The laws of all 50 states and the District of Columbia require that prospective adoptive parents undergo a home study before being able to adopt a child. A home study is basically a license to adopt a child. It must be conducted by a neutral adoption agency or social worker whose job it is to determine if a prospective adoptive parent is fit to care for a child. The home study process involves education and preparation as well as the gathering of information about the prospective parents. Ideally, the home study helps to build a partnership between the adoption social worker and the applicants. Individuals who seek to adopt may face the entire process with tender egos and mounting anxiety that they will not be “approved.” Armed with accurate information, however, prospective parents can face the home study experience with confidence and the excitement that should accompany the prospect of welcoming a child into the family.
What is a Home Study?
Home Study Requirements
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.
The vast majority of home studies will involve:
- Finger printing for state and federal criminal and sex offender clearances
- Physical performed by your doctor to confirm no health condition preventing you from effectively parenting
- Provide 2-5 references from friends and family stating you would make good parent(s)
- Proof of financial stability enough to provide food and shelter for a child
The Home Study Narrative: What Questions Will They Ask?
In addition to the standard clearances set forth above, most home studies are written as a narrative story about the adoptive parent(s). Accordingly, the social worker conducting the home study will ask for an autobiographical statement essentially setting forth the story of your life. Most agencies have a set of guidelines that detail the kind of information they require to assist you in writing the autobiography and others have the worker assist you directly. You may be asked to describe who reared you and their style of child rearing, how many brothers and sisters you have, and where you are in the birth order.
Your autobiographical statement may answer many questions. Were you close to your parents and siblings when you were a child, are you close now, how much contact do you have with them? What are some successes or failures that you have had? What educational level have you reached, do you plan to further your education, are you happy with your educational attainments, what do you think about education for a child? What is your employment status, your employment history, do you have plans to change employment, do you like your current job? If you are married, there will be questions about your marriage.
Autobiographical statements for couples often cover how you met, how long you dated before you married, how long you have been married, what attracted you to each other, what your spouse’s strengths and weaknesses are, and the issues on which you agree and disagree in your marriage. Others may ask how you make decisions, solve problems, settle arguments, communicate, express feelings, and show affection. If you were married before, there will be questions about that marriage. If you are single, there will be questions about your social life and how you anticipate integrating a child into it as well as questions about your network of supportive relatives and friends.
How Will A Child Fit Into Your Life?
In your autobiographical statement you probably will be asked to describe your ordinary routines, such as your typical weekday or weekend, your hobbies and interests, and your leisure time activities. You may also describe your plans for child care if you work outside the home. There will be questions that cover your experiences with children, relatives’ children, neighbors, volunteer work, babysitting, teaching, or coaching. You might be asked some “what if” questions regarding discipline or other parenting issues. You will probably be asked about your neighborhood: How friendly are you with your neighbors? What kind of people live nearby? Is it a safe area? Why did you pick this neighborhood? Are you located conveniently to community resources, such as medical facilities, recreational facilities, shopping areas, and religious facilities? And you will be asked about religion, your level of religious practice, and what kind of religious upbringing (if any) you will give the child. There may also be a section on specific adoption-related issues, including questions about why you want to adopt, what kind of child you feel you can best parent and why, how you will tell the child he or she is adopted and when, what you think of birth parents who make an adoption plan for their child, how you will handle relatives’ and friends’ questions about adoption, and whether you can bond to a child not genetically related to you.
The Home Study as a Learning Experience
You may not know all these answers right away! A home study is supposed to help you think through these issues. Hopefully, the social worker guiding you through the home study process will offer advice on describing these various topics. You will be asked to provide a copy of your birth certificate, your marriage license or certificate, and your divorce decree, if applicable.
Flexibility and a sense of humor are important 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 might as well start getting used to them!
Home Study Duration and Cost
The duration of the home study will vary from agency to agency, depending on various factors, such as how many social workers are assigned to conduct home studies, how many other people applied to the agency at the same time as you, and the time it takes the agency to obtain the necessary clearances from local, state and federal bureaucracies. You can do a lot to expedite the process by expeditiously filling out your paper work, scheduling your medical appointments, and gathering the required documents.
The cost of the home study depends on which kind of agency or practitioner is conducting the study. A private agency might charge from $1,500 to $3,000 for the home study, although it may charge no fees or charge lesser fees for home studies for children with special needs or to low- income families. Agencies that require course work and provide education/classes tend have higher fees. Agencies that do not require additional classes or education tend to be less expensive. With respect to fees, be sure to be a good consumer and interview several adoption agencies regarding their services and fees.
Do Not Worry!
Remember, even though an adoption home study may seem invasive or lengthy, it is conducted to prepare you for adoption and help you decide whether adoption is really for you. The regulations serve to protect the best interest of the child and to ensure he or she is placed in a loving, caring, healthy, and safe environment. Once you accept that premise, it often becomes a lot easier to complete what is required of you. After all, the reward of withstanding a short period of inconvenience is great: many years of happiness and fulfillment raising a child to maturity.
With perseverance and a good attitude, you will be able to team with the adoption agency or social worker to make the home study a valuable learning experience — one which will help you to do the best possible job in parenting the child who will join your family. After all, the adoption agency or social worker conducting your home study wants you to accomplish your goal of adopting, especially if one more child gets a loving, permanent, safe family.