Congratulations! You have taken that exciting, enormous first step and decided to adopt a child. Perhaps you are weighing domestic versus international adoption. Perhaps you have chosen a country or even identified a waiting child. Regardless of where you are in the process, your next step is the home study.
The purpose of a home study is to analyze your suitability to adopt a child. In its entirety, it essentially reads like an abbreviated story of your life. Both domestic and international home studies require evaluations of your physical and emotional health, your financial stability, your living conditions and neighborhood, your family, your motivation to adopt, and your preparedness to welcome a child into your home. Each state has their own requirements which your agency must follow, but for international adoption there are USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) and country-specific rules as well.
Any home study conducted for an international adoption must be done through a Hague accredited agency. This is true if you choose to adopt from a Hague or non-Hague Convention country. (Read more about the differences here.) For Hague Convention countries, the home study is only valid for one year after it is approved. Should your adoption not be completed in this timeframe, an updated home study will be required.
During the home study assessment, which includes at least one in-person visit, much of the same questions regarding your suitability to adopt will be addressed. The difference is the depth of information required. For instance:
Though domestic adoption only requires your tax return, most countries require a notarized letter from your employer stating your status, salary, benefits, and how secure your position is. You will also need to include a notarized statement of your net worth as many countries have income and net worth requirements.
Whether you adopt domestically or internationally you will need to undergo a background check and fingerprinting. For Hague Convention countries, you are required to provide a child abuse and neglect clearance for every state in which you have resided since you were the age of 18. Additionally, you must obtain a notarized letter from your local police station stating you have no criminal adult arrest record. You will need to do provide all the above documents for every member of your household over the age of 18.
Each home study report includes an evaluation of your mental and physical health. Domestic and international are very similar in this respect, but international may require more detailed information as most countries have requirements such as BMI, mental health standing, and timeframes for current, major, or chronic medical issues.
But there are elements specific to an international adoption home study. These include:
Type of Child
Unlike in domestic adoption, children adopted internationally tend to be older. Your home study will include your social worker’s recommendation on the age and number (in the case of sibling adoption) you will be allowed to adopt.*
Special Needs Openness
Children adopted through international adoption tend to have mild, medically correctable needs. Part of your home study process will be to go through a list of needs and to identify what you are open to. Once identified, you will need to provide proof of your readiness to parent a child with that need.* Proof may come in the form of finding specialists and counselors in your area.
Additionally, children adopted internationally often face language and speech delays as well as motor skill and developmental delays, common for children placed in institutional care. Your home study will need to include a statement from you citing ways in which you will help your new child, such as through contacting your local city or county counselors and services.
Commitment to Parenting through Intercountry Adoption
When you adopt a child from another country you bring that country into your home. In your home study you will need to demonstrate ways you will keep your child’s culture and heritage alive. Proof may come from listing area festivals, cultural gatherings, books, films, toys, and language lessons that will allow your child to maintain a cultural connection to their birth country.
In addition to the hours of pre-adoptive parental training required by state laws, Hague Convention countries require an additional 10 hours of training before your home study is complete. Training includes discussions on parenting special needs children, attachment issues, country conditions, and more specifics on the international adoption process.
*Note: If you receive, and accept, a referral for a child outside the specific age and special need approved in your home study, you may do a home study addendum. This was the case of both our international adoptions as both our son and daughter’s needs were other than those listed in our original home study.
Finally, once your home study is complete you will need to multiply, notarize and apostille most of the documents you have obtained. Your agency will provide country specific guidelines towards this end.
It may seem daunting but rest assured you can do it. Just know on the other end a country and a child await you. So let your journey begin!
Jennifer S. Jones is a writer, performer, storyteller, and arts educator. In a small government office in China, Jennifer became an adoptive mother. She is passionate about the adoption community and talks about the ins and outs, ups and downs, joys and “Is this really us?!?” whenever she can. She writes about her experiences at www.letterstojack.com.