A major component to building your family through the gift of adoption is the requirement of a home study. Every state requires that you undergo an adoption home study, no matter what type of adoption you are pursuing. There are three major goals in requiring the prospective adoptive parents to undergo a home study.
1.) Educate and prepare the prospective parents on the adoption process and effects of adoption.
2.) Evaluate the prospective adoptive parents to ensure their capability and sustainability in adopting a child.
3.) Gather information that will help place the right child with the family meant for him or her.
In order to answer your request, “What is an adoption home study?” let me first remind you that this article is written from my own personal experiences and research. This does not constitute legal advice, and I advise you to check with a local adoption agency or attorney for specific information regarding the state you live in. For now, this will be a general overview of what is an adoption home study.
What does the process look like?
Again, let me remind you that every state has its own set of requirements, laws, and regulations regarding adoption. However, every state requires the completion of a home study. Home studies can be completed by a local adoption agency. Again, make sure to contact your local representative to make sure you are following their guidelines. But in the meantime, let’s see if I can give you a general overview of the age-old question, “What is an adoption home study?”
Once you have decided on which agency you want to work with, they most likely will have an orientation or information meeting to discuss how their agency processes adoptions. This is usually a couple of hours and covers a variety of topics including the process, children waiting for adoption, types of adoptions, and much more. This is a good first step in deciding if this agency is the agency you want to work with or not. I will say, I suggest you visit more than one agency. A lot of what each agency does is the same, however, there are a few things they will do differently, and you want to feel as comfortable as possible with your agency and caseworker. The adoption home study process is a very personal one, and making sure you have a good connection with the agency from the beginning is very important.
If you didn’t already complete an application before attending the orientation session at your agency of choice, this is when you would start that process. This is usually a couple of pages long and contains a lot of statistical data about yourself, e.g. name, date of birth, address, employment, education, etc. Be as thorough as possible and complete it as neatly as possible.
If you have completed the above, most states require some sort of training for the prospective adoptive parents. These requirements vary from state to state. I can tell you in my experience it was two days of back-to-back training. There are also follow-up training requirements in the state where I reside. Again, I urge you to talk with your agency worker about these requirements so that you are prepared as much as possible. These trainings are meant to help the prospective adoptive parents with adoption issues and adoption-related information. I can tell you when we first went through the trainings, I was annoyed. I was upset that not everyone on the planet needed to take parenting or education classes to become a parent, so why did we? However, looking back it was a great learning tool for us, not just as adoptive parents but as parents in general. I urge you to go into these trainings with an open mind. Take great notes. Keep all your materials. You never know when you may need them!
This is, again, why I tell you that the adoption home study process is a very personal experience. Your social worker or caseworker will probably interview you several times during the adoption home study process. These interviews help develop a relationship between you and your social worker. They are getting to know you to better understand you and your family and assist you in the adoption process. These interviews, however, are when it gets even more personal. They will ask you about your personal relationships. They will ask you about any personal experiences you have with interacting with children. They may ask you what your approach to parenting is, especially about discipline. They may also ask how you handle stress. You may also be asked questions regarding your experiences with crisis, loss, or infertility. You may also discuss what ages of children will fit best in your family. If you have a preference of age, sex, sibling group, etc.
Let me say this, this is a time when you want to be as honest as possible with your social worker. I remember our first interview with our social worker. I pretty much cried the entire time. She was so patient and understanding, and she made the experience and process so much easier. We connected. You could tell she cared about her clients. You could tell her job mattered to her. This is why I urge you to be so completely honest. Because once you develop that initial relationship with your social worker, it will make the rest of the process so much easier.
Some agencies will conduct the interview together if you are adopting as a couple. Other agencies will conduct individual interviews separately and then conduct a couples interview. If you already have children in your home, some agencies will also want to interview the children. This will depend on the age of the children. Also, if you have adult children the agency may want to interview or have a discussion with them as well. Again, check with your local agency and worker to determine who will all be included in the interviews.
The home visits are where your agency worker physically comes to your home to ensure your home offers a safe environment for a child and meets all state licensing requirements. Again, these requirements vary by each state but usually include working smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, safe storage of firearms and ammunition (to be kept separately), bedroom requirements, bed requirements, outlet covers, safety plans, covered pool if necessary, and more. It may also be required that you have cabinet locks on your kitchen cabinets. It will be required that all poisonous and hazardous cleaners be locked up as well. You will also want to make sure that window drapes and cords are out of the reach of small children. Some states also require an inspection from the local health and/or fire department in addition to the home visits from your agency worker. Be sure to check with your agency worker to ensure you are in compliance with all safety requirements. I will make a point here to mention that the social worker is not looking at your house to see how good of a housekeeper you are or if there is dust on your mantel. They are there to make sure your home is a safe, child-friendly environment to bring a child into.
