How important is it for prospective adoptive parents to tell the truth about past problems– and current medical/emotional problems– that are being treated and under control?

One of the questions I get most often is about medical and emotional problems or criminal history.  People wonder if they should tell about their history or keep it a secret.  They worry that if they disclose something less-than-rosy, they will be disqualified from adopting.  My answer to that question is simple:  honesty is the best policy.

Having a medical disability does not automatically disqualify you from adopting a child, nor does having a criminal record.  However, whether you adopt domestically or internationally, your home study social worker needs to ensure that you meet the requirements of your country and state, as well as the country you’re adopting from, in the case of international adoptions.

During the home study, it is the job of the social worker to gather information and answer questions. This is done in order to determine whether or not someone is prepared to be a parent, both financially and emotionally.  The bottom line is that everyone just wants to ensure that you have the capacity to give and receive affection and that your home is a safe environment for a child to grow up in.  Your willingness to honestly address your past concerns is an important part of this exploration process.

An existing medical issue or emotional problem generally will not prevent you from adopting a child, as long as the condition is not harmful to others and is being treated. If you’re in the middle of medical or psychological treatment or have a condition that threatens your life expectancy, you may be prevented from adopting. It is okay, however, to have a medical or mental health concern as long as you are under a physician’s care and supervision or if the concern has been resolved with no adverse residual problems.

For example, you may suffer from mild anxiety and take an anti-anxiety medication that allows you to successfully parent your current children and hold a job. Being honest with the social worker about this enables him or her to make an informed decision regarding your parenting ability.

A criminal history will not necessarily preclude you from adopting either, though a criminal history records check will be completed on you as part of the home study process. Fingerprints will be taken on both the state and federal levels to verify there is no history of criminal activity. This is done in order to determine whether an applicant has been accused or charged of abuse or maltreatment of a child, and to ensure that a child is placed into a secure and loving family.

Federal and State laws do NOT permit you to adopt if you have been convicted for major felonies against children, such as child abuse, neglect, spousal abuse– or a crime involving violence, including rape, assault, and homicide. There really is no way to cover up a past criminal history, so there is no reason to lie to the social worker about it.

Misdemeanors stemming from “youthful indiscretions,” however, usually aren’t held against prospective adopters, although a social worker will want to know if your past behavior is just that, that there is no recent history of criminal activity, and that you have completed any necessary treatment.

Be forthcoming. My mother always said, “What comes around, goes around– and the truth always comes out.” If you are not honest with the social worker, it may look like you were trying to hide something and that you are a dishonest person.  This will raise a red flag for the social worker. It is better to tell the truth from the start. Be open and honest. Remember, the social worker is there to help you create your forever family.