Every adoption in the United States requires the prospective Adoptive Family to complete a home study before a child may be placed in the Adoptive Parents’ home. A home study is an assessment of the prospective Adoptive Family and this report is used at various points in the adoption process.
For domestic adoptions, home study requirements will vary from state to state. The process in every state is designed to educate and prepare hopeful Adopting Parents, gather information about the family and evaluate the readiness. In the event that an Adopting Parent is adopting a child from another state, the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) will govern and ensure that the prospective placement is safe and suitable before approval.
Home study Requirements
Generally, the report will include information on the hopeful Adopting Family’s background, their health, their home and neighborhood, parenting style, references, education, employment, financial statement as well as details about their readiness and reasoning behind adoption. Legal documents such as marriage licenses, birth certificates and divorce decrees will need to be provided and all adults in the household will also need to obtain criminal background checks.
Most states require their department or licensed child placing agency to conduct the interviews and complete the narrative report. Some states allow licensed social workers to conduct the home study. In other states, a licensed psychologist or therapist or a person designated by the court may also conduct the study.
Domestic Adoption Home study
Though there is no official format, for every home study there is a process most adoption professionals and social workers stick to that hits all the major points. There are certain things they’re looking for during a home study, making it important that the process is followed closely so that nothing is missed. In the average home study, familial and personal background is covered rather thoroughly, as well as certain records and personal information needed to paint a clearer picture of your home life and the environment you will provide for the child. The home study requirements may include sections of the following:
- Background of adoptive parent(s)
- Marital history and relationships in the home
- Children in and out of the home
- Your motivation to adopt and your preferences
- Financial stability
- Medical information
- Clearances – child abuse, state and FBI
- Home and community
At some point during the adoption home study process, you as the prospective parent or parents will be asked to complete an adoption education program. Typically, these programs outline and help parents better understand the unique needs of waiting children before, during, and after adoption. In addition to this, it will offer insight on discipline techniques, help when it comes to interacting with birth parents if you have an open adoption, and any questions that may come with a closed adoption. Overall, this program will help adoptive parents better care for their adoptive child, making them closer as a family over time.
These will be gathered through interviews and forms in an attempt to get to know you better. Some agencies may send out a questionnaire of specific questions they want answered, while other will have the social worker work closely with you through interviews and visits. Some questions will focus on our familial and personal background, inquire about your hopes and dreams, fears and worries, and what childhood was like for you. For married persons, this portion of the home study may ask questions about your marital history as well as information on other children and your parenting style. In addition to these questions, you may have to answer questions about your community and the environment you plan to raise your adoptive child in.
Background checks will mainly cover any criminal charges or arrests that may have happened in the past. It is required by law in most states that any criminal and child abuse records and clearances for both foster and adoptive parents be conducted. In most cases, if the misdemeanor happened a long time ago and you have a good explanation for your actions, the charge will not be held against you. However, if you are found to have a felony and imprisonment having to do with child abuse or substance abuse, the adoption will be halted.
During the adoption home study process, you will undergo several interviews. These are put in place to get to know you better as well as to develop a relationship with your social worker. The better your social worker gets to know you, the better equipped they are to find an appropriate placement for your family.
Home visits are conducted to see how safe your living environment is. In addition to checking out the child’s room, the social worker will look to see if the home is safe enough for a child. This includes everything from working alarms, safe water, no obvious hazards, and more. Many people think that if their home is totally clean and spotless, the home visit will go well, but this is not what the social worker is looking for. If everything is tidy and the home is found to be safe and up to code, it should be enough to pass with flying colors.
Health Records and Statements
You will need to submit health records so that your social worker is aware of your physical and emotional health. Most agencies require prospective parents to undergo a physical exam to catch any health issues that you may be unaware of. Typically, the health records should not have too much say in the final adoption decision unless you have a serious health problem that will affect life expectancy. If you have a chronic health issue that is managed, a statement from your primary physician outlining the nature of your health problem and your actions to regulate will be required.
Throughout the adoption process, documents are needed for the home study, adoption agencies, attorneys and others. Documents needed for the home study may include, but are not limited to:
- Birth certificate for each family member
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce decree(s)
- Death certificate (spouse or child)
- Adoption decree(s)
- Copy of passport
- Driver ‘s license
- Medical report for each family member
- Proof of eligibility for medical insurance for the child to be adopted
- Child abuse clearances
- Criminal clearances (state and FBI)
- Proof of income
- Proof of adoptive parent education – differs for private, independent, agency and foster care adoptions.
- Agreement to comply with post placement/adoption supervisory visits and reports
The length of time to complete a home study varies based on the home study preparer’s process. In some states, the home study also has to be approved on a state level prior to submission to:
- Licensed adoption agency or attorney helping you with the adoption;
- Local courts; and
- Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC) who allows you to bring a child from another state into your home state
Some states require you to work with licensed adoption agencies in state, or approved out-of-state licensed agencies. Some states mandate you work with a non-profit adoption agency.
