If you are considering adoption as a way to grow your family, it won’t be long before you come across the topic of “prepare for adoption home study.” As an absolute necessity to anyone considering adoption, a home study is an official process that enables you to be ready to have an adoptive child placed in your home. Home studies involve interviews, paperwork, and evaluations, and are frequently regarded with some degree of anticipation, dread, or even frustration by hopeful adoptive parents. Perhaps you feel that way yourself. After all, a home study is an official evaluation of yourself and your potential as an adoptive parent, and it can be a frightening idea to think that someone is going to evaluate you and determine your eligibility as a parent. No matter the subject, most people stress about tests or evaluations of any kind, and an assessment of your ability to raise a child is a lot more intimidating and close to the heart than your average math test. So, of course, you may have some trepidation about the dreaded “home study.” But you’re not alone. A simple online search reveals that many questions associated with home studies sound something like this: “How do I pass my adoption home study?” “What happens in an adoption home study?” “How do I prepare for an adoption home study?” Clearly, when it comes to home studies, we are a bit nervous.
But fear not. The good news is that despite the bad rap this process sometimes gets, adoption home studies are fairly straightforward and painless processes in general. And despite being evaluations, home studies aren’t really “tests.” Home studies are simply an opportunity for you to explain yourself and your family situation, and provide documentation and evidence of your capacity to protect and provide for a child. It might take some time and effort, but so does growing a family in every stage. So today, whether you’re prepping for a home study this instant or simply exploring the possibility of adoption, I’m going to share with you an easy five-step guide to help you prepare for your home study from start to finish.
Step #1: Find Someone to Do Your Home Study.
A home study typically consists of background checks, interviews, paperwork, and a house visit–all performed and written by a social worker, who compiles all the documents into a single certified home study document at the end of the process. If you are working with an agency, that agency will have social workers who work in tandem who will do this for you as part of your contract with the agency. If you are pursuing adoption independently, you will need to find and hire someone reliable to do your home study. To do this, look up home study providers in your state. Some states require the home study to be done through an agency or adoption specialist company, while some states also have lists of certified home study providers that you can contact independently. If you are unsure of where to start, a good place is to connect and communicate with people who have already adopted a child in your state. Consider reaching out to people you know who have adopted, or even reaching out on social media adoption groups and pages to ask who people have used for home studies. Most adoptive parents are happy to share positive or negative experiences with home study providers. Be ready to pay anywhere from $500-$1000 (if not more) depending on your state. Also, note that different kinds of adoptions warrant different kinds of home studies. If you’re hoping to adopt from foster care, for example, you will want to be sure to look up foster care home study providers or ask a provider if he or she does foster care home studies. Many states will have a government home study agent contracted to perform home studies, so simply do your research for the type of adoption you want in the state in which you live.
Step #2: Ask Yourself Some Questions.
Once you’ve hired a home study provider, that provider will likely want to schedule an interview with you, or even just converse on the phone. Though some of this will be just social niceties, your home study provider will also use these opportunities to learn more about you as part of the home study process. As such, it is likely that you will be asked, either in person or as part of the paperwork process (see step 3), a lengthy amount of questions about your plans to adopt and parents. As such, it is a good idea to consider these questions ahead of time. If you’re married, be sure to discuss these concerns and questions with your spouse so that you can be on the same page. Questions to consider include:
- What type of adoption do you want? International, domestic, infant, foster, etc.?
- What kind of relationship do you want to have with the birth parents?
- Are you willing to adopt a child with special needs? And if so, how are you prepared to handle a child with special needs?
- Who will be the primary caretaker for the child?
- How do you plan to parent the child?
- Are you open to transracial adoption? If so, how do you intend to address racial and cultural differences?
- What problems do you foresee in parenting an adopted child, and how do you intend to handle those problems should some arise?
- How do you intend to address adoption with your adopted child?
- Why do you want to adopt a child?
- How do your family members and friends feel about your plans to adopt?
- If you have other children, how do you intend to integrate a new child into the family? Particularly, if you will have both adoptive children and biological children, what challenges do you see with this integration?
This is hardly a comprehensive list, but it gives you an idea of the things you will need to be able to explain to your home study provider when asked. And in answering these questions, be sure to give your honest answers–not just what you think the social worker wants to hear. If you are uncomfortable with an open relationship with birth parents, or uncomfortable with adopting a child with special needs, say that now so as to avoid complications later on down the road.
Step #3: Complete Your Home Study Paperwork.
