The home study is one aspect of the adoption process that many potential parents find intimidating. But it helps to keep in mind that a home study is not a test that parents pass or fail. Instead, it's an assessment meant to help you decide whether you should adopt, reassure the adoption agency that you and your spouse will be good parents and help you find a child who will be suited to your family.
A home study consists of a series of interviews between the prospective parents and a licensed counselor or social worker. Depending on the laws in your state, the home study may be conducted by a state or county social worker, by a social worker from a licensed adoption agency or by a counselor in private practice. Military members may face challenges in the home study process, especially if they live overseas or move during the adoption process.
- Time frame. The entire process usually takes between one and six months to complete, with at least one visit taking place in your home. Once a home study is completed, the report is good for one to two years. Because adoption home study rules vary from state to state, you may have to pay for a home study addendum if you move during the adoption process. It's a good idea to try to complete the adoption process while at one duty station, if possible.
- Costs. If a public agency conducts the home study, there may be no charge. A private agency, on the other hand, may charge between $1,000 and $3,000 for the home study, which may not include follow-up counseling or post-placement reports. If you are working with an adoption agency, they should provide a breakdown of all fees - including the home study fee - before you begin the adoption process. Sometimes fees are reduced or waived for families adopting a child with special needs.
To help cover the costs of adoption-related expenses, the military offers an adoption reimbursement of up to $2,000 per calendar year for qualifying expenses. The program may reimburse expenses, such as a home study, after the adoption is finalized. More information is available on the Military OneSource Adoption Reimbursement Program article.
Completing a home study overseas
Although having a home study prepared while living overseas may be difficult, it is not impossible. There are adoption professionals who prepare home studies for United States citizens living abroad. Your installation's military and family support center may be able to provide referrals. The Child Welfare Information Gateway can also be a good resource for information.
Parts of a Home Study
Social workers must follow regulations set by the state when conducting a home study. Among other things, they will want to know that having a child is a high priority for you. They will also want to know about the stability of your marriage, your relationships with extended family and friends and the safety of your home. You may ask to see the written report when it is finished.
Before you undertake a home study, you may want to find out about the qualifications of the counselor interviewing you, especially if you are working independently of an adoption agency. It would be helpful to get references of at least two families who have used the counselor within the past year. Home study providers who have experience working with military families will be more likely to understand your lifestyle and your time constraints.
Typically, the home study includes the following information:
- Autobiographical information about you and your family. Agencies often ask prospective parents to write a brief autobiographical statement (sometimes called a résumé) about their family. The autobiography includes information about you, your extended family, your job, your educational history, your home, your community and your hobbies and interests.
- Interviews. Prospective parents may undergo more than one interview with a social worker or counselor. The interview is not meant to be an interrogation, and there are no right and wrong answers. You might be asked questions about your marriage, your experience with children or your reasons for adopting. In all instances, be honest and be yourself. A brief answer is probably better than a long answer; the social worker or counselor can ask more questions if he or she needs to.
- References. Adoptive parents will need to supply the names, addresses and phone numbers of three or four references. When selecting references, it's best to ask credible people who can vouch for your parenting ability as well as your personal character. Your best friend may not necessarily make a good reference. Talk with your references first about their feelings about your adoption plans.
- A home visit. In the course of the home study, the social worker or counselor will make at least one visit to your home. The purpose of this visit is to be sure your home is a safe and adequate space for a child. You don't need to own your own home or even have a nursery decorated. Just be sure your home is neat and reasonably clean when the visit takes place. The social worker will look at your living areas, the child's room, your basement and your backyard, and check to see that you have working smoke detectors.
- Documentation. People don't have to be wealthy to adopt, but they do need to demonstrate that they have sufficient resources to raise a child. In most states, agencies require certain documents, including the following:
- Marriage license
- Birth certificates
- Divorce decrees
- Proof of income, such as a paycheck stub, W-2 form or income tax form
- List of savings accounts, investments, debts and insurance policies
- Health checks. Prospective parents may need to show proof of a physical exam to show that they are in good health and able to care for a child. If you have a disability or chronic health condition like diabetes, it probably won't prevent you from adopting as long as a doctor states that the condition is under control and won't seriously affect your ability to care for a child.
- Child abuse and criminal clearances. A background check is a necessary part of the home study. Youthful misdemeanors may be overlooked if there's a reasonable explanation. However, recent or felony convictions, drug-related charges or any substantiated charge involving children would probably disqualify a person from adopting. Fingerprinting is often required for those adopting internationally.
The home study report
After completing interviews and gathering all necessary documents, the social worker or counselor conducting the home study will write a report. Most agencies allow adoptive parents to read the home study report or add to it. Ask about this in advance of your home study.
Many potential adoptive parents worry that they must appear perfect to be allowed to adopt. This isn't true. As you are going through the process, remember that adoption workers recognize that no parent is perfect, and that many different kinds of people can provide a loving, supportive, and stable home for a child. The home study is an opportunity for you to become educated about meeting with potential birth parents, raising adopted children and accessing valuable resources.