A home study is an integral part of the adoption process. In fact, approval to adopt typically hinges on it. State and private adoption agencies want a level of assurance that a child is being placed into a safe, healthy and nurturing family and home.
The home study results in a detailed, written report on your family. It's typically prepared by a social worker and compiled through interviews and visits to the home.
A home study can take three to six months to complete. It requires that the prospective adoptive family gather documents, answer questions, and explore their reasons for adopting. The social worker wants a complete picture of who you are and what life is like in your family.
Each state — and each country in an international adoption — may require different information, but some aspects of a home study are fairly routine.
Some states and agencies require that the social worker interview with the family numerous times to complete this part of the home study — it's very hands-on. Others may only provide a list of detailed questions that require written answers. The questions are typically about your family — past and present — as well as your views on discipline and things like your fondest childhood memory or your greatest fear.
Your Neighborhood, Community and Its Schools
Be prepared to describe your community.
What is your school system like? Which schools will your child attend? Do you have a relationship with your neighbors? What resources does your community offer to help you parent a special needs child should you adopt one?
Your Physical Health
You may be required to submit to a physical exam and/or a tuberculosis test or chest x-ray.
The social worker will also be interested in hearing about any health issues that you have under control. Be prepared to explain how these health issues will or will not affect your ability to care for a child. There shouldn't be an issue with you adopting unless you have a serious health problem that affects your life expectancy.
You don't have to be wealthy to adopt, but you must be able to show that you earn sufficient income to care for an additional dependent. Be prepared to verify your income with pay stubs and tax returns. You may also be asked for information regarding your savings, insurance coverage and debts. You must typically complete a worksheet that covers all your bills, including mortgage or rent payments, car payments, utility charges and credit accounts.
Most states require a criminal background check and child abuse record check for everyone living in your household. Misdemeanors from long ago are usually not held against you if you can provide a good explanation of what happened. Felony convictions involving children or illegal substances will most likely disqualify you for adoption.
You'll need names, addresses and phone numbers for at least three or four people willing to act as your references.
Some agencies will contact these people by phone while others require that they write letters of recommendation. Choose people who have known you for several years and who know your family well. They should have seen you in a variety of situations: with children, with your spouse, and out and about in the community. Poor references won't necessarily prevent you from adopting unless workers receive several negative comments or a reference has brought up a questionable criminal record that can be verified.
In-person interviews allow the social worker to go over your paperwork with you and learn more about you. They're an opportunity for the worker to clarify any issues she might have questions about and to see that your home is a safe and healthy place for a child. The worker will tour your home and will want to see your prospective child's bedroom.
You do not have to be a clean freak! Most families don't dwell in spotless, immaculate surroundings — they live in their homes. For the most part, it's OK for yours to look like people do indeed live there. Cleanliness matters. A little clutter is to be expected. Be honest and show your personality. A sense of humor is always a good thing to have, especially when parenting.
If You Already Have Children
Some agencies will want the social worker to meet your other children, or they may ask that the children write statements about their feelings regarding the adoption. Kids may be asked to draw pictures if they're too young to put their thoughts into words. Workers will want to know about your children's interests, hobbies, and grades. Your children may meet with the social worker with or without you present.
The Cost of a Home Study
Cost can depend on the agency or the social worker completing your study. Public agencies, such as the Department of Social Services, do not always charge a fee. If they do, you may be reimbursed after the adoption is final.
The Bottom Line
An adoption home study can be a nerve-wracking experience, but you should get through it just fine if you go in prepared and know what to expect. Good luck on your adoption journey!