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Reasons a Child Adoption May Be Denied

Whether prospective adoptive parents choose foster-care adoption, private adoption or international adoption, they must undergo a home study. A home study assesses a family's readiness and ability to adopt a child. If a family is unable to show that they can successfully care for a child's needs, the adoption may be denied. Ultimately, a judge makes the final determination about whether the adoption is approved or denied. A social worker interviews prospective parents.

Conviction of a Serious Crime

Although adoption agencies run thorough background checks on applicants, a criminal history does not automatically exclude a person from being able to adopt. The nature of the crime is taken into consideration. "The more recent the conviction, the more violent it was, and the more it it was related to children, the less likely that someone would be approved to adopt," says Dewey Crepeau, executive director of A Gift of Hope Adoptions in Columbia, Missouri. "A DWI five years ago with no problems thereafter might be okay. However, if there was a child in the car at the time, and there was also a charge of child endangerment, the less likely the person would be approved," he adds.

Substantiated Reports of Child Abuse

A history of abusive behavior toward children is a red flag to adoption agencies. "Any incidence of abuse to a child would likely make an individual ineligible for adoption," say Brooke Randolph, Vice President and Director of Adoption Preparation and Support Services for MLJ Adoptions, Inc., an international adoption agency in Indianapolis, Indiana. "Accusations and even an investigation of abuse or neglect though does not disqualify someone, only a substantiated report," adds Randolph.

Financial Problems and Lack of Resources

Prospective parents need to show they can financially care for a child. "Generally, we work with families on naming assets, securing a co-sponsor, and finding a way to increase income," says Randolph. There are different guidelines depending on the type of adoption that is being pursued. Typically, families have to be above the federal poverty limit.

There are also guidelines that must be met about an adoptive family's home. The home must be in safe condition for a child. Often, there are fire codes that must be met. Depending on the circumstances, a child may need his own bedroom. Parents who can't meet such as requirements may not be able to pass the home study process.

Health Problems

Adoption agencies want to ensure that adoptive parents are healthy enough to care for a child. A letter from a physician stating the parents are healthy enough to raise a child is necessary. "A serious health problem that affects life expectancy may prevent approval," notes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Child Welfare Information Gateway website. Health problems, such as diabetes, that are well-controlled are not typically a problem. However, a life threatening condition, such as terminal cancer or end-stage heart failure, may disqualify a family.

Mental health conditions and a history of substance abuse are also taken into consideration. Adoption agencies want to ensure that families are able to give children emotional support and a loving, healthy environment. Significant mental health problems or substance abuse issues may lead to a failed home study.


When families are dishonest during the home study process, it raises big red flags to adoption agencies. Although prospective parents may be tempted to cover up anything they think may not look favorable, it's best to be honest. Crepeau says that his agency recently encountered a couple who lied about a prior criminal conviction. "If they had told the truth, it would not have been a big deal. However, as we looked into the lie, more and more issues came out, and we ultimately decided not to work with that couple," he explains.

Parenting Issues

The home study addresses prospective adoptive parents' discipline practices. Rules about what is considered acceptable discipline varies by state and adoption agency. However, if corporal punishment isn't allowed, which is often the case with children with a history of abuse, adoption agencies will usually work with families on learning new discipline techniques. Randolph says that adoptions can be denied when there is "a refusal to learn new parenting techniques needed for adoption."

Court Decision

After a family passes the home study, a judge must grant final approval for an adoption to be finalized. A judge considers each adoption on a case-by-case basis. The court ensures that the birth parents no longer have any legal rights to the child before granting the adoption. If the judge does not feel the adoption is in the best interest of the child, the adoption may be denied.

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