All Things Adoption Home Study – Tips, FAQs & Checklist
The adoption home study is often one of the first steps an adoptive family takes in the adoption process, and one of the most important. Once it is complete, the family is officially an active adoptive family, and they can begin the wait to welcome a new member into their family. But what is an adoption home study?The home study is essentially an overview of the adoptive family’s life, which is conducted by a social worker licensed in providing home studies. This overview of their life includes: the collection of important documents, such as criminal background checks and clearances, financial information, copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses and health records; and an in-home visit from the social worker, which consists of interviews with both adoptive parents and a home inspection. These components of the home study are required because they help prove to state and federal government entities that the adoptive parents are good people, that they are ready to become a family or add to their family, and that their home is a viable environment in which to raise a child. Although there are many items to complete to receive an approved home study for adoption, as long the adoptive family remains organized, prepared, and takes things one step at a time, the process will go smoothly and productively.
The Home Study ProcessThe process of completing your adoption home study can at first seem a little daunting, but by being proactive and understanding of what is required of you and your spouse, the home study will be completed quickly and you will soon be on your way to adopting a child. The first step in the adoption home study process is finding a home study provider in your state. You will then often times receive a home study application and information packet, which will detail the items required by your state for the home study. Once you return the application to your home study provider, you will be assigned a home study social worker, who will usually be your personal contact, helping you through the rest of the home study process.
DocumentationThe next step is to start gathering the documentation required in the home study, because your home study social worker will collect it during her first visit to your home. The documentation stage of the adoption home study is usually the most time-consuming and requires the most effort from the adoptive family. However, understand that this is a very important step in becoming parents and the time and effort you put into it is absolutely worth it. By confirming your lack of criminal record, your physical and mental health, your finances, your peers’ opinions and your own story, the documentation stage is essentially proof that you and your spouse are ready to become parents. The following is a breakdown of the types of documents and clearances you will need to collect to give to your home study provider:
- Background Checks and Clearances – All states require the adoptive family to receive criminal background checks in their respective state, and 31 of them require background checks at the federal level as well. Furthermore, under the Adam Walsh Act of 2006, 38 states require federal child abuse and neglect clearances in every state each adoptive family member has lived in for the previous five years.Your home study provider will give you detailed instructions on how to get started on these background checks and clearances for your home study, as the processes are a little bit different in every state. The Child Welfare Information Gateway also has more state-by-state information on criminal background checks.
- Health Statements – Proof of the adoptive family’s physical health is clearly very important in an approved home study; therefore, most states require the adoptive family to have up-to-date checkups from their physicians, as well as some other information they will complete themselves, such as their height, weight, whether or not they smoke, etc.The mental health of the adoptive family is just as important. If one of the adoptive parents has ever struggled with depression, bi-polar disorder or any other mental health condition, he or she will usually have to get a statement from the physician, psychologist or therapist stating that in their opinion, the hopeful adoptive parent is mentally healthy enough to become a mother or a father. The same will be required if the adoptive couple has sought marriage counseling, as the couple will usually need a statement from their counselor.
- Financial Information – Most home study providers require the adoptive family to submit employer payment stubs, income statements or tax returns to prove they are financially capable to take care of a new addition to their family. While the adoptive family doesn’t have to be wealthy to adopt a child, they do have to show that they are able to provide the child the necessities he or she needs to live a life of opportunity.
- References – References serve as yet another way for the social worker to further get to know the adoptive family. The home study provider will ask the adoptive parents to submit a list of three to five names, phone numbers and addresses they can contact as references. Similar to filling out a job application, the adoptive family can choose anyone unrelated to them who they want as reference, which may include a family friend, co-worker, boss, teacher, pastor, neighbor or anyone else who knows the adoptive family well.
- Autobiographical Statements – The autobiographical statement is essentially a detailed, self-reflective story of the adoptive family’s lives, written individually by the prospective adoptive mother and father. These stories will begin with their respective childhoods, end with their struggles with infertility, and relive everything in between such as high school, college, dating, engagement, marriage, etc.
In-Home VisitOnce the documentation stage is completed or near completion, you will be ready for the in-home visit. The social worker will visit your home to complete two things: an inspection and an interview.
InspectionAs you probably know by now, the adoption home study is much more than just a social worker inspecting your home; however, it is still an important part of the home study process. This part of the home study is known as the “in-home inspection” or the “home tour.” The purpose of the home inspection is to ensure that the adoptive family’s home is a viable environment in which to raise a child. The main goal of the social worker during the home tour is to educate the family about areas in the home that are necessary for the child’s safety. The social worker will look to see if you have fire escape routes posted on each floor of your home, any guns locked away in a case, a fence around the pool, screens on all windows, and many other areas that could be dangerous for a child. Now, remember that your home study will not be denied if you don’t have these items in your home prior to the social worker arriving. Her purpose is to point these areas out to you, so you can have them in place by the next home visit. The main thing to remember about the home inspection is that your home study social worker is there to help you complete your family, not to hinder you. The relationship is definitely a partnership, so she will be there every step of the way to ask any questions you may have or to ask for suggestions on how to make your home as safe as possible for a child.
