A home study, also known as a family study or family profile, is an essential part of the adoption process. The study is a report written by a social worker who meets with the applicants several times and gets to know the family. If you’re using an adoption agency, the social worker will be one contracted by the agency. If you are pursuing another method of adoption, the home study should be done by an independent licensed social worker. The home study is used to present the family to adoption agencies and adoption exchanges. It judges the prospective parents’ ability to provide for a child and determines any special needs they can accommodate. The home study also educates the prospective parents about adoption and aids in the process of facilitating a good match.
The home study usually takes three to six months, but it can be shorter if the parents file paperwork and documents promptly and schedule their medical appointments early in the process. Foster care home studies usually cost $300 to $500, which can often be reimbursed following the adoption. Home studies for other types of adoption can cost $1,000 to $3,000. Make sure to discuss the fee with your adoption agency or social worker before the home study begins.
If you are undergoing a home study, remember that the agency isn’t looking for ”perfect” parents but rather parents who can provide a good, safe and loving home. As for the house,- what’s most important is that the home seems safe, livable and provides adequate amenities for a child.
When meeting with the prospective parents, the social worker educates the parents about the process of adoption and how to prepare for a new family member. The social worker interviews the prospective parents several times, conducting joint interviews with both parents, separate interviews with each parent or a combination of both interview formats. If the family has adult children living outside the home, they may also be interviewed. Children still living with the parents may, depending on their age, be interviewed or asked to write about their feelings regarding having a new sibling.
A social worker will want to see where the child will eat, sleep and play. With that in mind, he will personally examine the entire house or apartment, including the yard. Laws in some states mandate inspections by local fire and health personnel to ensure conditions in the home are suitable and up to code. The agency may require parents to undergo physicals to make sure they’re healthy and capable of handling a child. Serious health problems can complicate the approval process but are not automatically considered a negative characteristic. Similarly, a report from a mental health professional, if you’ve seen one and if such a report is required, doesn’t necessarily limit someone from adopting. In fact, if the report shows that a parent has overcome a particular disease or challenge, the adoption agency may regard that as beneficial for future parents.
In proving you’re capable of supporting a family, the adoption agency will require income statements and tax records. The agency may ask about outstanding debts, savings and insurance, especially with regards to health insurance for the child. Other documents that may be requested include birth certificates, copies of your marriage license and divorce decrees (if any). Finally, most states require background checks to confirm that you have no serious criminal record, especially one of child abuse
Many agencies require parents to write an autobiographical statement. The statement should represent who you are, with particular attention to your family life. Usually the social worker can help parents through the writing process or provide a set of questions that act as a guide. If you are participating in an open adoption, you might be asked to put together a scrapbook or photo album that can be shown to birth parents when they are choosing adoptive parents.
Your agency will request three or four references. These should be people who know you well, have been in your home and, if possible, have seen you interact with children.
According to the Child Welfare Information Gateway, the final home study report will contain the following information:
- Family background
- Education and employment status
- Marital status of applicant(s) and information about current relationship
- Daily life and routine
- Parenting experience
- Description of neighborhood
- Religious practices and plans for child’s religious upbringing
- Feelings about adoption
- Summary and social worker’s recommendation [source: Child Welfare Information Gateway]
Some agencies let applicants see the home study report. The information is often shared with other agencies and sometimes shown to birth parents. Make sure to ask your agency about their confidentiality policy and how they use home study reports.
Let’s now look at one of the most common methods of adoption, using a licensed private agency.