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All About Adoption Home Studies

There is no set format that adoption agencies use to conduct home studies. They must follow the general regulations of their state, but they have the freedom to develop their own application packet, policies, and procedures within those regulations. Some agencies will have prospective parents attend one or several group orientation sessions or a series of training classes before they complete an application. Others will have their social worker start by meeting with family members individually and then ask that they attend educational meetings later on. Usually agency staff members are glad to answer any questions and to guide applicants through the process.

Your home study is a written report of the social worker's findings after meeting with you on several occasions, both individually and together, usually at the social worker's office. At least one meeting will occur in your home. If there are other people living in your home, they also will be interviewed by the social worker.

On average the home study process takes three to six months to complete, but it can take longer through public agencies or less time through nonlicensed facilitators. The home study process, the contents of the written home study report, and the time it will take to complete vary from state to state and from agency to agency. In general, the following information is included in the home study:

  • Personal and family background, including upbringing, siblings, key events, and what you learned from them
  • Significant people in your lives
  • Marriage and family relationships
  • Motivation to adopt
  • Expectations for the child
  • Feelings about infertility (if this is an issue)
  • Parenting and integration of the child into your family
  • Family environment
  • Physical and health history
  • Education, employment and finances, including insurance coverage and child-care plans if needed
  • References and criminal background clearances
  • Summary and social worker's recommendation

Here are some typical things that you'll be required to provide.

1. Autobiographical statement: The autobiographical statement can be intimidating, but it's essentially the story of your life. Most agencies will give you a set of guidelines that list the kind of information they're after. Others will have the worker assist you directly. You may be asked to include information about your relationship with your family, education level, employment history, marital status, hobbies and interests, child-care plans, religious beliefs, and your surrounding neighborhood.

You'll also be asked to provide a copy of your birth certificate, your marriage license or certificate, and your divorce decree, if applicable.

2. Health statement: Most agencies will require you to have a physical exam, or at least a tuberculosis test (x-ray or scratch test). Some agencies that only place infants with infertile couples require that the physician verify the infertility. Others just want to know that you are essentially healthy, have a normal life expectancy, and are able to physically and emotionally handle the care of a child. If you have a medical condition, but are under a doctor's care and it's under control (for instance, high blood pressure or diabetes that is controlled by diet and medication), you can probably still be approved as an adoptive family. A serious health problem that affects life expectancy may prevent approval.

3. Income statement: Usually, you'll be asked to verify your income by providing copies of your paycheck stubs, W-4 forms, or income tax forms. You'll be asked about your savings, insurance policies, and other investments and debts, including your monthly mortgage or rent payment, car and charge account payments, etc. This helps determine your general financial stability. You don't have to be rich to adopt. You just have to show that you can manage your finances responsibly and adequately.

4. Child abuse and criminal clearance: Most state laws require that criminal record and child abuse record clearances be conducted on all adoptive and foster parent applicants. This usually involves filling out a form with your name (in a woman's case, it would include her maiden name and former married names, if applicable), date of birth, and Social Security number; possibly getting the form notarized; and sending it to the state child welfare and police agencies for clearance. In some states you might be fingerprinted. The authorities will check to see if you have a child abuse or criminal charge on file.

Misdemeanors committed long ago for which there is a believable explanation (for example, "I was young and foolish and did what the guys expected me to...") usually are not held against you. A felony conviction, or any charge involving children or illegal substances, would most likely not be tolerated.

5. References: The agency will probably ask you for the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of three or four individuals to serve as references for you. These might be close personal friends, an employer, a former teacher, a coworker, a neighbor, or your pastor. The social worker will either write a letter to your references or talk to them on the telephone, asking questions about you that you have already answered yourself. They'd ask about your experience with children, the stability of your marriage (if applicable), and your motivation to adopt.

References help the social worker get a complete picture of a family's application and an idea of their support network. Approval would rarely be denied on the grounds of one negative reference alone. However, if it were one of several negative factors, such as ill health, a questionable criminal record, and a poor work history, or if several of the references were negative, the agency may not approve the application.

You should pick people who know you the best to be your references. If possible, they should be people who have known you for several years, who have seen you in various situations, who have visited in your home and know of your interest in children, and who are also able to comment on your lifestyle. For instance, they should know what some of your hobbies and interests are. These kinds of references are the most useful and compelling to the social worker completing the home study.

There probably will be several interviews, perhaps one or two in the agency office and at least one in your home. You'll discuss the topics addressed in your autobiographical statement, and the social worker will ask questions to clarify what you have written. In the case of couples, some agency workers conduct all the interviews jointly, with husband and wife together. Others will conduct both joint and individual interviews.

Remember that the worker is not visiting your home to conduct a white glove inspection! She simply needs to verify that the child will be in a safe and healthy environment and make sure you've thought ahead about accommodating the new family member. There may be a requirement that you have a working smoke alarm (which is a good idea anyway) and an evacuation plan in case of an emergency. The latter is not something many people have, so you might want to develop one ahead of time. The worker may want to see the child's bedroom and all the other areas of the house or apartment, including the basement or backyard.

Some tips for the home visit:

  • Do not clean the whole place from top to bottom, unless that is the level of housekeeping you always maintain. A certain level of cleanliness is necessary, but "lived-in" family clutter is expected. Most social workers would worry that people living in a "picture perfect" home would have a difficult time adjusting to the clutter that a child brings to a household. Instead, use this visit as one more time to build on the open and honest relationship you are developing with the worker.
  • It's natural to be nervous! But most often the worker wants to work with you and approve you if you have gotten to this point of the home study. You are not expected to reveal every intimate detail of your life, and you're not expected to be perfect! In fact, perfection would probably raise eyebrows. It's much more important to be honest, be yourself, and present a true picture of your family history and family functioning. Social workers know that everyone has a unique combination of strengths and weaknesses.
  • Be honest. If you had a difficult childhood, experienced financial problems, quit a job in anger, or have some other "skeleton" in your closet that you think might disqualify you, chances are, if you discuss it openly with the social worker, it will not present a problem. It wouldn't be wise to be deceptive or dishonest, or for the documents collected in the home study to expose an inconsistency in what you have presented about your family. This would betray the social worker's trust, which would harm your chances and may even cause the termination of your home study.
  • Maintain flexibility and a sense of humor. These are vital characteristics when raising children and they can come in handy during the home study as well. For instance, if you have the flexibility in your job and are willing to take off an hour early to meet with the social worker or to modify your schedule in some other way to make the meeting arrangements flow smoothly, that effort will be appreciated by the worker. As a parent-to-be, many more of these accommodations are in your future; therefore the social worker often believes you may as well start getting used to them!

Source: National Adoption Information Clearinghouse

All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.