The dreaded home study may not be something that you have to dread. Reading all about what you need to know while you’re preparing can make a world of a difference in your experience. The home study doesn’t have to be nerve-wracking as long as you arm yourself with knowledge.
1. What Is A Home Study?
Often hopeful adoptive parents are intimidated by those two words: home study. There are feelings of anxiety and dread at the thought of a social worker coming to probe the inner workings of their home and family. However, there’s nothing to fear if you just prepare yourself for the process.
A common misconception about home studies is the belief that it only entails a home visit by an adoption professional, but there are actually a few more parts. A completed home study will look like a 6-15 page report and have a statement that gives your family the approval to adopt. Home studies are often catered to what type of adoption you’re wanting, as international and domestic adoption do have different requirements.
Essentially, the home study has two parts: 1) Looking into your ability to be an adoptive parent and 2) making sure that you have a good place to raise a child. Home studies help your adoption professional get to know you better and teach you more about the adoption process. Sometimes a home study will only take a couple weeks or it may take a few months. It will depend on how soon you can have meetings with your social worker and how quickly you can gather all the necessary information for your home study.
A completed home study will share a clear picture of who you and your family are. It should also answer these questions:
- Who are the people that want to adopt?
- Why do you and your family want to adopt?
- How have you prepared for adoption?
- Can you meet the physical, emotional, and financial needs of a child by way of adoption?
A home study is not meant to find perfect parents, but rather match the right parents with the right child.
2. How To Best Prepare For The Home Study
You can do a few things to help you have an easier time with your home study. The fact that you want to prepare ahead of time is a good indicator of how your home study will go.
First, start gathering documents that you’ll need. Check out the list below for information about what kind of documents you’ll need. A lot of these will be documents you already have, but you will need to have official copies to include in your completed home study. This can take a decent amount of time depending on your circumstances, so if you can get this started, it will make your home study process easier and smoother.
Be sure that you have an excellent adoption professional assisting you, whether you’re adopting privately or through an agency. You need someone that is accredited in all the areas you need, can answer all the hard questions you have, and patiently answers said questions. Having a good adoption professional will only make your adoption journey better.
Start having conversations now. Truth be told, you’ve probably talked about adoption at least a little bit by this point. However, now you need to start having conversations that might be a little tougher. You and your spouse should be able to answer the following questions:
- What type of adoption do you want? International, domestic, or foster?
- How do you want to parent your child who you will adopt?
- What kind of relationship would you like to have with your child’s birth parents?
- Do you have a gender preference?
- Are you willing to adopt a child with special needs? What kinds of special needs to feel like you can handle?
- Are you open to transracial adoption?
- What problems do you foresee as a parent and how do you hope to handle them?
- What about your pasts maybe be difficult to bring up to your social worker? How do you want to address them?
- Are you healthy physically and mentally to be a parent by adoption?
- What questions do you want to ask your adoption professional?
- How can you prepare any current children you have for adoption and the home study?
- Why do you want to adopt?
Many of these questions may be asked by your social worker during the home study process. Others will help you prepare for the home study itself. It’s important to discuss these with your spouse so that you’re on the same page and are able to work through potential problems or disagreements before your home study.
3. What Happens During A Home Study?
You can expect to meet with your social worker several times. You and your spouse will be interviewed together and individually. And of course, your social worker will come and visit your home. Your social worker will want to know what kind of environment your adopted child will live in–this includes interviewing with anyone else who might live in your home.
You can also expect a home study to check your financial history. A criminal background check is also required. You will need to go in to the doctors to complete a physical exam, which may include a mental health check.
A social worker will likely discuss your and your spouse’s family backgrounds, how you want to parent and discipline your child, if there are any divorces in your past, and what child you would like to adopt and why. It’s a good idea to give these topics some thought ahead of time and discuss with your spouse to make sure you are both prepared. It is the job of the social worker to ask about nearly every aspect of your life, but they do this with all couples. Be honest and prepared to talk about all the ways you’ve prepared for adoption.
