Next to bringing home your new child, the home study should be the most exciting part of the adoption process. While it can be time consuming and a lengthy process, it is the stepping stone of having you recommended for the match and/or placement of a child. Different states have varying requirements, but all home studies are similar in nature. It is a representation of you and your family life to assess your suitability of providing a stable environment to a child. There is no need to fear this process. Armed with accurate information, prospective parents can face the home study experience with the confidence and excitement that should accompany the prospect of welcoming a child into their family.In most states, a home study can only be completed by a licensed adoption agency. It is very important to make sure that while the social worker completing the study may be licensed, if he/she is not working directly with a licensed agency, your home study may have to be redone, starting the process over at step 1. If given an option, you should carefully select the social worker. If your placing agency requires that they complete the home study, you are limited to their availability of social workers. If you are tasked with locating an independent home study provider yourself, there is more flexibility in whom you choose and you can shop around for one, just like you would a real estate agency, a bank, a car, hair dresser, etc.There are many things to consider when choosing a home study provider. It’s important to feel comfortable with your decision and the best way to do that is to do your homework. When choosing an agency, one of the first things to consider is cost. Home studies can vary in price just like anything else. There are many factors that go into determining your home study cost, such as the time frame it is needed, your location, and the agency you have chosen. Generally speaking, the cost can range from $1000 on up. When time is an issue, ask if they can provide an expedited home study, and know that it will probably cost more.Another important question to ask is how long it will take to complete the study. Because part of the home study involves background clearances, you have to take into account the amount of time it will take for those government agencies to process your request. You will probably need local, state, and federal entities to report on any criminal activity. If you have lived in your current state less than six years, you may need multiple states to report back to the home study provider. The home study can take anywhere from 4 weeks to 6 months. Oftentimes, choosing a provider that is limited to home studies can speed up the process. Since their focus is narrowed, they are often able to devote more time to completing your study.Another important consideration is how many visits are included in the process? The number of visits required will vary by state and if you are adopting internationally, you will have to follow the country guidelines as well. If multiple visits are required, usually one is completed in the home, and the others can be done at the social worker’s office or an agreed upon location. It is important to know if the home study price includes mileage or travel time for the worker. If not, you may be billed separately for that cost. You may also be interviewed apart from your spouse, and if you already have children, they will be interviewed as well.Preparing for the home study visit(s): It can be absolutely overwhelming to think of a stranger coming into your home to “analyze” you and determine your worthiness of having a child. After all, people have babies all the time that are much less qualified to raise them. Early on, most families will become consumed with cleaning their home from top to bottom. While there is nothing wrong with having a super clean home, the social worker isn’t coming in with white gloves and looking under the beds for dust bunnies.The home study is to assess you and your lifestyle in the areas of stability and financial solidity to ensure that a child placed in your home will be well cared for. You don’t have to be considerably wealthy in order to adopt a child, but you do have to show a pattern of being financially responsible with your income and your monthly debts. Families that have a large amount of debt may be encouraged to work towards reducing their debt in order to adopt. (This clinician has never denied a family due to debt, or known of families being denied due to large amounts of debt). It is not a freeze frame snapshot of your current situation of any area that is being reviewed; but rather a panoramic examination of many areas. Tax returns for the previous 3-5 years are provided to the home study provider, as well, to demonstrate a pattern of income.It’s important to already have an idea of the age child you are interested in adopting. Babies or young children will have different needs than an older child. You may have to consider having additional locks on your exterior doors, especially if you have a pool or lake outside the back door. Steps may need a safety gate to prevent falls and to keep young toddlers out of dangerous areas. Outlets will need to be covered with protectors. It’s also good practice to have smoke detectors in each bedroom and in the main areas of y our home. A fire extinguisher is essential, kept in the kitchen or garage. Guns have to be locked away, and the ammunition kept in a separate location, also locked.
It is not necessary to have all of these things in place, especially if you are months away from being matched or placed with a child. It is necessary to have a good understanding of the development of the child you are interested in, in order to know what safety devices are crucial for you to have in place.In 2006, The Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act was passed in order to establish a national registry of substantiated cases of child abuse and neglect. In all states, there is a process established to have this registry consulted in order to determine if you have been involved with that state’s Department of Children and Family Services. The registry will have case-specific identifying information that is limited to the name of the perpetrator and the nature of the substantiated case(s) of child abuse and neglect.In addition, you will need to consider who you would name as guardian of your minor child in the event of your death. You will need to provide the guardian’s name, contact information, and an explanation of why you chose that individual or couple. It is recommended that you go ahead and name these people in your will, if you have one. I was recently asked by a birth mother if she would get the child back if something were to happen to the adoptive parents. The answer is no. The adoptive parents will make this decision.Most states require criminal background clearances on three levels, local, state, and federal. Arrests may show up on one, two or all three of these clearances. This doesn’t mean that if you’ve ever been arrested, you can’t be considered as a parent. The cause of the arrest is considered, as well as the length of time since the arrest. There is a considerable difference in writing bad checks ten years ago and assaulting your significant other just last year. While some states offer specific guidelines about what offenses will prevent you from adopting, a lot of states leave that decision up to the individual social worker. It is best to mention any questionable arrests in advance and try to get a sense of how the social worker will respond.Other sections of the home study will include accessing the stability of the marriage, discipline plan, and how to nurture and celebrate the child’s culture if different from yours. Some agencies and/or countries require adoptive parents to take continuing education courses. If adopting from the foster care system, you may have to take a 20 hours class in advance of adopting. There are obviously many variables, depending on the state you live in, the country in which you want to adopt, and whether you are adopting from a private agency or foster care system.Though the home study may seem overwhelming, if you can do your homework and be prepared, the process will go smoothly. The social worker or home study provider should be viewed as an ally. His/her job is to help prepare you for parenthood, which is the ultimate goal.