infant children
- Felony prostitution or related offense
- Pornography charges
- Corruption of minors
- Sexual abuse of children
- The attempt, solicitation, or conspiracy to commit any of these crimes
The state will also deny approval for anyone convicted of a felony drug charge in the last five years. See 23 Pa. C.S. § 6344 (2022). This includes anyone over 14 who lived in the home for at least 30 days within the last calendar year.
Aside from the convictions above, which will expressly prevent you from adopting under Pennsylvania law, additional criminal convictions may also affect your adoption application. If you know you have an arrest record, you should consult an experienced Pennsylvania expungement attorney before beginning the adoption or foster parent application process.
Who Can Expunge a Record in Pennsylvania?
Even if you have a criminal history, you may be eligible to expunge some or all of your records. Expungement involves a court order that orders state law enforcement agencies and court offices to remove your records related to your arrest or conviction from their files. However, Pennsylvania law only allows expungement in some limited situations:
- If you were arrested and charged but never convicted of a crime. This includes withdrawn charges, not guilty verdicts, dismissed charges, and nolle prose disposition.
- You have an underage drinking conviction, and now you are 21 and have completed all court-ordered requirements
- You have convictions for other summary offenses if you've been free from arrest or prosecution for five years. Summary offenses are minor offenses not classified as misdemeanors or felonies.
- You received a pardon from the governor
You may also be able to expunge juvenile records or adult records if you've gone through a Section 17 diversionary program or an Accelerative Rehabilitative Disposition program that wasn't related to a sex crime involving a minor. See 18 Pa. C.S.A. § 9122 (2019); 234 Pa.C.R. 320. Most ARD dispositions involve alcohol or drug-related crimes.
You cannot expunge convictions for misdemeanors or felonies in Pennsylvania. However, you may be able to apply to have these records sealed or apply for a pardon.
Can I Seal My Pennsylvania Record?
Under Pennsylvania law, you may qualify to have some nonviolent misdemeanors “sealed” after ten years if you haven't had any arrests or convictions in the interim. Pennsylvania courts will seal some records automatically, including:
- Arrest records if you were never convicted
- Charges where a court or jury found you not guilty
- Nonviolent criminal convictions after ten years
- Misdemeanor convictions punishable by less than two years in prison
If the court seals your records, they remove them from public view, but your record still exists. However, they won't appear on some background checks. If you're concerned about whether you can seal your record and whether you'll need to disclose those records on your adoption application, an experienced Pennsylvania expungement attorney can help.
Hire an Experienced Pennsylvania Expungement Attorney
If you're in the midst of applying to adopt or become a foster parent in Pennsylvania, a criminal record can derail your future family plans. If you have an arrest or criminal record, you should consult a criminal defense attorney well versed in handling both Pennsylvania expungement and sealing applications. Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the skilled team at the Lento Law Firm have been helping people in Pennsylvania navigate the expungement process for years, and they can help you too. Call the Lento Law Firm at 215-535-5353 or contact them online to set up your consultation.