The adoption homestudy is a critical part of any adoption. Not only is it an early step in the process, but it includes discussion on the type of child you are hoping to adopt and a conversation about adoptive parenting to ensure a smooth transition for you and your child. In addition, the social worker can be a sounding board and advocate for you throughout the adoption process and parenting years ahead.
The homestudy is a narrative report that includes a wealth of information on you, your home, your hopes as a parent, your medical and financial stability, and your thoughts on adoption. It ends with a recommendation of you as an adoptive parent and the type of child you are approved to adopt. Who can conduct the homestudy is governed by state and federal regulations. In the United States, some states allow a private licensed social worker to perform the homestudy. In other states, you must work with a licensed adoption agency. For an international adoption, the homestudy must be completed by a Hague accredited agency or Hague supervised or Exempt Provider.
Before you begin the homestudy, there are several issues to consider and discuss with the social worker or agency:
1. WHO PERFORMS THE HOMESTUDY
It is important to know the requirements of the jurisdiction under which you will be adopting. The homestudy 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 homestudy certificate completed by a local foster care/child welfare agency. All international homestudies 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 homestudy to be done by a social worker on their staff or with whom they have a prior working relationship.
2. THE EXPERIENCE OF THE HOMESTUDY PROVIDER
It is important that the social worker/agency doing your homestudy has experience in conducting the type of homestudy you need. Foster care, domestic and international homestudies have different document requirements, adoptive parent training components and required information. Be sure to determine that they have conducted the type of homestudy you need recently, as state and federal specifications change over time and must be up-to-date.
3. TIME FRAMES TO START, COMPLETE AND NEEDED UPDATES OF THE HOMESTUDY
Clarify how long it takes to start and complete the homestudy. 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 homestudy? Lastly, how long is the completed homestudy good for and what is involved in updating the report?
4. WHO “OWNS” THE HOMESTUDY
Some agencies will conduct a homestudy 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 homestudy 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 homestudy would be available to you for another source, just in case.
While foster care homestudies are performed at no cost through a local foster care/child welfare agency, there are costs for homestudies 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 homestudy must reflect that specific process option and type of child being approved and/or recommended. It is important to ask not only for the homestudy 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 homestudy with your placement agency and/or attorney. By doing so and asking questions early on, you can avoid a situation where the homestudy is not appropriate for the type of adoption you are doing or does not meet your time requirement.