The home study preparer should be your advocate and the one who is putting your family plan in writing on which others base their actions in helping you build your family. The home study process (interviews and educational courses) is a good time to continue exploring your expectations from the adoption process, as well as transitions, adjustment and how adoption will change your life and your family.
Grounds for Withholding Home study Approval
If there is a finding that the Adopting Parent or member of the household might pose a risk to a child’s safety, a home study will not be approved. Criminal child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, crimes against a child and crimes of violence are barriers to home study approval. In some states, a conviction of human trafficking or convictions of physical assault or battery or drug-related crimes within the past 5 years may also lead to an unfavorable recommendation.
A home study may also be denied if the Adopting Parent’s income or financial skills are inadequate to provide for the family, if their home is unsafe or inadequate for the family, if they have a physical or behavioral condition that would prevent them from providing appropriate care for a child or they falsify information on their application.
International Adoption Home study
For international Orphan and Hague adoption cases, a home study is required and must be submitted to U.S Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS). This allows USCIS and the foreign country’s adoption authority to determine if the hopeful Adopting Parents are suitable and eligible to adopt a child.
With an international adoption, home study requirements will vary because each state will have its own laws and because there are different requirements for Convention and non-Hague Convention adoptions.
International home studies will generally include an in-person interview, a physical, mental and emotional evaluation of all members of the household, an in home visit, detailed financial information about the Adopting Parents, an assessment of the Adopting Parents’ ability to care for an adopted child, the number of children the Adopting Parents may adopt, any restrictions on the children who should be placed with the Adopting Parents, a check of criminal history, child abuse, substance abuse, sexual abuse or domestic violence for all adults in the household and if there were any previous rejections for adoption or if there was ever an unfavorable home study prepared.
The Adoption home study is an important step of the decision making and preparation process. While collecting required information, it also helps the Adopting Parent(s) to review their hopes and dreams for parenthood and their ability to parent a specific type of child. Questions about adoption and parenting can be answered and resources for additional information and local support provided. In addition, the social worker or agency can be a resource if future questions arise as the adoption process progresses.
Common Questions To Ask Your Home study Provider
Before you begin the home study, there are several issues to consider and discuss with the social worker or agency:
1. WHO PERFORMS THE HOME STUDY
It is important to know the requirements of the jurisdiction under which you will be adopting. The home study can be performed by a licensed social worker or a licensed adoption agency (states have different requirements). If you are adopting through foster care, you will need a home study certificate completed by a local foster care/child welfare agency. All international home studies must be performed by a Hague accredited agency. In addition, some placement agencies (the domestic or international agency who finds the birth mother or child) require the home study to be done by a social worker on their staff or with whom they have a prior working relationship.
2. WHAT IS THE EXPERIENCE OF THE HOME STUDY PROVIDER
It is important that the social worker/agency doing your home study has experience in conducting the type of home study you need. Foster care, domestic and international home studies have different document requirements, adoptive parent training components and required information. Be sure to determine that they have conducted the type of home study you need recently, as state and federal specifications change over time and must be up-to-date.
3. HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO COMPLETE A HOME STUDY?
Clarify how long it takes to start and complete the home study. What are the steps? Is there an application process? Is it online or do you need to come in and meet with someone? Do you need to submit paperwork prior to meeting with the social worker? How long does it take to set up the home visit? From the time all documents are submitted, and child abuse and criminal clearances are back—what is the estimated time to compete the home study? Lastly, how long is the completed home study good for and what is involved in updating the report?
4. WHO “OWNS” THE HOME STUDY?
Some agencies will conduct a home study to be used for an adoption only through their program. If you then identify a child through another source, the agency will not release the home study to you or that other source. Since you may be networking and spreading the word that you are looking to adopt, you want to ask before you get started if the home study would be available to you for another source, just in case.
5. WHAT ARE THE HOME STUDY FEES?
While foster care home studies are performed at no cost through a local foster care/child welfare agency, there are costs for home studies for private domestic or international adoption. Changes in medical, financial, housing or family composition must be updated in writing. If you switch from one type of adoption to another (foster care/domestic/international or even country to country) the home study must reflect that specific process option and type of child being approved and/or recommended. It is important to ask not only for the home study fee, but costs to amend or update a report after completion, as well as application and child abuse and criminal clearance fees.
You should coordinate the home study with your placement agency and/or attorney. By doing so and asking questions early on, you can avoid a situation where the home study is not appropriate for the type of adoption you are doing or does not meet your time requirement.
