You’ve made the big decision to pursue adoption to create your family. You’ve chosen your agency or attorney, and your initial application is approved. It feels pretty exciting to start this process, but you have questions about “the dreaded home study.” The more you think about it, the more it feels like a huge obstacle! How invasive is this investigation into your home life? Will they dig into every childish mistake you made in your youth? What if your kitchen (stairs or pool) is deemed utterly unsafe for a young child?
Take a deep breath and rest assured the home study does not have to be something you dread. You can educate yourself and prepare for the home study process.
What is a Home Study?
Before we get started, it will help to understand what a home study is. A home study includes a series of meetings and visits with a licensed social worker. The goal is to determine your suitability to adopt a child placed in your home. From those interviews, home visits, and with a healthy pile of documentation thrown in, the caseworker compiles a report of your family and home life. The report includes their additional preparation recommendations, verification of suitability according to adoption laws, and their statement of approval to adopt.
The home study can be slightly different from state to state. It also differs depending on the specific requirements of the type of adoption you are pursuing. Your social worker will guide you through the process required in your state for infant, foster care, or international adoption.
Why is a Home Study Necessary?
In a well-prepared home study, your caseworker wants to honestly evaluate your ability to parent an adoptive child, including your strengths and areas that need additional preparation. Their job is to determine if your home will be a safe, nurturing place to raise the child. They will use a few questions to guide themselves to those goals.
- Why do you (and your partner, if applicable) want to adopt?
- Have you done any research on adoption? What led you to choose this type of adoption?
- Do you feel capable of meeting an adopted child’s mental, emotional, and physical needs?
Remember that the conversations in a home study help your adoption professional get to know you and your family. The information they glean will help them understand how to prepare you for the adoption process and to parent the child you adopt.
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What Will the Home Study Include?
Your home study should reflect an accurate view of you and your family. The caseworker will give you a detailed list of the required documentation for your adoption type. However, there are a few documents you can begin to prepare now that will help you understand the picture your home study will paint:
The Documents of an Adoption Home Study
The documentation part of the home study process can take a lot of time, so starting soon can be beneficial. This list is not exhaustive, but you may already have easy access to these documents to help you get started:
- Birth certificates, marriage licenses, death certificates, adoption decrees, divorce decrees
- Proof of residence and legal identification
- Proof of employment, insurance, annual income, asset, and debt statements
- Proof of education, diplomas, etc.
- Letters of reference or recommendation
- Completed and approved adoption application
- Proof of adoption education (if required), previous home study reports
- Photos of your home, including each room
- Pictures of your family
Again, this is just a starter list to help you think about what you need for the home study process. Your caseworker will give you a much more detailed list of instructions for completing the report. Other documents you will likely include are safety, water, and fire inspections, criminal and background checks, and physical and mental health exams. If you have pets, you might also be required to get a letter of health status from your veterinarian.
Most social workers who do home studies regularly have checklists to help organize your paperwork. Get that list of instructions as soon as possible – even if your home visits are still a way off. Your home study professional will also guide you on using official copies vs. originals, notarizations needed, and so on.
What Will the Home Study Case Worker Ask Us?
For many hopeful adoptive parents, assembling the documents for the complete report feels like the easy part of the process. They are more concerned about the interviews and how personal the conversations might get.
To help you prepare for this, please remember that the home study professional is not looking for perfect parents who give perfect answers. They want to understand who you are so they can help you welcome a child who fits you and with whom you fit well.
Some of the topics that the caseworker will cover to help them gain that understanding include:
- Your family of origin/your partner’s family of origin
- Your parenting style/your parents’ parenting style, including correction or discipline methods
- The relationship dynamics between you and your partner
- The support network around you and your family
- Your understanding of topics like trauma, transracial identity, prenatal exposure,
- Your divorce history (if applicable) or other legal issues on your records
- The gender, age, and needs of a child you feel capable of parenting
Every member of your family will talk with the caseworker. Expect you and your spouse or partner to meet individually and as a couple for conversations.
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Prioritize Honesty and Transparency
It might feel like they are digging into every nook and cranny of your life. Your transparency will help them know you and your family. Suppose you have issues from your past with drug or alcohol abuse, arrests, multiple marriages, or difficulty holding a job. In that case, your caseworker needs to know about them, and it is best if you bring those issues up for full disclosure. Be ready to examine the challenges honestly and share what you’ve learned. Please be aware that you will be ineligible to adopt if you have a conviction for child abuse. Feel free to ask questions if you don’t understand what the caseworker is asking or why.
What is the Home Inspection?
The adoption home study typically happens over a series of several sessions. Not all of these meetings must be in your home. However, at least one home visit will include a home safety inspection. Don’t feel as if you must have an immaculate house or even that you should offer coffee, tea, or snacks for these meetings. You don’t need to perform – be yourself and let your true intentions and unique family personality shine.
Check with your state, county, or township for safety regulations you might need to learn. You can do this research before the home inspection. You could also ask the home study agent in advance about issues that families miss most frequently in the process.
Navigating the home safety inspection
These tips can help you prepare for the safety inspection:
- Check all your detectors (smoke, carbon monoxide, etc.) and be sure they work. All three might be optional where you live, but they are recommended safety features for home studies.
- Be sure everyone in the house knows your fire safety plans in case of a house fire: where safety ladders are stored, how to use them, and where to meet after exiting the home.
- Secure all weapons (knives, guns, ammunition, and other firearms) correctly according to your county or state’s regulations. Be ready to answer questions about your family’s gun safety rules.
- Check the safety features of the room where your prospective child will sleep. It’s okay if the room isn’t ready for the child yet. However, have a plan for outlet covers, anchored dressers, secured windows, and so on.
- Get your cleaning supplies – even if they are “all natural” – in a safe place that is secure and inaccessible to young children.
- If you have a pool, your adoption professional needs to hear about your safety measures and how you comply with your local state or county regulations. Think about issues like rescue flotations, locked gates, and doors.
Communicate about the process to calm everyone’s nerves
Before your meetings, talk together as a family about these issues so everyone can feel prepared and dispel nerves. If you already have children, remember that they will pick up on your feelings about the process. Your kids must understand that these visits help the caseworker set your family up for a successful home study and adoption process.
The home study process can take up to several months to complete, depending on scheduling the meetings and how quickly you can compile the required documentation. Take good notes in your meetings to track your progress and focus on the training or safety preparations they recommend. The wait for an approved home study can be nerve-wracking, but again, remember that this casework wants you to succeed. Trust the process and reach out if you have questions or concerns about the timing.
Keep Your Goal in Mind!
It’s easy to feel bogged down by the piles of papers and forms you must tackle for an adoption home study. Don’t let yourself be overwhelmed or discouraged. Take each step as it comes, and track your work. Some hopeful adoptive parents find it helpful to keep a master list taped to the front of an accordion file for the hard copies they compile. Others use a binder with see-through pockets. (Just be sure to avoid three-hole punches in the paperwork!) Find the organizational system that works for you and plug away one form at a time. Remember, the caseworker wants you to succeed. Honest evaluations during a home study increase the opportunity to be matched well to your new child – and that’s a win for everyone.
Have you experienced the dread before a home study? What helped you overcome it? We’d love to hear from you.
Image Credits: Gustavo Fring; Monstera; Anete Lusina
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