Every adoption is unique as they are all based on different circumstances. It is important to check the laws in your state to ensure you are well informed and prepared for the home study and adoption process. With that being said, here is my story. My son, JC, was my foster son for the first six months of his life before he was given to his birth parents by the courts. I stayed connected to my son from six months to six years old when I was eventually awarded custody. I hired my own private attorney and because we were no longer associated with Social Services or the foster care system, our adoption was considered private. The process was pretty daunting, yet it paled in comparison to six years of co-parenting my son with no legal rights or decision-making authority. I was determined that the home study and all other aspects of his adoption would be completed with relative ease.
In January 2018, I contacted the adoption agency and the adoption was finalized later that same year. This may sound pretty easy, except for the two years in court. These involved the family and juvenile court systems. I first attended Family court for emergency custody, temporary custody, permanent custody. There I obtained domestic violence restraining orders for my son and me against both birth parents due to the threats and acts of violence that occurred. Trauma broke up this family and despite my attempts to hold it together, safety had to come first. Next, I attended Juvenile court for termination of parental rights (TPR) that included a competency hearing for the birth mother, and paternity discussions about the birth father and the mother’s legal husband at the time. There were three birth parents until the legal husband bowed out acknowledging he was not the father. I don’t mean to discourage anyone from pursuing adoption, but you should get used to the idea of constant court hearings if you are thinking about adoption. Hopefully, your experience won’t be as long as mine.
A timeline is usually given to adoptive parents by an agency. Although the timeline is not set in stone, it does help give some perspective when considering how long an adoption will take. I personally spent almost two years in court prior to working with the adoption agency, the home study and related processes went relatively quickly. Here was my timeline:
- Pre-placement Assessment Application received on January 20, 2018
- Home visit and individual interview with me on February 10, 2018
- Individual Interview with Jarren (my teen son) on February 10, 2018
- Individual interview with me in the agency office on February 22, 2018
- Additional email and phone contact also took place on numerous occasions beginning in February 2018 until the finalization of the home study in September 2018.
- Adoption Assistance support from Spring 2018 through October 2018.
- The agency was instrumental in helping me gain adoption assistance for my son through age 18 based on his diagnoses of PTSD and other mental health conditions due to extensive Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
- Order of Adoption signed on October 18, 2018
The Home Study: So Many Documents
Every adoption is different. Again, I followed the private adoption route based on our specific circumstances. I interviewed a few adoption agencies before settling on a small woman-led adoption agency. They sent and requested multiple documents. The assessor assigned to our case advised me that any changes made to the household would require additional review, so I did all that I could to minimize change. Here is an overview of the relevant documents surrounding the home study and adoption process:
- Employment Verification
- Medical statements: The form contained questions about physical and mental well-being. The forms were completed for everyone living in the household including my teen son.
- Disclosure forms: The form was required all family members to give access to medical records from our medical and mental health providers.
- North Carolina Social Services Responsible Persons List: For all teens and adults in the household to determine fitness to adopt or reside with the adopted child.
- FBI Live Scan: Required fingerprints for me as the adoptive parent to determine criminal history.
- Three letters of reference to be completed by friends, family, or colleagues. The letters were delivered directly to the agency, not to me.
- Preplacement Assessment: The adoption agency sent a representative to interview me. This assessment included:
- Duty of candor
- Motivation to adopt
- Background information of the adoptive parent
- Marriage: They will ask if you are married, divorced, widowed, or single. The assessor asked questions about my divorce, which were included in the assessment.
- Children in the home: My older son was an integral part of the home study ranging from the background check, medical records, to his in-home interview. The assessment will include all family members, including the furry ones.
- Other adults in the home
- Parenting skills and child care plan: I described how I parent my son, JC (already living in the home) and what support I had. I included information regarding training I have had to help me learn to better parent a child with PTSD. I shared what childcare I had in place. The assessor interviewed our nanny during the home study as well.
- Health: I was transparent that my children and I did therapy. I am a huge believer in getting help with and through tough times and even during good times. There were also questions about physical health and lifestyle.
- Religion: The assessor noted my belief system and how I intend to raise my child. I did not feel this was a judgmental part of the process, rather the assessor gaining an understanding of how I parent and what is important in our family.
- Home and Community: Here they asked what support I had. My sister lived nearby. I also had friends and colleagues near and far that I was able to lean on. Not everyone has this level of support and that is okay. The adoption agency – if it is a good one – might even connect you with organizations that have support groups and family partners. The agency should be a resource, not just there to assess your fitness for parenthood.
- Recommendation: The assessor gave her recommendation to proceed with the adoption of my son.
