If you’re just beginning your adoption journey, you may have heard that you’ll need something called a “home study” in order to adopt. So what exactly is a home study?
Ultimately, it is a report about your family that gives you approval to adopt a child. The home study report is compiled after you have turned in a variety of documentation, undergone one or more interviews, and been visited at your home by the home study provider. In many cases, there is also an adoption education requirement. Let’s break down what’s involved in each of these steps.
Before we begin, we should note that the laws of each state, the policies of your home study provider, and the type of home study you need (international vs. domestic, for example) can create variations in the overall process and requirements. However, there are some common themes across all types of home studies, and we’ll discuss those here.
Your home study provider will give you a checklist of the documentation you’ll need to turn in. It’s important to stay organized as you compile the documents they request. You might consider uploading your documents to the cloud and labeling them properly, so you can easily find and share the necessary paperwork with your home study provider.
You can expect to turn in copies of your ID’s, birth certificates, social security cards and/or citizenship status cards, tax returns, employment and salary information, health insurance cards, letters of reference, medical reports, pet vaccinations, and criminal background checks. You can download a sample home study documentation checklist here.
At least one in-person interview, and sometimes up to four, will be conducted by your home study provider. During Covid, these may be conducted virtually. Most commonly, these take place in your home or the home study provider’s office with a social worker who has been assigned to you.
The interviews should not be scary or intimidating—think of them more like conversations and an opportunity to tell your family’s story. It is expected that you’ll take these meetings seriously, and it’s appropriate to have a healthy dose of nervousness around them. But just remember: in the end, the home study provider wants to help you succeed, and she is there to get to know you and help you tell your family’s story.
The most common topics during the home study interviews include your motivation to adopt; your childhood, including your parents, siblings, and extended family; the health status of all household members; the relationship between the adopting parents (when applicable); your employment and salary information; your income versus your expenses and an overall snapshot of your financial situation; any criminal history for all household members; your religious beliefs, if any; and various topics around adoption. The provider will also ask about your preferences regarding the type of child or children desired; your willingness to maintain contact with the birth parents; and your overall feelings about a child’s biological family.
In many cases, all members of the household are interviewed individually and together, and couples are interviewed jointly. You can view sample home study interview questions here.
Every home study process will include at least one visit to your home. Depending on the type of home study you are getting, the requirements—and your preparation to meet them—can vary. With domestic infant adoption, for example, the home does not have to be child proofed and you do not need to set up a nursery at the time of the home visit. With a foster care home study, the requirements might be more stringent and may include having your medication, chemicals, and firearms locked up. Ask your home study provider if they have a checklist or a guide for your home visit. You can download a sample home visit checklist here.
In many cases, the home study social worker will walk through the entire home and enter each room. She may look in your pantry and refrigerator, and she may ask to see how you store any firearms, dangerous tools and equipment, cleaning chemicals, or medications. She may also ask where the child’s room and/or sleeping space will be.
Before the visit, you do not need to have your home professionally cleaned, but you will want to make sure it is generally clean and free from excessive clutter. Prepare for the visit as if you have an out-of-town visitor coming over. You also want to make sure there aren’t any obvious safety concerns or hazards that need to be addressed before the visit. If you are remodeling or in the middle of a home renovation, ask your home study provider for guidance before scheduling the home visit.
Many states and/or home study providers require that families receive either a certain number of training hours or participate in a specific educational curriculum before their home study can be fully approved. Some will provide the required training in-house. For example, they may require two full-day training sessions on a Saturday in their office. Others will allow you to complete the adoption training online through pre-approved virtual adoption education providers.
The education might cover topics like open adoption, transracial adoption, and talking to your child about their adoption. Some states and home study providers do not require adoption training as part of the adoption home study process.
The timeframe to complete a home study varies by state and provider, but averages around 2-3 months. Once all these steps are completed, your home study provider will produce your home study report approving you to adopt!