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New law requires fingerprints for all adoptions and foster care providers

WILLMAR -- A new state law requires pre-adoptive parents -- even stepparents who want to adopt a spouse's child -- to be fingerprinted and undergo a national FBI background check.

The legislation, which was approved this spring, also applies to individuals who are seeking a license to be foster parents.

The law went into effect July 1 to help the state meet the federal Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act, which was approved in 2006 as a way to protect children from sexual predators. Adam Walsh was kidnapped and killed in 1981. His father, John Walsh, is host of the television series, "America's Most Wanted."

In the past, only a local social service check and state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension background check were required to adopt a child or be a foster parent in Minnesota. Applicants were also asked to list other states where they had lived in the past five years and criminal records checks were conducted in those states.

The previous system made it possible for someone with a criminal history of abusing children in another state to move across the state line and adopt a child, said Kathy Nelson, a supervisor with the Kandiyohi County Family Services Department.

Now, pre-adoptive or foster parents must have their fingerprints submitted to the FBI for a nationwide background check.

"Obviously, it's a good change in that, hopefully, it protects children," said Nelson, who oversees county adoptions. "It provides an extra layer of security for all of us in knowing who our potential adoptive parents are."

"It's a good thing," said Corinne Torkelson, a Kandiyohi County Family Services supervisor who licenses foster care homes. "It's for the safety of the kids."

The process has proven to be a bit cumbersome, and the change in requirements has meant some delays in getting results returned to counties.

That has meant delays in finalizing some adoptions, Nelson said. "It will possibly clog the system for a little while."

Nelson said that once a protocol was established for how to handle the fingerprinting procedure here, Kandiyohi County Court Administration sent letters to private attorneys, who often work with pre-adoptive parents, informing them of the new requirements.

For foster parents, background checks in the past would be completed in about a week. Now it's taking around three weeks. The county typically licenses eight to 10 new foster parents each year.

The biggest snag, said Torkelson, is for corporate foster care homes. The county opened a new home recently and all 21 employees had to have their fingerprints taken and federal background checks completed.

There is often frequent staff turnaround for the 24/7 shift work at corporate foster care homes, but a new employee won't be able to start working until the FBI check is completed. In the past, Torkelson said new employees could work under supervision while the checks were being conducted.

Even individuals who had applications to become foster parents or adoptive parents on file prior to July 1, but hadn't quite completed the process, will have to undergo the additional layer of security checks.

Part of the delay is because the county and state agencies are still getting used to the new system.

Nelson said the wait is worth it.

"It's about protecting children," said Nelson, who hopes the purpose of the law will help adults deal with the extra scrutiny and frustration.

While it's important for children to be placed in permanent homes as soon possible, she said the issue of safety for the child is extremely important, and the federal and state government "is asking us to pay a little more attention" to it.

"The outcome and the intent is what it's all about," Torkelson said. "It's for the benefit of the kids, and that's what we all want."

In Kandiyohi County, individuals can have their fingerprints taken at the jail. Starting Nov. 1, there will be a $5 fee for the service.

Sheriff Dan Hartog said the fee will cover the cost of ink but not staff time. It's being implemented because the new law means more people need their fingerprints taken, which takes staff time and resources.

"We've seen an increase in the number of people coming in," Hartog said. A survey he conducted shows most jails in the state charge $10 for fingerprints.

The jail will offer the service from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and Saturday and Sunday, even holidays, with the exception of 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. each day. The service will be offered from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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