When you first meet with your social worker, he or she will give you many, many forms to fill out. This packet will include your I-600A and I-600 forms, if you plan to adopt internationally. You will also see forms for personal and financial disclosures as well as fingerprint cards. It can seem overwhelming and even frustrating when you see some of the redundancies in the forms, but take a deep breath and get started. You and your spouse are the only ones that can fill this information out. And this will only bring you one step closer to your child!
Your social worker will know the answers to any questions you have about the forms. Be sure to bring something to take notes with whenever you meet.
4. How To Choose A Home Study Professional
Since each state has different laws and requirements for the adoption process, it’s good to know what kind of adoption you want to pursue so you can choose the correct adoption professional or agency.
If you are choosing to adopt internationally, the United States has different types of home studies that must be done depending on which country you choose. Many hopeful adoptive parents will actually work with two agencies/professionals when adopting internationally. This is because while some agencies can help place a child, they are not accredited to perform an international adoption home study.
If you’re hoping to adopt from foster care, many governments will have a home study agent contracted to you to perform the home study. They may also have state workers that can do the home study; you’ll need to contact your local child welfare office to find out which route your state uses. However, this type of home study is not easily transitioned into a domestic or international adoption.
If you’re choosing adoption for a child that is not in state custody (like domestic infant adoption), your home study can often be completed by a licensed agency or a social worker. If you’re working with an agency, they will often be able to help you connect with independent workers that perform home studies.
Selecting the right professional is paramount depending on the type of adoption you are pursuing. You will want to make sure you check their accreditation and licensing to be sure they are up to date on all the necessities. Many hopeful parents find working with an agency to be the easiest route as they can guide them through the process. You can connect with a home study professional here or an adoption professional here.
5. The Necessary Documents
Although some states and types of adoptions will require different documentation, the following is a good summation of what documents you’ll need for your home study.
Certified copies of the following
- Birth certificates for you, your spouse, and any children in your home
- Adoption decrees for any adopted children in your home
- Marriage certificate
- Death certificates of any former spouses
- Divorce decrees for you and/or your spouse
- Employment verification on the company’s letterhead
- Verification of income (this could be copies of federal tax returns from the last three years)
- Proof of life insurance
- Proof of health insurance
- Verification of any and all monetary assets (checking and savings accounts, 401k, stocks, mutual funds, etc), these should be on institution letterhead
- Any debt information (like houses, cars, and credit card balances)
- Mortgage or rent information (your monthly payment and equity amount)
Other Information You Need To Have For Your Home Study
- Physical exam results
- Criminal background results
- Public health inspection (you need this if you have septic system)
- Fire Safety inspection
- If you have pet(s) you’ll need a letter from your veterinarian that states all your pets are healthy and have their current vaccinations
- Photographs of your family
- Photographs of all parts of your home
- Copies of any home studies you’ve had before
- Written references
Don’t be overwhelmed by the amount. Many of these are simply gotten by a request from your local government. The sooner that you get the paperwork and appointments completed, the further you are in your adoption journey.
6. International Adoption Home Studies
If you’re adopting internationally, your home study will be a bit different than a domestic adoption; it will even be different from other international adoptions since each country has different requirements.
International home studies are valid for one year from the date it is approved. This can be a problem if your international adoption takes longer than one year because your home study will need to be updated before the adoption can be completed. Since each country has different rules and regulations for international adoption, you need to make sure your home study covers their requirements. Your home study provider also needs to be Hauge accredited, even if the country you’re hoping to adopt from is not. Other countries will often require a more detailed income report, a notarized letter from your city or local police station that states you are a citizen in good standing, and often 10+ hours of education training.
It is necessary to reiterate that when choosing international adoption, you must choose an agency that is Hauge accredited. Not only are accredited agencies they only ones legally allowed to facilitate adoptions, but they are also following the many strict rules and regulations that are in place to help prevent child trafficking. It goes without saying that if an agency without Hauge accreditation is operating illegally and may be participating in child trafficking.