There isn’t any official standardized home study, and the exact format will vary from state to state, and honestly, from agency to agency to provider to provider. So, there’s no easy cheat to prepare all the paperwork in advance. But there are some standard regulations and components you can prepare for ahead of time. Home studies generally require a few reference letters from close friends or family; proof of income, insurance, employment, and education, physical and health history; and written personal responses to questions relating to your family, your upbringing, your parenting expectations, and your motivation for adoption. However, here’s a word of caution. This preparation step very intentionally comes after you have already found and hired a home study provider. That is because your home study provider will most likely have certain forms the provider will want you to use, so should you decide to create forms of your own in preparation, you will likely just have to repeat all that work once you’ve found a provider to work with. For example, if you go ahead and ask a friend for a reference letter on your own, prior to hiring a home study provider, you will most likely just have to go back and give the friend a new form to use and ask her to write one all over again. The same goes with your doctor and your physical. So, while you may be itching to start on things right now, wait until you’ve hired a provider and use the paperwork provided directly. In the meantime, you can certainly put in order the necessary documents such as birth certificates and marriage certificates, or consider who you would want for references, or make sure you have a doctor, insurance, employment, elements like that all set up. But be sure not to fill out any paperwork of your own before obtaining the necessary forms from your home study provider.
Step #4: Schedule a Home Visit.
Though you will most likely meet with your home study provider for an interview or two before you even start the paperwork, or even during the process, your home study provider will also schedule something called a home visit. This home visit is an official inspection of your home by your home study provider, and its primary purpose is to ensure that your home is a safe environment for a potential child. And, if there is any part of a home study that can make you stress out, it’s usually the home visit. But again, fear not. A home visit can be intimidating to think about, but in reality, it is fairly easy. Just imagine a child growing up in your home–is it safe? If you have a pool or hot tub, is it covered? If you have guns or other weapons, are those securely locked away? Do your fire alarms work? Is there an irrigation ditch in your backyard? How many people are living in your home, and is there enough space for an additional child? Keep in mind that if you have no children already, and thus have no child locks and safety gates at the ready, your home study provider is aware of this and is not expecting you to purchase a slew of child safety equipment just for the sake of the visit. Be practical. Make sure your home is neat, but don’t worry about being obsessively clean. Take necessary precautions, but don’t feel the need to stage your home to look like a child is already living there. And remember, there is a range of strictness when it comes to home study providers, but you should have a good idea of what to expect from your social worker at this point in the process. And, if you’re unsure about something specific in your house, it doesn’t hurt to ask the provider ahead of time.
Step #5: Be Patient.
The home study process can take anywhere from two to six months to complete, which sounds unreasonable if you think of a home study as merely a few forms and several interviews. But in reality, there are a few bureaucratic hoops involved that can drag this process out, even if you manage to get all the paperwork filled out quickly, though you should prepare for the paperwork to take some time to complete on its own. In addition to the necessary processing time for background checks, referral forms, and paperwork, you must also account for the time it takes for your social worker to write, submit, and get your home study signed and approved through the proper channels. When completed, your final home study will be a lengthy document, likely anywhere from 10-15 pages, if not more, that includes everything you’ve submitted to your social worker arranged into a single report, as well as the provider’s comments and findings on your eligibility. All of that processing, writing, and approving can take some time, so prepare yourself now for the waiting game. While some states and providers might be able to get things turned around more quickly, it is better to prepare yourself for a long process and be pleasantly surprised than to be frustrated by how long things are taking. Remember that with everything you do, your home study provider is considering your eligibility and recommending you as an adoptive parent, so expressing patience, understanding, gratitude, and helpfulness rather than impatience, frustration, and irritation wouldn’t hurt.
So, there you have it. These are five straightforward steps to help you feel ready and prepared to conquer your home study. While it may seem overwhelming, just try to take it one step at a time. Find your provider. Consider how you will answer questions about your motivations and your plans. Complete your paperwork. Schedule your home visit. Breathe. Wait. Be patient. You are at the start of an incredible adventure. Everyone’s adoption journey looks different, but all start with a home study. Good luck.
Bayley Enright is a writer, teacher, mother, wife, and ice cream connoisseur. She and her husband are parents through both birth and adoption. Bayley studied English for both her BA and MA, and has spent years teaching professionally and writing freelance. She enjoys singing “the Itsy Bitsy Spider” on repeat for two hours straight, traveling with her family, ignoring the growing laundry pile in the crib, and being outdoors.