Common Questions Asked on the Home study
As you move towards the home study portion of your adoption journey, you may be running a number of scenarios through your mind. You know the social worker or adoption care professional is going to ask a lot of questions, require a lot of paperwork, and conduct a number of interviews, but you wonder what exactly they’ll be like. Of course there’s no way to be entirely certain of how your home study will go, but one way to welcome a successful home study beyond tidying up the house and wearing a big smile is to do as much research and preparation as you possibly can. This list of expected adoption home study questions will help you get an idea of what the social worker is looking for during the process as well as help you prepare some responses.
Categories and Questions
Throughout the home study, there are a few question categories your social worker will most likely stick to in order to get a clear picture of your home life and familial background. These categories may vary depending upon the type of adoption you’ve chosen. At the end of the home study, you will be required to undergo an adoption education program as well, which will cover everything from transitioning and discipline to Birth Parents and beyond. However, before you get there, you must undergo the home study first. Categories and questions include:
• Autobiography/Family Background
A large portion of the home study interviews and questions will focus on your and your spouse’s familial and personal backgrounds. If you are single, this will simply focus on questions about yourself and your family growing up. Some questions may include:
- How Was Your Family Growing Up?
- How Do You Feel About Discipline?
- What Are Your Best Childhood Memories?
- What Are Your Worst Childhood Memories?
- What Are Some of Your Fears?
- How Long Have You Been Married?
- Do You Have Other Children?
- Why Have You Chosen Adoption?
- What Do You Wish For the Future?
In some cases, typically depending upon your state and the agency you use, a social worker will work closely with your family to complete this autobiographical portion. Others, however, may simply send a questionnaire with similar questions that the agency wants answered in a certain amount of time.
Another important part of the interview process is describing your home and community environment. For many social workers, a questionable community can cause an adoption to fall through, leaving the family devastated. While adoption disruption is not common, and most adoption professionals work to prevent this from happening, if they find red flags throughout the home study process, they’ll do what must be done. Some questions may include:
- Would You Say Your Community is Mostly Safe?
- What is the School System Like?
- If You Already Have Children, Where Do They Attend School?
- Where Will Your Child Attend Once Adopted?
- Do You Have a Relationship With Your Neighbors?
- If So, What is Your Relationship like with Your Neighbors?
- Does Your Community Offer Resources to Help Parents of a Special Needs Child/children?
- What Outlets Are Available for Children in Your Community (i.e. sports, arts, teams, etc)?
Both your physical and emotional health will be documented during your home study. Medical records as well as a written statement from your doctor explaining the nature of a physical or psychiatric illness may be required. Your health typically won’t carry much weight in the adoption decision unless you are dealing with something that may affect your life expectancy. Much of the questions will probably be based off of your personal medical records and statements, so they will vary. In general, however, questions may include:
- Do You Have Any Chronic Health Issues?
- How Are You Keeping these Health Issues Under Control?
- How Does Your Health Issue Affect Your Day to Day Life?
- Do You Have an Action Plan In Case of Emergency?
- Does Your Doctor Recommend Adoption with Your Current Health Issue?
- Due to Family History, Can you Expect a Chronic Health Issue to Develop?
• Criminal Clearances
In most states, it is required by law to submit any criminal record or child abuse record checks. If there is an incident in your past, it does not mean the adoption will fall through. If you have a good explanation of your actions and behavior, it is usually is not held against you. However, an arrest of certain nature, usually involving children, substance abuse, or the like, will typically not be allowed and the adoption process will be stopped. Questions may include:
- Have You Ever Been Arrested?
- If So, What Were You Arrested For?
- Can You Explain Your Actions and Behavior?
- Did You Put Yourself or Loved Ones in Serious Danger?
- What Were the Nature of Your Charges?
- Was Your Case Handled in Court?
For this category, the questions will most definitely vary depending upon you and past information. If you do have any criminal clearances, it is best to prepare explanations unique to your situation, not a generic one.
• Financial Statements
Adoption is expensive, so it is your social worker’s job to ensure that you can cover the costs before, during, and after the adoption process. This may include the help of loans and grants as well as other financial aid. Financial statements and stability are required to show your ability to care for a child on your current income. This will require you to submit tax forms, pay stubs, or other documents outlining your income. Questions may include:
- What Is Your Profession?
- How Do You Budget Your Monthly Income?
- How Much Do You Make In a Year?
- Do You Feel Prepared to Handle Any Unexpected Expenses That May Come Up?
- Are You Able to Provide Both the Necessities and Extras a Child May Need?
While there is no minimum amount you must make to adopt a child, your income is important in the final adoption decision. Your social worker will want to know that you are able to care for an additional person on your current income, whether that entails further budgeting or other financial plans. Some agencies may require you to fill out a worksheet that covers your bills, recurring payments, and more.
This list of questions should help you to prepare yourself for your coming home study. All in all, the most important thing to remember during interviews is to be yourself. Your social worker wants to get to know you and your family, your personalities, quirks, and relationships. Being truthful and genuine will help them find the right child for your family, moving the adoption process along smoothly. Good luck!