- Motion for Waiver of Placement: The Order Waving Placement of Adoption was required by the adoption agency as a part of the process and filed via my attorney’s office through the Mecklenburg County North Carolina court system. This was required because my son, JC, was already in my home.
- Affidavit and Birth Certificate: My attorney’s office was required to provide an affidavit of legal fees and expenses I incurred for (in our case) the Termination of Parental Rights (TPR) and adoption as well as the home study, background checks, reports, and miscellaneous fees. These fees totaled about $11,000 but did not include the over $100,000 I had previously spent on my son and his birth parents over the first six years of his life – caring for the birth parents and my child to try to keep him (them) safe and stable.
Assessing My Home
The assessor visited my home for about three hours. We sat and talked through a plethora of subjects. The fact that I was in his life for so long (he was in second grade by this time) did not matter…the agency still did an extremely thorough assessment of my home, my family, finances, intentions, environment, and me.
I escorted her through my home, room to room. Since I was previously a foster parent, I had already been assessed for safety items in place like a fire extinguisher, smoke detectors, and an exit plan in case of fire or some other emergency. She checked them all anyway.
The assessor interviewed my older son, Jarren. He had already completed all of the required documentation, but he was still required to be interviewed. Again the assessor was seeking to understand the environment in which JC was living.
Five Key Takeaways from the Home Study
Once the home study was complete, all forms were signed, sealed, and delivered, and I had the adoption decree in hand, I was able to exhale. What a process! Here are three key takeaways from my process:
- Choose wisely. Find the adoption agency that is right for your circumstances. All adoption agencies are not created equal. I spoke with Social Services and my attorney and went with a small agency after interviewing a few others. I felt the agency I selected was the most compassionate, thorough, and knowledgeable based on our specific situation. I got this one right.
- Ask questions. This process will be one of the most important of your life. The home study is a passage to adoption in many ways. If you have the right adoption agency, they will allow you to ask questions. There is a chance that you may pay a fee for additional consultation, but there is something empowering about being informed and educated as you go. Do not hesitate to ask about what you do not understand.
- Be still. Try not to change your home environment during the home study process. Since we had safety concerns about the birth parents contacting us, I ended up moving into another home during the home study process. This did not stall but slowed our process a bit. Again, the right agency will work with you and still meet the requirements of conducting a home study that is required for adoption. I am not saying you should not get married during your home study, just understand that it will require the assessor to conduct interviews and assess your household at least one more time.
- Be candid. Being open and thorough with your documentation and during interviews may accelerate your home study. Candor will minimize rework. The relationship you build with the adoption agency and the assessor can help you with the home study process; it can make your life easier. Once you get to this point, you are almost at the end of your adoption journey, so please, overshare to ensure there are no hiccups. The assessor is not expecting you to live in a mausoleum, rather a home. Save your money and do not hire a cleaning person. Just tidy up and be yourself. The house should be lived in.
- Be patient and persistent. Adoption agencies are often booked and busy. It is important to be patient during the home study. At the same time, it is perfectly acceptable to gently push for the closure of your home study. The agency should give you an idea of how long the home study takes on average. In my case, I was offered the option of paying an additional fee to expedite the home study. Inquire as to whether this is an option.
By this point, you have become a master at completing documentation, talking to interviewers and assessors, and keeping your eye on the prize. You have got this!
The End of the Home Study Process
Once the home study is complete and all is clear, be on the lookout for the two legal documents that make it all worthwhile.
- Adoption Decree: The adoption decree was the golden ticket. I could have stopped at permanent custody, but we both deserved – heck, we earned – the right to legally be mommy and son.
- Birth Certificate: About a month after the adoption was finalized, I received the updated birth certificate and I could not wait to update all paperwork.
I cherish these documents as symbols of what God put together the day I met JC on March 22, 2010, when he was just ten days old. He is my son, legally.
Carla A. Carlisle is a published author, speaker, and child and mental health advocate. She penned her first book, Journey to the Son (a memoir), to prompt discussions about the often-perilous impact of trauma many children experience known as Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs. She is the adoptive mother of her former foster child who came into her life at ten days old. Carla is a member of the Family Advisory Board for the Duke University/UCLA ASAP Center. She was selected as a 2020 TEDx Charlotte Speaker. Carla is a Question Persuade Respond (QPR) Gatekeeper and holds a Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) certificate. Carla is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. She earned her Bachelor of Arts in sociology from Indiana University in Bloomington, a Master’s of Science in human resources management from American University in Washington, D.C., and another Master’s in organizational development from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland.