Whether you are planning to foster, adopt, or foster to adopt, you will have to go through the first step in the process: a home study. Home studies can be overwhelming, which is why it is important to do your research and make sure you are prepared. Home studies may often feel invasive as they do pry into your private life. Finances, health and family history, income, parenting styles, and background checks are all a normal and standard part of the home study process. Although it can, at times, feel like agencies or the state may be trying to weed out people, more than not, they are trying to qualify people. With over 100,000 children presently waiting for their forever home, the true goal of home studies is to ensure that homes for these children will be a safe, thriving, and loving home. This article will go over some common questions and concerns people have when it comes to home studies.
Can you adopt without a home study?
The short answer is no. Even if you are going through a private agency to adopt, all states still require the completion of a background check and a home study. The longer answer is the processes for home studies vary from state to state. For example, some states have stricter requirements when it comes to background checks and previous criminal charges excluding prospective families from completion. Tennessee requires a home study be done every six months, as opposed to Arkansas, Colorado, and Alaska who require it be completed annually. It is best to visit websites for your specific state. Here are a few great resources you can check out that will allow you to search by your specific state and see its requirements.
What documents will you need for a home study?
Be prepared for your home study by making a checklist of every document you will need to supply for your home study. Marriage licenses, birth certificates, driver’s licenses, pet records, social security numbers, income tax returns, pay stubs, W-2s, up-to-date health statements, character witnesses, and autobiographical statements are common requirements. People often think they will not be approved if they are not rich. Some families can be receiving assistance of some kind and still be approved for placement. Health statements showing up-to-date vaccines, medical reports, or doctor’s opinions on the mental health of their patients. If you have struggled with any kind of mental health condition, your doctor or therapist may be required to attest to whether or not they feel you are healthy enough to parent. Character witness letters are just as important. Consider asking for testimonials from your friends, family, boss or supervisor, pastor, neighbor, or co-workers. Some states require you provide a list of references while other states ask you to present letters. It doesn’t hurt to have these prepared either way with their contact information. Autobiographical statements are also very important. Make sure to take time and ponder this with great consideration. This letter is to give an important look into who you are as a couple or a parent. Consider it your life story with reliving who you are now and what has brought you here: childhood, high school, colleges, relationships, infertility, jobs or careers, family, etc. Be detailed and reflective in your accounts.
What will happen during the home inspection?
It is important to note that one of the biggest differences in home studies for adopting and fostering, is where the liability lies. Home studies for fostering often will focus more on the liability as the children are legally the responsibility of the state. Home inspections are often the focus of a foster care home study and may be given on a consistent basis or even at random. Adoption home studies might also have home inspections but tend to be less of the main focus.
Before your home inspection, you can always ask for a home visit checklist beforehand. The more prepared you are, the more at ease you will be. As a reminder, the emphasis on what is looked for varies from state to state, but here are the big points that share a commonality. First and foremost, ensure all of your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors are functioning properly and are up to code. If you have stairs, make sure there are gates to provide safety measures. If you have firearms or medications, see that these are properly locked up and well out of reach. Do your research and confirm your home is free of lead paint. Check all electrical outlets and put covers on them. Check all windows and screens to ensure they are locked and secure. Childproof the corners of your furniture. Take a look at all of your appliances, including heating and cooling, to verify they are working properly. Also, make sure you have a first aid kit in your home in case of any accidents.
What happens during the home study interview?
Remember the last time you went to a job interview? Home study interviews are similar. You can prepare for them ahead of time and think about how you will be answering their questions. Read over the list of commonly asked questions. Social workers can tell when a prospective parent has taken considerable time to review questions and put together responses. Become familiar with the list of questions. Practice makes perfect! You can even spend time role-playing with your partner or a friend by practicing and answering the questions. There are a lot of families who have found benefit from writing down their responses and repeating them to commit them to memory. Here are some of the questions you may expect in a home study:
- 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?
