This page discusses the common elements of the home study process as well as concerns prospective adoptive parents may have.
There is no single format that adoption agencies use to conduct home studies or a standard application which applies to all.
Many agencies however, include the following steps in their home study process, although the specific details and order will vary.
The process may appear difficult for those just beginning. The important thing to remember is that the social worker completing your home study will become an advocate for what you are trying to accomplish!
Many agencies offer an initial informational session or orientation that provides an overview of the process and their agency. These generally are free, do not carry any obligation, and are a good way to find out about the agency, their process, the children available, and if the agency would be a good fit for you and your family.
Many agencies require trainings for prospective adoptive parents prior to or during the home study process. These trainings help prospective parents better understand the needs of children waiting for families, adoption issues, and agency requirements. They can help families decide what type of child or children they could parent most effectively.
You will probably be interviewed several times by a social worker. These interviews help you develop a relationship with your social worker that will enable him or her to better understand your family and assist you with an appropriate placement. You will discuss the topics to be covered in the home study report. You will likely be asked to give examples of your experiences with children, your important relationships, your approach to parenting, and how you handle stress and past experiences of crisis or loss, including discussions about infertility, which is a topic of concern for many adoptive families.
You and your social worker will discuss what age of child would best fit in your family, whether a sibling group would work well, and other important characteristics you would be willing to accept in a child. Again, this should be both a self-reflective process and a time to educate yourself about issues with which you may not yet be familiar. With couples, some agency workers conduct all of the interviews with both prospective parents together. Others will conduct both joint and individual interviews. If families have adult children living outside the home, they also may be interviewed during this process. It is important to be honest with the social worker and yourself about your own strengths and limitations.
Home visits primarily serve to ensure that your home offers a safe environment for a child and meets State licensing standards (e.g., working smoke alarms, safe storage of firearms, safe water, pools covered/fenced, and adequate space for each child). Your home should be free from hazards and offer a child-friendly environment for the age range for which you are being licensed. For example, poisons and household cleaners should be in cupboards with childproof locks, window drape cords should not hang within reach, firearms should be inaccessible to children, etc. Some States require an inspection from local health and fire departments in addition to the visit by the social worker.
Generally, agencies will require the social worker to view all areas of the house or apartment, including where the children will sleep, the basement, and the backyard. He or she will be looking for how you plan to accommodate a new family member (or members, if you are planning to adopt a sibling group). Social workers are not typically inspecting your housekeeping standards. A certain level of order is necessary, but some family clutter is expected. A comfortable, child-friendly environment is what is being sought.
If you are planning to adopt a child from another country (international adoption), you will need to know whether the country from which you plan to adopt is a party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of International Adoption. If it is, your home study will be subject to Hague Convention requirements. These requirements mandate which agencies or service providers may conduct your home study, what statements must be included about your parent training and eligibility, and how the home study must be submitted to the Central Authority for adoption in the country from which you plan to adopt.
Most agencies require prospective adoptive parents to have a recent physical exam and a statement from a physician confirming that they are essentially healthy, have a normal life expectancy, and are physically and mentally able to handle the care of a child.
If you have a medical condition that is under control (for instance, high blood pressure or diabetes that is controlled by diet and medication), you may still be approved as an adoptive family. A serious health problem that affects life expectancy may prevent approval.
If your family has sought counseling or treatment for a mental health condition in the past, you may be asked to provide information or reports from those visits. Many agencies view seeking help as a sign of strength; the fact that your family obtained such help should not, in and of itself, preclude you from adopting. However, each family’s situation is unique, so check with the agencies or social workers you are considering if you have concerns.
You do not have to be rich to adopt or to provide foster care. You do have to show you can manage your finances responsibly and adequately. Some countries may have specific income requirements for international adoption. Usually, prospective parents are asked to verify their income by providing copies of paycheck stubs, W-4 forms, or income tax forms. Many agencies also ask about savings, insurance policies (including health coverage for the adopted child), investments, and debts.
All States require criminal and child abuse record checks for adoptive and foster parent applicants. In many States, local, State, and Federal clearances are required. Fingerprints may be taken as well.
Public and private agencies must comply with State and Federal laws and policies regarding licensing requirements and how the findings of background checks affect eligibility for adoptive parents. However, do not hesitate to talk to social workers and agencies you are considering about specific situations that might disqualify you from adopting. Agencies will consider your past experiences as well as how you dealt with them, what you’ve learned from them, and how you would use that knowledge in parenting a child. Some agencies may be able to work with your family, depending on the specific incident and its resolution. If the social worker finds you to be deceptive or dishonest, however, or if the documents collected during the home study process expose inconsistencies, the agency may not approve your home study.
Many adoption agencies ask prospective adoptive parents to write an autobiographical statement or story. This is, essentially, the story of your life. It helps the social worker understand your family better and assists him or her in writing the home study report (see below). If you are working with an agency that practices openness in adoption, you also may be asked to write a letter or create an album or scrapbook about your family to be shared with expectant parents who are considering placing their child for adoption, to help them choose an adoptive family. You may also be asked to prepare a similar album for children, if you are considering adopting children older than infants.
While writing about yourself may seem difficult, the exercise is intended to provide information about you to the agency, as well as to help you explore issues related to parenting and adoption. Some agencies have workers available to assist you with the writing. Most have a set of questions to guide you through writing your autobiography.
The agency will probably ask you for names, addresses, and telephone numbers of three or four people who will serve as references for you. References help the social worker form a more complete picture of your family and support network.
If possible, references should be people who have known you for years, who have seen you in many situations, and who have visited your home and know of your interest in and involvement with children. Most agencies require that references be people who are not related to you. Good choices might include close friends, an employer, a former teacher, a coworker, a neighbor, or your pastor, minister, rabbi, or leader of your faith community (if applicable).
Approval would rarely be denied on the grounds of a single negative reference. However, if it were one of several negative factors, or if several references were negative, the agency might be unable to approve the adoption.