The Adoption Home Study Process

Every State and the District of Columbia require prospective adoptive parent(s) to participate in a home study. This serves three purposes: to educate and prepare the adoptive family, to gather information about the prospective parent(s) and to evaluate the fitness of the adoptive family.

Specific home study requirements and processes vary greatly from agency to agency, State to State and by the child’s country of origin. We will discuss the common elements of the home study process and address a few concerns prospective adoptive parents may have.

Elements of the Home Study Process

Every adoption agency conducts home studies differently. The most common steps that most agencies use in their home study process are listed below. The specific details and order may vary, so make sure to speak with the agencies you are considering about their particular approach.

Training

Many agencies require training for prospective parents prior to or during the home study process. This training helps prospective parents understand the needs of the children and helps families decide what type of child or children they could most effectively parent.

Interviews

You will, most likely, be interviewed multiple times by your social worker, going over the topics addressed in the home study report (see below). In the case of couples, some agency workers conduct all of the interviews with both prospective parents together, while others will conduct both joint and individual interviews. If you have adult children, they may be interviewed, as well.

Home Visit

The home visit’s primary function is to ensure your home meets State licensing standards (e.g., working smoke alarms, safe storage of firearms, adequate space for each child, etc.). The agency will be looking for how you are planning for a new family member by examining all areas of the home, including where the child will sleep, the basement, and the back yard. Some States may require additional inspections from the local health and/or fire departments.

Health Statements

Most agencies require prospective adoptive parents to have some form of a physical examination. Some agencies have very specific requirements; other agencies just want to know the prospective parents are essentially healthy, have a normal life expectancy, and are physically and mentally able to handle the care of a child.

If you have a serious health problem that affects life expectancy, it may prevent approval. If your family has sought counseling or treatment for a mental health condition, you may have to provide reports from those visits. The fact that your family sought such help should not directly prevent you from adopting. Check with the agencies or social workers you are considering, however, if you have concerns.

Income Statements

Prospective parents are usually asked to simply verify their income by showing copies of paycheck stubs, W-4 forms, or income tax forms. Agencies may also ask about savings, insurance policies, other investments and debts. Also note, some countries may have specific income requirements for adoption.

Background Checks

Most States require criminal and child abuse record clearances for all prospective parents. In many States, local, State, and Federal clearances are needed.

Agencies need to comply with State laws about how the findings of these background checks affect eligibility for adoptive parents. Do not hesitate to talk to prospective agencies and social workers about specific situations that might disqualify you from adopting. Agencies are not just looking at your past experiences, but at what you’ve learned from them. Some agencies may be able to work with your family, depending on the State, the charge and its resolution.

Autobiographical Statement

Adoption agencies may ask prospective parents to write an autobiographical statement. This statement helps the social worker better understand your family and assists them in writing the home study report (see below).

While writing about yourself can be intimidating, it is intended to provide information about you to the agency, as well as to help you explore issues related to the adoption. Some agencies have a set of questions to guide you through writing your autobiography.

References

The agency will ask you for the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of three or four individuals to serve as references. They will help the social worker form a more complete picture of your family.

References should be individuals who have known you for several years, have visited your home and know of your interest in and involvement with children.

Most agencies state that references must be people unrelated to you. Some good choices include close friends, an employer, or leader of your faith community.

The Home Study Report

The above steps will usually conclude with the writing of a home study report that shows the social worker’s findings. Home study reports are often used to assist in matching your family with a waiting child.

Home study reports generally include all the above-mentioned topics with any or all of the following types of information:

  • Family background. Descriptions of the prospective parents’ childhoods, past and current relationships with parents and siblings, and any important events and losses.
  • Education/employment. Prospective parents’ current educational level, and any plans to further their education, as well as their employment status, history, and plans.
  • Relationships. If the prospective parents are a couple, the report may cover their history and their current relationship. If the prospective applicant is single, there will be information about their social life, as well as information about their network of relatives and friends.
  • Daily life. A typical weekday or weekend, plans for child care (if prospective parents work outside the home), hobbies, and interests.
  • Parenting. Prospective parents’ past experiences with children and their plans regarding discipline and other parenting issues.
  • Neighborhood. Description of the prospective parents’ neighborhood.
  • Religion. Information about the prospective parents’ religion, level of religious practice, and what kind of religious upbringing (if any) they plan to provide for the child.
  • Approval/recommendation. The home study report will conclude with a summary and the social worker’s recommendation. This often includes the age range and number of children for which the family is recommended.

Prospective parents will also be asked to provide copies of any applicable birth certificates, marriage licenses, and divorce decrees. If it is a concern of yours, you may want to ask the agency about the confidentiality of the home study report and to what extent your information will be shared. Agency policies vary, depending on the type of agency and type of adoption. In some cases, the information may also be shared with birth parents or others.

Common Concerns About the Home Study

How long will the home study take?

The length of time for the home study will vary from agency to agency. The home study process takes an average of 3 to 6 months to complete. You can help speed up the process by filling out your paperwork, scheduling your medical appointments, and gathering the required documents ahead of time.

How much does a home study cost?

For intercountry adoption, a private agency or certified social worker in private practice might charge from $1,000 to $3,000 for the home study. Other services (such as an application fee and preplacement services) are sometimes included in this fee.

What might disqualify our family from adopting?

Aside from a criminal record or overriding safety concerns that would stop agencies from approving your family under your State’s laws or policies, it is difficult to say what would definitively disqualify a prospective parent from adopting.

Who may adopt varies from agency to agency, State to State, and by the child’s country of origin. Adoptions in the United States are governed by State law and regulations (see links below for a complete listing).

How will the children in our family be involved in the home study?

All children in your family will be included in the home study in some way. They might be asked to write a statement describing their feelings and preferences about having a new brother or sister, or, at the very least, will be interviewed by the agency or social worker.

The agency or social worker commonly asks questions such as how the children do in school, any interests or hobbies, what their friends are like, and how their behavior is rewarded or disciplined. However, the emphasis will be on how the children see a new sibling (or siblings) fitting into the family.

A child’s input is usually quite important in the overall assessment of a family’s readiness to adopt. The agency or social worker will want to make sure that an adopted child will be immediately wanted and loved by all family members.

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