Why do agencies perform home studies? For one thing, home studies are required by law in most states, whether you adopt your child through an adoption agency or with the assistance of an adoption attorney (and are always required in international adoptions). Home studies are performed for several other primary reasons:
- To evaluate the prospective adopter's desire and commitment to adopt. This is particularly important when a couple is applying to adopt; both people must want a child. If one partner is just going along with the adoption plan to make the other partner happy, the resulting adoption will not be fair to the child, who needs a complete, committed family.
- To explore the reasons why the prospective adopter wants to adopt. Some adopters may still be grieving over an infertility problem. Others have lost young children—an agonizing loss—and are seeking a replacement child. The adopters need sound reasons for wanting to adopt: They have accepted their infertility and are eager to become parents. Or they want to give a child who's “already here” a happy home life. There are lots of other good reasons, too.
- To evaluate the prospective adopter as a possible parent. How can a social worker know if you'd be a good parent if you've never had a child before? She can't. She has to go by the information you provide and the information she obtains from your references.
- To educate the prospective adopter about adoption (and possibly about the child he or she is seeking to adopt). With some agencies, this aspect may be small or nonexistent; other agencies provide reading lists, arrange meetings with birthparents and adopted adults, and do more to help the prospective adopter understand adoption.
- To give the prospective adopter a chance for self-evaluation. The home study practically forces prospective adopters to evaluate themselves as future parents. They engage in a learning process that can be scary, but also personally fulfilling.
- To check background, criminal records, and financial resources.
The home study is a process that includes interviewing prospective parents, talking to them in their homes, checking their references and reviewing medical, financial, and other relevant information. Criminal records checks and child abuse clearances are also usually performed. The home study might take a day, a week, a month, or longer, depending on the agency.
During the home study process, if a pregnant woman has been identified who's considering you as a possible parent for her child, she'll also be asked numerous questions about her circumstances. In addition, if the birthfather is available, social workers will contact him to find out how he feels about adoption and obtain medical and social information on him.
Get Your Application In
After you've selected an adoption agency or your adoption attorney, you don't just jump into the home study the next day. First, most agencies require you to fill out an application and pay a fee (about $250-$500, although some agencies charge less or more) to process it.
What's involved with the application? The agency needs to know basic information: who you are, where you work, if you have kids already and how old they are, and so forth.
If you work with an adoption attorney, she will also have many questions for you and may request a retainer in the beginning of the process. (The amounts that are requested vary greatly.)
Getting On Your Case
After the application stage, the agency can move you into the more involved home study phase. And if you work with an attorney (assuming that your state requires a home study, as most do), the attorney should recommend agencies that can perform your home study. The home study will be performed by a social worker or caseworker assigned to your case.
One sad truth is that social workers rarely receive much, if any, training on adoption and related issues in graduate school. As a result, sometimes the social worker doing your home study may know less about adoption than you do. Generally, a new social worker in this situation will be supervised by a more experienced social worker, and you will both learn the process together. If, however, you have some concerns about your social worker, you can always ask her for a joint meeting with her supervisor. However, it's better to try to work with her before going over her head, so as not to alienate her.
Home Sweet Home
Although the check of your residence isn't the most critical issue in a home study, a social worker will (or should) examine your home to see whether it is reasonably clean and safe and whether there is a place (or a plan for a place) for the child to live. Social workers normally don't look inside your kitchen cabinets to see whether your pots and pans are neatly arrayed, nor will they check your medicine cabinet in the bathroom to see whether you have any interesting drugs in there.
Social workers also want to see you in your home to get a feel for how you and your family members interact with each other in the comfort of your own home.
Although your home doesn't have to be picture perfect for the visit, it should appear to be a safe place for a child. Here are a few things you should check before the social worker comes to your home:
- Fix any safety hazards, such as cords lying around. If you have stairs, make sure you have a plan to gate them off so they are safe for a young infant or toddler.
- Make sure you have at least one smoke detector on every floor.
- Make sure you have a plan to lock up poisonous household chemicals and other hazards.
- If you have a swimming pool, make sure you have a plan to have it fenced and gated for controlled access (if it isn't already).