Completing an adoption home study is the social services equivalent of having a root canal…without anesthesia! But, like a root canal, it is necessary. An adoption home study is an investigative report that gives a snapshot as to whether an applicant is qualified to be an adoptive parent. It is a compilation of information that can be presented in one neat package for a judge’s review, so he can have the final say into an applicant’s suitability for adoption.
The entire adoption process can take about six to eight months or longer to be certified/licensed as an adoptive parent. Why does it take so long? Think of it this way: children who need to be adopted have experienced war, natural disasters, poverty, death of a parent, abandonment, abuse, and/or neglect. If we are going to improve the way of life for these children, shouldn’t we look for the best home possible? What types of things would you like to know about a home who is applying to be a forever family for one of these children? Wouldn’t you want to know their motivations? Their criminal history? Their values? Their income? Their training and education? How long would it take to find out this information? Would it be worth the wait to assure a qualified parent? An adoption home study answers many of these questions.
What types of adoption are there?
There are many different types of adoptions that a person may pursue, depending on their resources, needs, and vision of what type of family they want to build and what type of children they feel they can best care for.
- International adoption. If you have the time, energy, and resources to pursue international adoption, then, by all means, go for it! The adoption home study may seem tedious but think of it this way: it is a legal document that is reviewed by agencies, attorneys, and judges not only in this country, but possibly also in the nation in which you choose to adopt. A detailed description of your suitability to adopt is absolutely necessary.
- Private domestic adoption. Infant adoption is a popular trend in America. Especially when there is an identified child involved, it seems like the way to go to build a family. Often, it may be the route parents who struggle with fertility take.
- Foster care adoption. This is when a child from the foster care system is adopted by foster parents. There are 400,000 children in foster care. Out of that, 100,000 of them are free for adoption. They all deserve a forever family. In these cases, depending on what state you reside in, there may be two different types of home studies: 1) A foster care home study is a study that outlines suitability of an applicant as a foster parent. In most states, this home study can be used in an adoption, especially if a foster parent is going to adopt their own foster child. 2) An adoption-only home study is when an applicant wishes to adopt a child out of the foster care system who is not their own foster child, but someone else’s. Either way, foster care adoption is very special and ought to be considered.
- Kinship adoption. This is also known as a relative adoption. This is when someone like a grandpa, grandma, uncle, or aunt steps up to adopt their own relative. This is special because it reduces the trauma of moving to a stranger’s home. This is more of a trend since foster parents are becoming more difficult to find. Social service agencies are also considering this option more often, due to the opioid epidemic in the United States which leaves many parents addicted, incarcerated, or, unfortunately, dead. Relatives are the perfect people these children need.
Who can write my adoption home study?
- An adoption agency. If you are pursuing a private adoption, you would do best to do a search on reputable adoption agencies to write your adoption home study. They will guide you through the process and assign someone from their office to write your adoption home study. This person will get to know you and your family well in the coming weeks and help you navigate the paperwork. Choose wisely.
- A state agency. If you are pursuing foster care adoption, a state agency or state-contracted foster-adopt agency will write your adoption home study. The process is similar. The only difference is that these children come from the foster care system.
- An attorney’s office. If you choose a private attorney, make sure they are reputable and have experience in adoptions. Ask about costs upfront.
What should I expect while preparing for my adoption home study?
The purpose of an adoption home study is to summarize an applicant’s qualifications to adopt. Being rich or having a clean home does not necessarily qualify a person to adopt. There is much more to raising a child in need than that. As a prospective adoptive applicant, preparation is key. No, you will not be writing the actual adoption home study, but you are responsible for what is included in it.
- Interviews. Your agency representative will send a person to interview you and your household members. This is necessary to get an accurate picture of family life and how an additional child would impact your family. Biographical information is collected. Marriage and relationship information is collected. Discipline may be discussed. Values, principles, and family traditions may be discussed. It is important for applicants to understand, the interviewers are not looking for perfect families. They are not looking for flawless homes. They are looking for strengths. Therefore, be honest. Every couple who has been married for any length of time disagree with one another. So be candid about that. The more transparent you are, the better the adoption home study will look.
- Home inspection. The “white glove test” is not necessarily to be expected here. Any home with kids is going to be messy. As a matter of fact, I would have red flags about any home with kids without a mess. What a home inspector is looking for is health and safety. For example, to be in the middle of laundry is one thing; to have moldy laundry is another. To have dirty dishes in the sink is one thing; to have dishes that haven’t been washed in days is a health issue.
