By Debra G. Smith, ACSW, Director
Almost any adoption, whether it is a public agency adoption, a private agency adoption, or an independent adoption arranged directly with the court, requires a pre-adoptive placement inquiry, usually referred to as an Adoption Home Study.
Individuals seeking to adopt often face that first visit by the home study social worker with tender egos and mounting anxiety.
Hopefully, though, this article can help you calm your fears and allay your anxiety.
The Nuts & Bolts of the Home Study
There is no set format that adoption agencies use to conduct their home studies. They must follow the general regulations of their state, but they have the freedom to develop their own application packet, policies, and procedures within those regulations. Some agencies will have you attend one or several group orientation sessions before you are invited to complete an application.
The autobiographical statement is essentially the story of your life. There will probably be questions about your marriage (if you are married). These questions may cover how you met, how long you dated before you married, how long you have been married, what attracted you to each other, what your spouse’s strengths and weaknesses are, and the issues on which you agree and disagree in your marriage.
There may also be a section on specific adoption-related issues, including questions regarding your reasons for adopting, what kind of child you feel you can best parent and why, how and when you will tell the child he is adopted, your thoughts on birth parents who choose adoption for their children, how you will handle questions from relatives and friends, your feelings on bonding with a child who is not genetically related to you.
You may not know the answers to these questions right away, but hopefully, they worker guiding you through the home study process, will offer advice for these various topics.
Most agencies require a physical exam of prospective adoptive parents, or at least a current tuberculosis test (X-ray or scratch test). Some agencies that only place infants with infertile couples require that the physician verify that you are infertile. It is up to you to employ the services of an adoption professional that is willing to work with your particular set of circumstances. A serious health problem that affects life expectancy may prevent approval.
Child Abuse and Criminal Clearances
Many States are requiring that criminal records and child abuse record clearances be conducted on all adoptive parent applicants. This usually involves filling out a form with your name, date of birth, and Social Security Number, possibly getting the form notarized, and sending it to the state child welfare and police agencies for clearance. In some states it might involve being fingerprinted. The authorities will check to see if you have a child abuse or criminal charge on file.
Misdemeanors committed long ago, for which there is a believable explanation (for example, “I was young and foolish and did what the guys expected me to.”) usually are not held against you. A felony conviction, or any charge involving children or illegal substances, would most likely not be tolerated.
Usually you are asked to verify your income by providing a copy of your paycheck stubs, a copy of a W-4 form, or an income tax form (1040 or 1040 EZ).
The agency will probably ask you for the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of three or four individuals to serve as references for you. References are generally used to get a complete picture of a family’s application and an idea of their support network. Approval would rarely be denied on the grounds of a negative reference alone.
There will probably be several interviews, perhaps one or two in the agency office and at least one in your home.
An important note: the worker is not visiting your home to conduct a white-glove inspection! He or she simply needs to see if the child will be entering into a safe and healthy environment and whether you have thought ahead as to how you will accommodate the new family member. There may be a requirement that you have a working smoke alarm (which is a good idea anyway) and an evacuation plan in case of an emergency. The latter is not something many people have, so you might want to develop one ahead of time. The worker will want to see the child’s bedroom and all the other areas of the house or apartment, including the basement or backyard.
Some Tips for the Home Visit
Do offer the worker a soft drink or a cup of coffee. That shows you are nurturing. Do have family photos around. That shows you are family oriented.
It is natural to be nervous! But most often the worker wants to work with you and approve you if you have gotten to the point of the home study. It would not be wise to be deceptive or dishonest, or for the documents to collected in the home study to expose an inconsistency in what you have presented about your family. This would betray the social worker’s trust, which would harm your chances.
If You Already Have Children
If you already have children, either birth children, adopted children, or both, they will be included in the home study in some way. Older children may be invited to one or more of the educational sessions.
Flexibility and a sense of humor are desperately needed characteristics when raising children in this day and age. It would be a good idea for you to demonstrate these in some way during the home study process. For instance, if you are willing to take off an hour early from your job to meet with the social worker or to modify your schedule in some way to make the meeting arrangements flow smoothly, the effort will not go unnoticed. As a parent, many more of these accommodations are in your future; therefore the social worker often believes you might as well start getting used to them! A smile, a firm handshake, a joke, and a generally warm and friendly demeanor among your family and with the worker will go a long way.
The duration of the home study will vary from agency to agency, depending on various factors, such as how many social workers are assigned to conduct home studies, what other duties they have, and how many other people applies to the agency at the same time as you. You can do a lot to expedite the process by filling out your paper work, scheduling your medical appointments and gathering your documents.
A home study can take one to six months to complete, especially if delays arise. Illness, vacation, or waiting for documentation to arrive from another state can prolong the home study. An average of two to three months is usual, not counting the time allotted to the group meetings.
The cost of the home study depends on which kind of agency or practitioner is conducting the study. A certified social worker in private practice often conducts home studies for independent adoptions. Fees for theses are probably in the same range as those for private agencies.
Remember, even though an adoption home study may seem invasive or lengthy, it is conducted to prepare you for adoption and help you decide whether adoption is really for you. The regulations serve to protect the best interests of the child and to ensure he or she is placed in a loving, caring, healthy, and safe environment. Once you accept that premise, it often becomes a lot easier to complete what is required of you. After all, the reward of withstanding a short period of inconvenience is great: many years of happiness and fulfillment raising a child to maturity.