Whether you are looking to foster a child or to adopt, a home study is a big component of the approval process to place a child in your home. Many people feel anxious at the thought of a stranger coming into their home to make a judgment about their accommodation and character, but this is not the intent. Instead, a social worker is evaluating your home for safety concerns to ensure that you are ready in all aspects to welcome a child into your family for however long it may be.

So what is a home study exactly?

A home study is the screening process by which a social worker visits the prospective parents’ home to determine whether the home itself and parents are suitable to allow a child to stay in the home. This will occur once the prospective parents have completed their training classes and applied to foster or adopt. The only goal of the home study is to ensure that the child is free of any physical or emotional damage from the home or prospective parents and therefore the child’s best interests are the priority during the evaluation. The social worker will be checking for things such as cleanliness, the home’s condition, safety hazards, fire exits, sanitation, the surrounding neighborhood, and private and shared space allocation for the child. In addition to looking at the house itself, the social worker is also assessing whether the prospective parents are suitable to receive the child, and therefore, will collect information regarding marital status if required for that particular type of adoption. The social worker will also check a prospective parent’s criminal history, financial well-being, exam results of overall physical and mental health, and a general assessment as to whether the child will be well suited to live with the hopeful family. References from past employers and friends and/or family members will be included in the evaluation packet as well in order to better understand what types of relationships the prospective parents have. Any child over the age of 10 that is already part of the family will also be subjected to a criminal check and children who have left the home will also be interviewed to gauge what sort of home they were raised in, paying particular focus on the overall environment and discipline methods.

Who needs to do a home study?

I have yet to find an exception in adoption, whether it be domestic or international, that doesn’t require a home study. Going the route of fostering also includes this process generally. This mandate often comes from the state itself though sometimes the adoption agency makes this a requirement to proceed. While some people dread this part of the application, finding it intrusive, it is an opportunity for the prospective parents to learn and prepare for a new chapter in their lives in order to benefit the child.

Will my poor health disqualify me from a home study?

There’s no cut and dry answer to this question. One requirement of the home study is to provide results from your physician that evaluate your overall health. This means your doctor has assessed you and believes that your health does not pose any limitations in your ability to raise and care for a child in your home. Unmanageable chronic or life-threatening conditions such as diabetes, AIDS, or cancer may prove to be a disqualifier depending on the progression of the disease and your current treatment plan. Severe mental illnesses or drug or alcohol addictions may also put you at a disadvantage to adopting. Some of these situations are transient, and with the proper medication or treatment, they can be overcome which will put you at a much better place to welcome a child into your home. The overall goal of the health assessment is to make sure your health is not a burden to you or your ability to care for someone else.

Preparing for a home study

Hours before the first scheduled home study visit, you are madly cleaning every crevasse of the house and have cookie dough ready to be baked right before the social worker arrives. But here’s the thing: you don’t need to do any of those things. The point of the visit isn’t to present a false sense of your life, which the trained social worker will see right through, but instead it is to see what your home and family life is really like. The best way to prepare for your visit is to organize all the documents that have been requested ahead of time and have them accessible. Make copies, have items notarized if needed, obtain doctor’s notes, and know where everything is. The other major part of getting ready for your home study is to talk to your partner/spouse and your kids in advance to make sure everyone is on the same page. Your partner or spouse will be interviewed with you and without you so that the social worker can get a read of how each of you is thinking about certain aspects of the adoption. It’s essential that a disconnection between the two of you doesn’t come up during the interview process as that will be a red flag that you two may not be ready. Remember, the social worker is looking for the best environment for the child and that means one that is void of miscommunication and opposing ideas between the hosts. Depending on the age of the children already living in the house, they too may be interviewed. Children may sometimes have a hard time accepting a new child in the home, and that is okay, but it’s important that they fully understand what is going on and the impact it may have on the family structure. You don’t want the social worker to be bringing up issues that you haven’t had the chance to discuss and let your child digest with you.

How long does it take to do a home study?

This part of the process can take anywhere from a few months up to a year. There are a lot of moving parts and people involved in this process so do show patience. Know that every other prospective parent has gone through this, and there is support out there to vent your concerns and questions.

How much does it cost to do a home study?

The cost of a home study is dictated by many factors but plan to spend anywhere from $500 to a few thousand. Factors affecting the final price include state’s cost of living as those social workers must be paid a higher wage to live in a more expensive state. Someone living in CA can expect to pay more than someone in Ohio for example. The cost can also be driven up when there aren’t many social workers available, forcing them to do a lot of traveling. The only exception to paying for a home study is when you are fostering a child from the state, which the state generally covers this cost.

Does a home study expire?

The short answer is yes. The timeframe for expiration is often 12 months from completion, though it’s critical to check on this with your adoption agency. The home study can be renewed or even amended to provide you with an extension, depending on your situation. There are certain situations such as major life changes like moving homes, starting a new job, getting married or divorced, having a new child join your home or leave, which will require your home study to be updated before it expires. Updating or renewing often is less time consuming as the focus will be on particular aspects of your life that have changed since you originally applied. It’s important that you are transparent with your social worker when these things occur as to not slow down the process. The last thing you want is for someone considering placement with you to be turned away only because you are no longer eligible since your records or license is no longer valid.

Now that it’s completed, what happens next?

You wait. This may be one of the most challenging parts of the process. You’ve been through the wringer and are ready. Every aspect of your life has been picked apart, and someone else has told you what you already know: you’re ready to be a parent! Unfortunately, the time for placement varies greatly, and there is no simple answer as to how long it will take for a child to be matched with you. There are many factors that will affect the wait time, particularly what type of child you have requested and the availability. There are some areas that have a high need, and if you are flexible with the age, gender, and are willing to accept siblings, you may have a child in your home not long after being licensed. On the other hand, those that are only willing to accept a single infant of a particular race tend to have longer wait times. Then again, there are no strict standard times when it comes to placing, so keep your fingers crossed, your spirits up, and before you know it, you will have a home filled with the life and energy of someone of the next generation.