The adoption home study is one of the first and most important steps in the adoption process because it serves as a checkpoint to adoptive families, ensuring that each family member is ready for the adoption and that their home is a safe and viable environment in which to raise a child. While adoption home study requirements vary among agencies and states, there are several core elements of an adoption home study that remain consistent.
HEALTH STATEMENTS: Most states and adoption agencies require the adoptive family to have current health examinations included in the adoption home study. Medical checks completed by the adoptive family’s physician will assess all family members’ current health conditions, life expectancies and physical and mental capabilities to effectively care for a child.
An existing health condition in the mother or father does not necessarily exclude the family from adopting if the condition is determined not to be a threat to the child’s well-being or the condition is treatable under a doctor’s supervision.
Additionally, certain child placing agencies that only work with families who possess certain medical conditions, such as infertile couples, need to confirm the family’s medical condition with a doctor before working with the adoptive family.
BACKGROUND CHECKS: The majority of states require local, state and federal criminal background checks for all adoptive and foster parents. Furthermore, many adoption agencies require additional background checks under The Adam Walsh Act, which was signed into federal law in 2006 but only recently was enacted in most states.
Because there is no national child abuse database, The Adam Walsh Act was enacted to provide additional safeguards for adopted children by requiring all prospective adoptive family members over the age of 18 to undergo child abuse, child neglect and criminal background clearances in each state they have lived in for at least the past five years. Some states, such as Texas, require checks in each state for the past 10 years.
For international adoptions, Hague requires background checks in every state that each family member has lived in from 18 years of age to present.
FINANCIAL DOCUMENTATION: Families do not need to be wealthy to adopt a child, but they must have an adequate financial foundation to support an addition to their family. This is why many home study providers require certain documentation, such as paycheck stubs or tax returns, to ensure the family has the financial wherewithal to provide a stable home for a child. The adoptive family should be prepared to answer questions about their income, assets, investments and retirement funds, as well as their monthly expenditures, such as mortgage and car payments, food, utilities and insurance.
IN-HOME VISIT – HOME TOUR: When prospective adoptive families hear the term “home study,” they often envision the home tour and a nosy outsider performing the “white glove test” on every piece of furniture or window ledge in their homes. This is a very common misconception. While the home does have to be safe and sanitary, it does not have to be immaculate like many families believe.
The home tour is a review of more home-based issues, such as if the family has firearms, smoke detectors, enough living space for a child, pets or livestock, and a fence around the pool. The number of required in-home visits varies by state and ranges from one to three per adoption home study. Additional in-home visits may be needed if significant changes occur in the household, such as the caretaking of a grandparent or the remodeling of the home. Less significant events like employment or financial changes can be updated by telephone.
IN-HOME VISIT – INDIVIDUAL AND COUPLE’S INTERVIEWS: Interviews take place in every in-home visit because they demonstrate the adoptive couple’s knowledge and excitement in adding a child to their family. The interviews detail the adoptive parents’ lives, such as their childhood, hobbies, goals, beliefs, values and more, and they ensure that each family member is fully on-board with the adoption.
Interviews often take place during the home study social worker’s in-home visits, but sometimes they are completed by telephone. Some states require separate interviews of each family member, and all states require couples interviews. The interviews are important to the home study because they give the home study provider additional knowledge about the personality traits, past experiences and emotional characteristics of each family member.
ADOPTIVE PARENTS AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Highlighting all aspects of the adoptive family’s lives, autobiographies are included in every adoption home study, but not all home study providers conduct them in the same manner. Prior to the in-home visit, many home study providers will ask the adoptive family to complete a written autobiography, detailing their lives, family dynamics, childhood memories, infertility issues, coping mechanisms, relevant hobbies and anything else deemed relevant by the home study provider.
Some autobiographies are completed during the interview process, where the home study provider processes each parent’s story and includes their own written biography of the family in the home study report.
PERSONAL REFERENCES: Just as in a job application, personal references are important for an outsider to confirm the applicant’s background and qualifications. Adoption agencies typically look for three to five confidential references, one of which can sometimes be a relative. Each respondent is asked to answer many parenting-related questions, which may include the general characteristics of the family, the relationship of the adoptive parents, the coping skills of the family during a stressful or crisis situation, the family’s strengths and weaknesses, and whether or not the respondent would entrust the prospective adoptive family to look after their child. These references do not necessarily make or break a home study, but inauspicious trends found among respondents could negatively affect the outcome of the home study.
RELIGION AND ETHNIC BACKGROUND: The adoptive family’s religious beliefs and ethnic traditions are explored in the home study, mainly to give the adoption agency more knowledge about the type of environment in which the child will be raised. The family’s denomination, frequency of service attendance and practices, celebrated holidays, and the intention of the child’s religious affiliation are all aspects of religion established in the adoption home study. Some birth mothers request families of certain religions, and certain agencies only allow families of specific religions to adopt with the agency.
The adoptive family’s race and ethnic traditions are identified to educate the adoptive family concerning social and cultural issues pertaining to an interracial adoption.
TRAINING: Certain states and agencies recommend special training during the adoption home study process, including general adoption training, special needs training and cultural diversity training, depending on the type of child or children the adoptive family is open to adopting. However, training for some agencies may be as little as a thorough reading of their adoption manuals, which often provide a step-by-step account of the adoption process and the emotional factors an adoptive family may experience during the adoption journey.
In an international adoption, 10 hours of international adoption training is required by Hague-accredited countries and agencies.
Even if training is not a requirement of the agency, adoptive families should still educate themselves in all stages of the adoption process to prepare for each aspect of the adoption as well as the home study.
ADOPTION HOME STUDY REPORT: Using all of the documentation, autobiographical statements and personal interviews of the adoptive family, the home study provider systematically presents the story of the adoptive family in a biographical format and will ultimately qualify or disqualify the home study. The report includes the adoptive parents’ childhood experiences, hobbies, education and employment, as well as their own parents’ backgrounds and the values they instilled in their children to help them become successful parents. The adoptive parents’ motivations and attitudes toward adoption are chronicled, as well as their readiness to adopt.
All other aforementioned documents are represented in the home study report, including financial documents, health and criminal background checks, and personal references. Finally, the home study provider approves the adoptive family and the adoption home study is complete.