You will need to fill out I-600A if you’re adopting from a Hauge accredited country or a I-800 if your country of choice is non-Hauge. You’ll need to submit a dossier to the country you’re adopting from, and the forms above will help open up a correspondence with the USCIS.
Your agency will be able to guide you through every step of the way, so don’t let yourself get too overwhelmed. Remember with each form you fill out, you’re a little closer to adopting your child. And keep copies of all your paperwork.
7. Foster Care Home Studies
Is the foster care home study different from the adoption home study? Maybe. This is mostly going to depend on your county/state’s regulations.
Oftentimes a foster care home study is a tad cheaper since it’s done by a government agency rather than a private agency. You may also find that some of the qualifications of an adoption home study will be more intense in some ways, like more paperwork. But in other ways, like a safety inspection, the foster care home study is more intense.
It’s important to discuss ahead of time of you think you will adopt from the foster care system, or just be a foster parent. This will also slightly alter your home study requirements.
Although a home study for foster care will be different from a domestic infant home study, you can still gather many of the same documentations and recommendations discussed in this article. A home study, no matter what type of adoption, will always be an evaluation of whether or not you and your home are fit to parent children.
8. What Is A Home Visit?
The home visit is what most people think of when they think of a home study. There is something agonizing about having a social worker come into your home, for your judgement. In reality, most social workers are not out to judge you harshly, and they too are human, so they recognize that you will have dust in corners that you just can’t reach. They’re not looking for the perfect home, but a suitable, safe home for your child. When you’re preparing for a home study, consider the following information.
- Clean your home, but don’t feel the need to remodel your home. Social workers want to know what kind of home an adopted child will live in.
- Check (or get!) smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. Although the last two might not be required, they’re still good to have.
- Be sure to have firearms stored properly and be ready to talk about your gun safety policy.
- The social worker will want to check the room your future child will be living in. If the room isn’t decorated, that’s okay! Your social worker just wants to know if it’s safe for your child.
- A home study is to ascertain whether you meet licensing requirements for your state and your home has adequate space to have another child live in your home.
- Be sure your household cleaning supplies are stored in a safe and secure location.
- If you have a pool, know how you plan to keep your child safe.
- Have and discuss a fire safety plan. In the event of a house fire, you should have safe ways to exit the home.
Your state, country, or county may have specific safety regulations. It’s a good idea to talk with your social worker about common things that get missed on the home study. This way you can prepare yourself and your home.
9. Will My Past Hinder My Adoption?
While we are all only human, some pasts can be a little rougher than others. If your past contains things like drug use, alcoholism, or an arrest, the best thing you can do is be upfront about it. It does not mean you are automatically disqualified. If you can be honest about the past and how you’ve sincerely changed from it, your social worker will understand. When you tell a lie, that’s where the issues arise. It’s very likely your past will get brought up, so it’s best if you’re just honest about it.
However, there are a few red flags that your social worker will be on the lookout for. If you’ve had history of instability in your jobs or personal life; for example, several marriages and divorces, or frequent changes in employers can be a warning sign.
An automatic disqualification from a home study (and ultimately the chance at adopting) is if you have been convicted of child abuse.
10. Who Should You Have As References?
You will have to provide several references for your social worker to contact. These should be people that have known you for a while, know your personality and even parenting style. These should not be people that will not take this request seriously. This is not a time for playfulness or jokes. Most home studies will not accept family references, so reach out to past employers, close friends, and community or church members.
It’s important to ask people to be your references before you write their contact information down. You need someone that wants to be your reference and will not see this as a hassle. You may also want to make sure you check in with potential references on their feelings of adoption, including international and transracial adoptions. It would not be good to have someone be your reference that does not agree with adoption practices.
You should consider what type of references you want and use that as a guideline to determine if someone is suitable to be your reference. It is also better to have references from those that have known you for years rather than a newer acquaintance.
Be sure to check out these other articles as you move forward in your adoption: