Home Study for Adoption FAQ
If you are considering adoption, you probably have several questions. Adopting a child is a major life decision for individuals and couples. There are many factors to consider when adopting, such as which type of adoption is best for your family, how much the adoption will cost, and whether you should use an agency.
One source of concern for potential parents is the home study. The states control much of adoption law. States are responsible for investigating prospective adoptive parents to ensure the adoptive family will meet the child's best interests, which is what the home study process is for.
Home studies are required for almost all adoptions, international and domestic, including those from foster care.
This article provides basic answers to the following frequently asked questions about home study for adoption:
- What is a home study?
- Why is a home study required?
- How long does it take to complete a home study?
- What are the main components of a home study?
- What happens during a home visit?
- What role does the home study report play in the adoption process?
- How much does the home study cost?
- How can I choose the adoption agency that conducts my home study?
- What if I have a criminal history? Can I still adopt?
- What are the most common reasons for home study denials?
- I'm anxious that I may receive an unfavorable home study report. Can I do anything about it?
- Does a home study expire after a certain period of time?
- How do I prepare for a home study?
- Do birth mothers or birth families play a role in the home study?
- Are there any post-home study requirements?
- Embarking on a home study for adoption program? Talk to an attorney first.
An adoption home study is an in-depth review of prospective adoptive parents and household family members. It includes background checks and a look at the home environment. A licensed social worker or an accredited adoption provider provides home study services. They conduct the home study to ensure the child is placed in a safe and loving home.
A home study is required under federal regulations for international adoption and state law for domestic adoptions. Adoptive parents must undergo an investigation (often called a “home study") before adoption. There are three main purposes of the investigation:
- To ensure the prospective parents are fit to raise an adopted child
- To help prepare the prospective parents for adoption
- To gather information about the prospective parents to match them with a child
The home study ensures that the adoptive placement will meet the child's best interests. The home study also helps adoption professionals match children with families who can meet their needs.
A home study might not be required in a stepparent adoption where both birth parents have consented. Similarly, foster parents who want to adopt a foster child who is already living with them might have to undergo an abbreviated home study to determine the parents' ability to provide a permanent home. According to "Home Study Requirements for Foster Care Parents," a publication by The Child Welfare Information Gateway, the child's wishes about the adoption also will be considered.
Home studies generally take between three and six months to finalize. But, the length of time can vary depending on the adoption agency or the social worker's caseload.
Home study requirements vary by state and licensed adoption agency. The process usually involves interviewing the prospective parents, reviewing the parents' home life, checking referrals, and conducting background checks. Specifically, home studies generally require the following:
- Interviews. The social worker or adoption agency will talk to you and the other household members to obtain information about your family's background, parenting style, and motivation for adopting.
- Marital status. You must verify your marital status. You must provide marriage and divorce certificates. Some countries place a limit on the number of marriages that an individual or a couple may have.
- Home visit. The social worker will visit your home to assess living conditions and whether your home is a safe environment for a child.
- Background checks. Prospective adoptive parents must obtain a criminal background check. All adults in the household must have their backgrounds checked for criminal history. The criminal background investigation process includes checking federal, state, and local criminal records. Many states require you to submit your fingerprints for your home study.
- Health report. Physical and mental health is considered. You will have to provide statements from your doctors describing your health. The reports should include any known mental or physical ailments.
- Income/employment. You must prove that you have enough income to support an adopted child. This is done by providing paystubs, W-2s, or income tax statements. Some adoption agencies ask about debts and savings.
- Health coverage. You will be asked about your health coverage and the coverage you can provide for the adoptee.
- References. You will be asked to provide references from friends and family.
- Training. Federal regulations, state law, and the District of Columbia require that adoptive parents undergo several hours of training.
The investigation concludes with a written report from the caseworker that includes the caseworker's recommendation of the children you can adopt. For example, the social worker might approve you to adopt one child under the age of nine. In another instance, the caseworker might approve you to adopt two children under the age of five.