You will also be asked questions about your community. Here are some of the questions you might be asked for this part:
- 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?
- Does Your Community Offer Resources to Help Parents of a Special Needs Child/children?
- What Outlets Are Available for Children in Your Community?
Questions surrounding your health and criminal clearances will also be submitted at this time. So don’t skip sitting down with an ample amount of time to construct true and honest answers. They will go far in your testimony.
How long does a home study take?
Generally, home studies to adopt or foster take about 90 days. Some families are also dually approved for adoption and foster care; meaning they have completed home studies or met the requirements for both. The time it takes for the completion of a home study also depends on several factors. International adoption home studies may take longer, understandably. The time it takes you to gather all of the necessary documents and complete the paperwork required is also a factor. Sometimes home studies require one home interview. Sometimes they may require several home interviews. Home studies are the first step in the process to foster or adopt. As anxious as you might be to get this step completed, have patience and an understanding that this step takes time to finish from start to end.
How much does a home study cost?
Depending on what kind of home study you are pursuing or the type of adoption, costs for a home study can vary greatly. The cost can be between $1,800-$3,000 or more. There are other fees that can impact this cost, such as administration fees of health records, background checks, fingerprints, travel costs, and state or agency mandated training. Domestic adoptions, as opposed to international adoptions, tend to cost less due to the strict regulations. One of the differences between adoption and foster care home studies are, you can often get reimbursed from the state for some of the expenses for foster home studies. Don’t let cost be a deterrent as providing a child a home is something you can’t put a price on. Also, oftentimes, you can find help for these costs or reimbursements.
So, we have established a few of the major questions when it comes to home studies. Sometimes it’s best to get a perspective of someone who has lived through it once, or in this case, many times. A friend of mine, who is a social worker, is very familiar with home studies. She has provided some personal insight on home studies and what she wants families to know. “Nobody’s perfect and we truly don’t expect perfection when we walk into your home. It’s refreshing when prospective families are authentic and genuine with what their strengths AND weaknesses are. Share with us your doubts and your fears. We’re here to help and being human is something we can respond to.” Kristine notes the home study should be educational for both parties. “Be honest with yourselves and us and you can learn more through this whole process. Our end goal is for you to be moved into a new parent role. We have to take this duty with sincere and serious expectations as it affects the future of a child. We need to see you absolutely want to be a parent, you can financially and emotionally support a child, your home is safe and reliable, and you have practical views of adoption and what to expect.”
Kristine also suggests learning as much as possible from the home study. She says there will be ups and downs, hard parts and obstacles. “Reflect on these times and how you are coping. Put yourself in your future child’s shoes and try to understand how they might feel through all of this as well.”
Home studies are also a good starting point for what you are expecting or wanting from the process. Some families are unable to conceive and are only wanting to be considered for infants. Some families have had unique experiences or might feel they are equipped well for certain medical conditions such as Down syndrome, or cerebral palsy. Other families might not be looking for infants and may be open to siblings or older children. You, as parents, might feel you may not be the best support for or to children of different races. These are some very important factors that are key to unlocking and discussing during home placements.
My parents fostered to adopt children back in the ’70s and into the early ’90s. When I asked my mother what she remembers most about home studies, she said it was different back then. In their cases, the state had already determined these children would be placed for adoption out of foster care. They were desperate to get children into homes and everything seemed to move so quickly. Home studies may be seemingly overwhelming. One thing is certain, working closely with a team of supportive individuals who have experience in home studies will certainly bring comfort. Do not hesitate to ask questions or make inquiries about the process. Have a clear understanding of what is expected of you and your family during this time. Keep a good support system close to you. Ask for checklists, remember to breathe, and keep in mind that no one is looking for perfection.
We’d like to take some time and turn it over to our readers. What are some of the experiences you have had during home studies? How has it varied from state to state for those of you who have moved? Have you experienced any differences or similarities from a foster care home study versus an adoption home study?
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