InterviewOne of the most important parts of not just the in-home visit, but also the entire home study for adoption, is the interview with the adoptive family. This is the home study social worker’s chance to really get to know the adoptive family’s personalities as well as their thoughts on adoption, ensuring her and the child-placing agency that the couple is ready to become parents. All states require the adoptive family to be interviewed together as a couple, and many states also require them to be interviewed separately. This gives the social worker a chance to get to know how they act as a couple and as individuals, as well as if they are indeed on the same page when it comes to their goals of adoption. Now, all states treat home studies a little differently than one another, but the social worker’s goals of the interview remain the same for all home studies. During the interviews, she will be looking for the following:
- Biographical Information – The interview process is the best opportunity for the home study social worker to learn more about the adoptive family that she may or may not have read in their autobiographical statements required in some home studies. The social worker will want to learn about their family dynamics, values and traditions, their childhoods, their careers, their hobbies, and much more. On a deeper level, she will also ask the adoptive family about their experiences with children, their parenting styles, how they handle stress, their infertility issues, and many other topics, all of which will grow her knowledge and comfort in allowing them to proceed in becoming parents.
- Motivations and Attitudes Toward Adoption – How excited is the adoptive couple to become parents? How excited is the husband to become an adoptive father? How excited is the wife to become an adoptive mother? The reason these are three different questions is because through the couple and individual interviews, the social worker will make sure that both adoptive parents are equally as excited and motivated to add an adopted child to their lives. They have to be united as a couple on their feelings toward the adoption, as well as individually.
- Knowledge About Adoption – While the adoptive family doesn’t have to be experts on adoption, they should be aware of the main steps of the adoption process and other adoption-related knowledge. This is also where the topic of cultural diversity comes into play, as the social worker may recommend cultural diversity classes to the adoptive couple to prepare them for raising a child of a different race.
Home Study Interview QuestionsHere are some examples of a few of the questions you may hear during a home study interview:
- Why did you decide to adopt?
- If you have struggled with infertility, how have you coped and moved forward?
- What are you educational backgrounds?
- What parenting skills have you learned from your own parents? What would you do differently?
- What do you and your spouse like best about each other?
- What methods of discipline do you think are most effective for children?
- What do you like about your neighborhood? What do you dislike?
Updates and Post-Placement VisitsIf you make any significant changes to your life, such as a job change or addition to the household, you will need to update your home study accordingly. You will also need to renew your home study if it expires before you are able to adopt. Once you have completed all parts of the home study and had a child placed with you, the post-placement visits will begin. These are to ensure that the child and the members of the household are all adjusting to the new arrangements. This will continue until the finalization of your adoption.
Common Adoption Home Study QuestionsIf you are considering adoption and have not yet completed your home study, some or all of the following questions may have crossed your mind:
How do I find a professional?There are many resources for finding a home study professional, but you should not take the decision lightly. Be sure to find a provider that meets all of your state’s requirements and can complete your home study in an efficient, timely manner. You should also make sure that the professional you choose is licensed, as this is a requirement for a valid home study in most states.
What kind of families are home study workers looking for?All kinds of families! Home study professionals do not expect families to fit into a template; they are only looking for a safe and loving home for adopted children. Do not try to fit the mold of a traditional family, but focus on being your genuine self.
Should I childproof my house?Childproofing the home usually refers to padding edges of cabinets or ledges, placing locks on drawers, and putting up gates on staircases. However, immediate childproofing of the home is unnecessary. Once placement occurs and you are proud new parents, post-placement visits will begin around 2-4 weeks later. This is when the social worker will begin to talk to you about adding the aforementioned features to your home, to make it safe for the child once he or she begins crawling and becomes interested in interacting with cabinets and drawers.
Can I still pass my home study if I don’t have a perfect history?Your social worker understands that no one is perfect, and past mistakes will not immediately bar you from adoption. You will need to speak to your home study provider openly and honestly, and she will help you through the process.
Can I pass my home study if my house is not spotless?For some prospective adoptive families, when they hear the words, “adoption home study,” they believe that is when a white-gloved social worker visits their home to make sure it is free of clutter, dirt, grime and dust. In truth, she will make sure your home is sanitary, organized and generally clean, but a dusty dresser or a bit of grime on the bathroom wall will not result in an unapproved home study.
Why do I need references?Along with interviewing the members of your household and extended family, a social worker will also want to see references from non-family members to get a more comprehensive view of you.
Who in my family will have to be interviewed?Your home study provider will interview everyone living in the home, even if this does not include just immediate family. She will want to get to know everyone in the household who will interact with the baby on a regular basis.
How will I know if/when I need to complete any training?Speak with your home study provider and adoption agency (if you are working with one) about the specifics of your adoption. If you are pursuing an international or special needs adoption, for example, your professional will refer you to the kinds of training you need.
Adoption Home Study ChecklistThe following is a checklist of the items you will need and the things you will need to do to complete your home study:
- Driver’s license
- Proof of insurance
- Pet records
- Birth certificates
- Marriage certificate
- Green card
- Tax return
- Medical statements
- Reference letters
- Military discharges (if applicable)
- Adoption decrees (if applicable)
- Passports (international adoption)
- Working smoke detectors
- Working CO2 detectors
- Fire extinguisher
- Potentially toxic substances placed out of reach of children
- Covered trash can
- Functioning screens and locks on doors and windows
- First-aid kit
- Available list of emergency phone numbers
- Gated stairways
- Safeguards around fireplaces and heating equipment
- Home evacuation plans
- Covered outlets
- Fences around pools
Clearances and Possible Training
- Criminal background check
- Child abuse and neglect clearance
- FBI clearance
- Sex offender clearance
- Parenting class
- Foster care licensing
- Special needs training
- Cultural diversity class
- CPR and/or First aid certification