During the home visit, the caseworker will tour your home, assessing its safety and suitability for a child. The caseworker will ask to be shown the adoptee's sleeping arrangements. The caseworker will check for hazards such as exposed electrical outlets, functioning smoke detectors, and the overall cleanliness of your home. The social worker may also recommend modifications to accommodate the child, especially if you are adopting a special needs child. For example, the social worker might recommend installing radiator covers if you have an older heating system or suggest a cover for your swimming pool.
Caseworkers aren't looking for a perfect home; they are concerned about the safety, suitability, and nurturing environment you can provide for the adoptee.
The role of the home study report in the adoption process has grown in recent years. Instead of simply analyzing the potential home, it has become a launching point for counseling and education for prospective parents. For example, suppose the prospective parents already have biological children. In that case, many states will use the home study report to discuss integrating the adopted child into the biological family, when to address the issue of the child's adoption, etc.
Ensure you get familiar with your state's adoption laws, as state laws differ on how the report is used for your adoption.
Home studies generally cost between $1,500 and $3,000. The fee varies depending on the type of adoption, the adoption agency, and the state where you live. There might be financial help for home studies. Adoption tax credits can help defray the cost. According to the Internal Revenue Service, adoptive parents can claim home studies as a legitimate adoption expense.
Yes. You can select the adoption agency that handles your home study in domestic or international adoptions. But, you will be assigned a social worker when adopting through a local or state agency.
If the home study uncovers a criminal history, whether you can adopt depends on the criminal charges, the adoption agency's policies, and the foreign country's policy if you are pursuing an international adoption. Some criminal charges will prevent you from adopting. In contrast, others might not be a barrier if they occurred long ago and are not indicative of your current character or parenting abilities.
Most home studies are approved. Some home studies are approved with revisions. A small number of home studies are denied. There are several reasons a home study might be rejected:
- Criminal history
- Negative reference (not always a disqualifier)
- Unsafe or unhealthy home
- A history of child abuse, neglect, or domestic violence
- Loss of income
- Mental health concerns that aren't being treated
- Refusal to follow required adoption education or home study requirements
During the home study process, it is essential to be open and honest with your caseworker to address their concerns about your adoption eligibility.
Approval to adopt varies according to the agency, state rules, and the adoptive child's country of origin. For example, some countries allow single women and single fathers to adopt, but others do not.
Prospective adoptive families are often concerned about home studies. Caseworkers are not looking for perfection and want to be sure adoptive parents can provide a safe, stable, and healthy home for the child. Don't be surprised if there are some things you disagree with in the report. If those potential issues don't prevent you from adopting, it's usually best to discuss them with the social worker and resolve any problems cooperatively.
If you receive an overwhelmingly unfavorable report, most states will allow you to contest the report or appeal any adverse ruling.
Home studies are typically valid for one to two years. If your adoption has not been completed or your family has significant changes, you must contact your adoption agency or social worker to update your home study.
To prepare for your home study, it helps to gather the following information:
- Research the adoption process and home study requirements in your state
- Compile the necessary documents. Make copies of your driver's licenses, social security cards, birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, financial statements, and medical records
- Make sure that your home meets the required safety standards. This can include having functioning smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher. Most states require that medications and cleaning supplies be located in a secure place. Child-proofing measures such as covers for electrical sockets must also be in place
- Prepare a list of family and friend references
- If you have pets, make sure they are up-to-date on their vaccinations and that you have records of the immunizations
Birth parents and birth families rarely play a role in the home study, especially in international adoption, where parental rights are terminated. But, in a private adoption (an adoptive placement that occurs without the use of a child-placing agency) your home study might be shared with the biological parents.
You might think that placement of the child in the home is the finalization of the adoption requirements. In international adoptions, there are post-placement report requirements.
While the home study aims to determine whether the prospective adoptive parents can provide a safe and loving home, post-placement requirements focus on the child's welfare and care. Many countries require that post-placement reports be filed for five years. Others require that post-placement reports be filed until the child turns 18.
Some states require post-placement visits. For example, Georgia requires that agency caseworkers make two home visits after the child's placement in the home and before filing the adoption petition.
Adoption is a life-changing event for everyone involved, but it requires patience and a keen knowledge of the law. Suppose you're considering adopting a child and have questions about a home study or the adoption process in general. In that case, an experienced adoption attorney can help provide legal advice specific to your situation.
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