The laws of every State and the District of Columbia require all prospective adoptive parents (no matter how they intend to adopt) to participate in a home study. This process has three purposes: to educate and prepare the adoptive family for adoption, to gather information about the prospective parents that will help a social worker match the family with a child whose needs they can meet, and to evaluate the fitness of the adoptive family.
The home study process can be a source of anxiety for some prospective parents, who may fear they will not be "approved." It may be helpful to remember agencies are not looking for perfect parents. Rather, they are looking for real parents to parent real children. With accurate information about the process, prospective parents can face the home study experience with confidence and the excitement that should accompany the prospect of welcoming a child into the family.
Specific home study requirements and processes vary greatly from agency to agency, State to State, and (in the case of intercountry adoption) by the child's country of origin. This fact sheet discusses the common elements of the home study process and addresses some concerns prospective adoptive parents may have about the process.
Elements of the Home Study Process
There is no set format that adoption agencies use to conduct home studies. Many agencies include the following steps in their home study process, although the specific details and order will vary. For more information, talk with the agencies you are considering.
Training. 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 and help families decide what type of child or children they could parent most effectively.
Interviews. You will probably be interviewed several times by the 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.Home Visit. Home visits primarily serve to ensure your home meets state licensing standards (e.g., working smoke alarms, safe storage of firearms, safe water, adequate space for each child, etc.).
Health Statements. Most agencies require prospective adoptive parents to have some form of physical exam. A serious health problem that affects life expectancy may prevent approval.
Income Statements. You do not have to be rich to adopt; you just have to show you can manage your finances responsibly and adequately. Usually, prospective parents are asked to verify their income by providing copies of paycheck stubs, W-4 forms, or income tax forms.
Background Checks. Most States require criminal and child abuse record clearances for all adoptive and foster parent applicants.
Autobiographical Statement. Many adoption agencies ask prospective adoptive parents to write an autobiographical statement. This is, essentially, the story of your life. This statement helps the social worker better understand your family and assists him or her in writing the home study report (see below).
References. The agency will probably ask you for the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of three or four individuals to serve as references for you. References help the social worker form a more complete picture of your family and support network.
The Home Study Report
Typically, the above steps culminate in the writing of a home study report that reflects the social worker's findings. Home study reports often are used to "introduce" your family to other agencies or adoption exchanges (services that list children waiting for families) to assist in matching your family with a waiting child.
In general, home study reports include the above-mentioned health and income statements, background checks, and references, as well as the following types of information:
Although the adoption home study process may seem invasive or lengthy, it is conducted to help you decide whether adoption is right for your family, prepare your family for adoption, and help your family determine which type of child you could best parent. The process also serves to ensure children are placed in loving, caring, healthy, and safe environments.
Flexibility and a sense of humor are vital characteristics when raising children, and they can be useful during the home study process as well. With perseverance and a positive outlook, you will be able to team with the social worker to make this a valuable learning experience -- one that will help you do the best possible job in parenting the child who will eventually join your family.