Surviving Your Home Study Guide

Tips from an adoption social worker and adoptive dad.

Rachel Skousen July 08, 2014

So, you’ve decided you want to adopt. Congratulations! You’re at the beginning of a journey that can change your life forever. So what now? Well, there are a lot of different avenues that you can take but there’s one common thing that needs to be done for the grand majority of adoptions: a home study. Many hopeful adoptive parents dread this home study. The home study process takes time, effort, and lots of patience. A home study requires interviews, documents, and a home visit. In this article we will discuss a few things about home studies that will help you prepare to have a successful experience.

To find a qualified home study social worker in your area, click here.

To speak with an adoption professional about adopting a baby in the U.S., click here.

What is a Home Study?
1. What is a Home Study?

The term “home study” is a little bit of a misnomer. Typically what we are talking about when we say “home study” is the process by which a licensed professional determines whether a couple or individual is approved to adopt. Sometimes people get a home study confused with a home visit which is just one of the requirements of a home study.

When all is said and done a home study will be a 6-15 page written report on what the professional learned about you, typically with a statement of approval for adoption (often specific to the type of adoption you are looking for).

Choosing a Home Study Worker
2. Choosing a Home Study Worker

Every state has slightly different laws in regards to adoption and often times home studies are specific to the type of adoption you are looking to do. Often it’s best to know what kind of adoption you plan on doing before you start this process to avoid having to re-do things with your worker or having to get another worker (and essentially start over).

You can learn more about choosing an agency for your home study here.

You can also find agencies for home studies on our Reviews page.

Choosing a Worker--Adopting Children from Foreign Countries
3. Choosing a Worker--Adopting Children from Foreign Countries

These often are the most specific types of home studies. It’s best to know which country you plan on adopting from before you start an international home study. Different countries have different rules and the U.S. has different rules based on which country you are adopting from. Also, different workers and agencies are sometimes only able to do certain types of home studies.

It is common to work with two different agencies/workers/companies while doing an international adoption--one that is the child-placing agency and one that is the home study child-placing agency/worker/company. I highly recommend having a licensed child-placing agency instead of trying to do an independent international home study. (The Department of State plans on disallowing independent adoptions in July 2014.) Talk to your agency about the specifics of who can do your home study; they can make agreements with other child-placing agencies/workers/companies in your state to complete the correct kind of home study.

This kind of home study may be able to be easily converted to a home study for a domestic child that is not in state custody but may require some extra work and an additional fee.

Choosing a Worker--Adopting Children in State Custody (Domestic Foster Adoption)
4. Choosing a Worker--Adopting Children in State Custody (Domestic Foster Adoption)

Many states require that a specific type of home study be done to adopt children in foster care. The state may have workers that do the home study or they may contract this out to a non-government agency. Contact the local child welfare office in your state to find out if this is the case in your state.

Often, a home study done by the state cannot be released to a non-governmental agency and so an additional home study may be required if you plan to change to or also do an international or domestic adoption.

Choosing a Worker--Adopting Children not in State Custody (Domestic Adoption)
5. Choosing a Worker--Adopting Children not in State Custody (Domestic Adoption)

Home studies for infants or other children not in state custody can often be done by a licensed child-placing agency or an independent worker/company (typically a social worker), depending on the state. If you are working with a placing agency in another state but need a worker in your state to complete your home study, discuss with them what their policies are on who can complete your home study. If not, ask any of the workers or agencies you are considering if they are licensed or otherwise authorized to conduct a home study in your state.

Domestic home studies can often be converted to international home studies or a home study for children in state custody with some work (and additional fees) if your worker/agency/company is also authorized to that type of adoption. If they are not, you will likely need to re-do the process with another worker/child-placing agency/company.

The Process--Interviews
6. The Process--Interviews

There are many ways to conduct a home study. State laws, policy of the licensed child-placing agency/worker/company, and personal preference all come into play. We’ll discuss a typical (fairly comprehensive) process here:

Interviews

Each member of the home will typically be interviewed individually. The focus will be on the potential adoptive parent(s) but the home study preparer will typically need to meet every person living in the home. If it is a couple, an interview will be done with the two together. Interviews are often done in your home or in the office of the preparer. Sometimes, due to distance or other factors, you may even meet in a public place.

Interviews are typically meant for the preparer to learn as much about the family as possible. You will be asked about almost every aspect of your life. Don’t get offended, most of the questions your preparer will ask you are questions they would ask any of their clients. They may follow up on some difficult subjects (e.g., life experiences, criminal record, etc). My experience is that most preparers are trying to find out why they should approve you and not why they shouldn’t. Be honest. Be prepared to talk about how you have prepared for adoption. Such as why you want to adopt, your preparation for the type of adoption you plan on doing (e.g., special needs, transracial, open, international, etc), books you’ve read, people you’ve talked to, courses you’ve taken, and so on.

The Process--Documentation
7. The Process--Documentation

Documentation

The preparer usually wants some documentation to back up what you are saying about yourself. It may be a good idea to start gathering these up as soon as possible. Ask your preparer which background checks are necessary and work with them to get those started immediately.Typical documents needed are:


  • Birth Certificates

  • Marriage Certificates

  • Divorce Decrees

  • Tax Returns, W-2s, Financial statements, etc

  • Employer Verification or Letter from an accountant if you are Self-employed

  • Medical reports

  • Letters of Reference

  • Criminal (Local, State, and/or Federal) Background checks

  • Child abuse checks


The Process--Home Visit
9. The Process--Home Visit

This is the one that I find most people get nervous about. There can be a good deal of variety on how specific the preparers will be (often foster care home studies have very specific requirements) but the general idea is just to make sure that you have a safe home with reasonable space for a child. Ask them before if there are any specifics and work on those before they come.

Some things you can do to prepare (but may not be required):


  • Clean up a little but don’t kill yourself. I personally want to see it kind of how it normally is. This is not a white glove test.

  • Check/get smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. Even if the latter two aren’t required, they’re still a good idea to have. Also, discuss/review a fire safety plan with your family.

  • Identify possible hazards and either address them or have a plan/explanation on why they aren’t an issue. Pools are typical structures that a preparer may want to know/see how you plan on keeping children safe around.

  • Make sure firearms are properly stored and be prepared to discuss your gun safety policy with the preparer.

Conclusion
10. Conclusion

Home studies are a lot of work and can feel intrusive. Try to understand that the purpose is to keep children safe and remember that everyone is required to do this, not just you. Be patient but also stay in contact with your preparer. Ask them what their expectation for completion is. This may vary greatly due to things your preparer can’t control (background checks and your own speed in completing paperwork) but they can often give you a timeline once everything is in. Also, remember, the more flexible you are with meeting times, the more quickly your preparer can meet with you.

There’s often a lot of anxiety around getting a home study done. If you are efficient, stay in contact with your preparer, realize that most preparers are just doing their due diligence, and that they approve most of the families they meet, you are likely to feel less anxious.

To find a qualified home study social worker in your area, click here.

You can also find more tips on home studies in these articles:

- 8 Aspects of a Home Study
- Surviving an Adoption Home Study
- What Does a Home Study Involve?

Be sure to check out our adoption forums to learn more from other adoptive parents.

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Rachel Skousen

Rachel has a long-held passion for adoption that was sealed through her work as the content manager at Adoption.com. She currently works as a content specialist at Adopting.org, finding and sharing amazing adoption content from across the web. She is a mom of three and loves reading and napping in her spare time.


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