- Background checks. There are three different types of background checks that should be performed for any well-written adoption home study: 1) Criminal background checks. Every adult in your household will need to be fingerprinted to determine if there is any significant criminal history. This is only normal since we want to place the child in the safest home possible. 2) Child Protective Services check. The agency completing your adoption home study will want to know if you have ever had any involvement with CPS. 3) Driving record. Here is the bottom line: is each adult household member a safe individual with which to leave children with? You, as an applicant, may be above and beyond reproach, but is your roommate? Is your relative? The most basic foundation of a forever home is the safety of the children. Background checks assure that.
- References. Be prepared to pick out three to five people who know you that you can use as references. These people should be trustworthy and be prepared to answer the reference quickly. They should know you personally and should have been able to observe you interacting with children.
- Physician’s statements. Some states and/or agencies have age restrictions. However, other states have health restrictions. In other words, age doesn’t matter, but they must be in good health. This is important because a child’s well-being is connected to the health of their parent. Be cautioned that questions about mental illness, prescription medications, and treatment for substance abuse may also be asked.
- Budget statement. You do not have to be rich in order to adopt, however, you should be in good financial health. Be prepared to show pay stubs, bills, bankruptcy discharge papers, and/or foreclosure statements. This may seem very intrusive, but consider this: wouldn’t you want an adoptive child placed in a financially stable home? It would send up red flags if a child was placed in a home that was on the verge of an eviction.
- Training. Be prepared to receive training. You may be thinking, “I’ve already raised kids. Why do I need more training?” Good question. The fact is, kids that need to be adopted have experienced things that normal children have not, including war, death of a parent, illness, abuse, and/or neglect. You need to be trauma-informed. You need to be prepared to deal with behaviors such as headbanging, self-harm, and running away. You also need to learn about diagnoses such as attention deficit disorder, reactive attachment disorder, and autism. Even if you adopt an infant, have you been trained on how to care for substance-exposed newborns? You would do well to become as informed as possible.
What are the elements of an adoption home study?
So, what goes into an adoption home study report? Well, part of the elements above, which I already spoke of. But also, some additional elements, as well. A good home study will show positive as well as some not-so-positive things about the applicants. Remember, you as an applicant are a stranger to the person reading the home study. Therefore, it is the writer’s duty to try to get into the mind of the applicant to see what type of adoptive parent you will be in the future.
- Biographical info. A good adoption home study writer will delve into an applicant’s past in order to predict the future. This is the easiest, yet most challenging content to include in an adoption home study. It is easy because the adoption home study writer can collect the data either in writing or via an interview. The challenge is delving into uncomfortable topics. A good interviewer will ask about whether the applicant has experienced abuse; about whether they have had experiences of loss and separation; about whether they experienced grief; about how they were disciplined as a child. These are important questions because they tell us how the applicant has dealt with adversity. Without a doubt, adopting a child who has experienced trauma will lead to some sort of adversity. How a person deals with hard times in the past gives us an indication of how he will deal with it in the future.
- Motivation. A good interviewer will ask, “Why do you want to adopt?” or “Why do you think you would be a good adoptive parent?” An applicant should not be offended by these questions. It is the job of an adoptive home study writer to determine their motivations. Yes, some people have wrong motivations. But most people have pure motivations, such as infertility, helping their community, taking in a relative, or a faith-based motivation. The interviewer needs to know which one applies in this instance.
- Strengths. Any good adoption home study includes positive elements. What good things are evident about this family? Obviously, every family wants to put their best foot forward. We are more apt to talk about the good things in our lives rather than the blemishes. The purpose is to match a child with the correct family. We tend to think that it’s a family’s job to pick a kid to put into their family. It’s exactly the opposite! It is the job of an adoption social worker to make sure that the family that is chosen for the child has strengths that match up with the child’s needs. For example, if the child does well with animals and the family has calm friendly dogs, it could be very therapeutic to the child if they were in that family. Also, if a child would do best as the youngest child or as an only child, it is the adoption social worker’s job to find a family that fits that criteria.
- Needs. No adoption home study would be complete if it did not contain some things that the family needs to work on. So, questions may be asked such as disagreements, discipline, past marriages, and child support. Also know that any negative marks on your driver’s license, criminal history, etc., may also be included in the adoption home study.
Whatever path you choose, adoption is a beautiful thing! The adoption home study is only the first hurdle you will face. If your home study is accepted and you are licensed/certified congratulations! Now the real fun begins!