Most states and agencies require that the prospective adoptive parents undergo a recent physical exam and a signed statement from their physician. This statement will confirm that you are healthy, have a normal life expectancy, and are physically and mentally able to handle bringing a child into your life. If you have an underlying medical condition that is treated and under control, there should be no issue being approved for adopting a child. If you have a serious health problem that affects a normal life expectancy, you may be prevented from adopting. Again, make sure to discuss with your agency worker any medical conditions you have. You may also need to provide proof of health insurance for your family and that you will be able to add an adopted child to your policy. Be sure to check with your insurance carrier to know the requirements of adding an adopted child to your insurance plan.
You will also be asked to provide financial information to your agency worker. This may include W-2s, pay stubs, or income tax returns. Some agencies will also require you to provide savings or life insurance policy information. We also were required to provide a signed verification of employment from our employer. Again, check with your local agency to verify what you will need to provide to them.
All states require some sort of background check which includes criminal and child abuse checks for all adoptive parents. This usually includes federal, state, and local criminal records. It may also include being fingerprinted. Be sure to discuss any previous situations that you may believe will be found on a background check. All agencies must comply with state and federal law regarding the criminal background check. There are some criminal activities that will prevent you from being able to adopt. Others may be able to be explained and written into your report. Again, be honest with your agency worker and do not leave any information out.
Many adoption agencies will ask you to write an autobiographical statement or story. This will essentially be the story of your life. This, much like the interview with your social worker, is very personal and will help the social worker better understand you and your family. Writing about yourself can seem like a very hard thing to do, however, some agencies will have questions to help you get started on your story. Again, be open and truthful while writing your story.
Some agencies will also ask you to create a portfolio or scrapbook of your life. This is usually used in open adoptions where the birth mother can look at the portfolios to choose a family to meet and create an adoption plan with. Some agencies allow the creation of an electronic portfolio or scrapbook. You may also be asked to prepare a book for the child you are adopting if they are old enough to understand and/or read.
Your agency will also ask you to provide a list of references. Again, how your agency handles references will depend on what they are required to provide and how many you will be asked to provide. This is usually between three or four people. Most agencies will require that the references not be related to you, or maybe they will allow one that is related and the rest must not be related. I know in our adoption we had to provide one relative, one pastor, and two other unrelated references. They may be required to fill out a pre-labeled questionnaire from your agency, or they may be required to write a written reference for you. These references will help your agency worker form a complete picture of your family and your support network. You may want to include a reference that will be familiar with your interaction with other children. Good references could include close friends, neighbors, former teacher, former coaches, or co-workers.
The Adoption Home Study Report
Once all of the above is completed, your agency worker will create a written home study report. This report will reflect what he/she found during the above steps and may also ask you to provide some of the following information to complete their report:
– Education background
– Employment history
– Daily life routines
– Neighborhood information
– Religion/belief system
– Hobbies and interests
– Plans for child care
– Volunteer work, if any
– Specific adoption-related information, e.g. openness, older children, sibling groups, etc.
In addition to the financial information requested above your agency may also require that you provide copies of the following:
– Marriage certificates
– Birth certificates
– Divorce decree, if applicable
Your agency worker then will then put all of this information together in their written report and conclude with a summary of their approval and/or denial. Some agencies will provide you with a copy of the written report and some agencies will not. We were fortunate enough to be provided with a copy of ours and were able to review it for any discrepancies or further clarification.
The adoption home study process may seem, at times, invasive, lengthy, and time-consuming, but know it is done to ensure your decision to adopt, prepare your family for adoption, and to help find the child that is meant to be with your family. It is also there to make sure children are placed in safe and loving homes.
My biggest piece of advice would be to be yourself, take your time, and know this is not meant to work against you; but it is meant to help you understand the gift of adoption, be better parents, and ensure you are matched with a child that is meant for your family. I hope this article helped answer your question, “What is an adoption home study?” Know that I wish you the very best of luck during your adoption home study process and am here if you need further assistance.
Jessica Heesch is an avid runner and fitness guru by choice, occasional writer by coincidence, loved by an amazing husband, and mother to an incredible boy, Jackson, by the gift of adoption.