Completing a home study
Knowledge, preparation, and communication are the keys to successfully completing a home study
A home study is conducted after you have completed your training classes and application to adopt or foster. All states require that families applying to adopt complete a home study. Some states also require that foster parents complete a home study.
Some, but not all, states use dual-approval home studies that can be used for families just to foster, just to adopt, or to foster-to-adopt because:
- While some families are certain they have no intention of adopting when they apply to be foster parents, many do end up adopting the children in their care if and when they are freed for adoption.
- When a child is placed into a family for the purpose of adoption, the legal relationship between the child and pre-adoptive family is considered foster care because the child is still in the legal custody of the state and under the jurisdiction of the court until the adoption is legalized some months later.
The home study process concludes with a written report that your caseworker creates about your family. It includes basic information drawn from interviews with your family and information provided by third parties. Generally, a home study report includes:
- Family background, financial statements, and references
- Education and employment
- Relationships and social life
- Daily life routines
- Parenting experiences
- Details about your home and neighborhood
- Readiness and reasons about your wanting to adopt
- References and background checks
- Approval and recommendation of children your family can best parent
The home study process, which can take between three and six months to complete, may seem invasive or lengthy. However, more often than not, agencies are looking for ways to rule families in rather than rule them out.
Child Welfare Information Gateway has two publications that help explain the home study process:
- The Home Study Adoption Process
- Home Study Requirements for Prospective Parents in Domestic Adoption, a fact sheet that summarizes state laws and policies regarding what information is collected
Getting agreement among your family members to proceed
Interviews done in association with the home study will be a self-reflective process where you may learn things about yourself and the dynamics of your family. If you have a spouse or partner, both joint and individual interviews are often part of the process, which may also include children who currently live with you or those who live outside the home. It’s important that you and your family members are ready for this experience. If you feel that you or members of your household are not yet ready for a home study, you can ask to delay this step.
Being prepared for any associated home study costs
Public agencies may charge an up-front, very low fee for adoption home studies. However, this fee is often reimbursable after you have adopted a child from foster care.
If you’re working with a private agency or certified social worker in a private practice, the cost of an adoption home study can be anywhere between $1,000 to $3,000. This fee sometimes covers additional services such as an application fee and required training. Some or all of your out-of-pocket costs may be reimbursable if the services result in the finalized adoption of a child from foster care, so you should keep records and receipts of all of your expenditures. Be sure to discuss any fees thoroughly and ask for information in writing to avoid any misunderstandings.
If you’re looking only to foster, it is very unlikely you will be charged a home study fee by a public or private agency unless it’s a foster-to-adopt home study, in which case adoption home study fees may apply.
In general, even when you pay up-front, out-of-pocket fees to adopt from foster care, your expenses are ultimately reimbursed. If cost is a concern for you, find out more about family support resources that could be available to you if you adopt a child from foster care.
Preparing for home visits and requests for information
You can help speed up the home study process by ensuring all necessary information is supplied completely and accurately and that you don’t delay filling out paperwork, scheduling medical appointments, or gathering the required documents.
Things to have or be prepared to get:
- Health report. A physical exam within the past 12 months is required for all prospective parents, and tuberculosis (TB) tests are required for every member of the household. Medical conditions under control such as high blood pressure or diabetes usually don’t prevent individuals from being approved to foster or adopt. However, a serious health problem that affects life expectancy might. If you have serious health problems, you may be required to think through or actually make a legal plan for assuring your adopted child will continue to be cared for in the unfortunate circumstance that you would die before they reach adulthood.
- Criminal background check. All adults in the household must complete forms that are sent to child protective services and a state’s police check center. Adults in the household may also need to obtain Federal Bureau of Investigation fingerprint checks and local police clearances under certain circumstances, such as recent relocation to the state where you currently reside. Applicants whose state or federal records indicate they have been convicted of harming children cannot adopt or foster.
- Financial statement. You will be asked to list the amount of your family's income. Some states may require a copy of an income tax form, a paycheck stub, or a W-2 form. You don’t have to be wealthy or own a home to adopt. Even if you receive some type of assistance, you’re eligible to adopt as long as you have adequate resources to provide for your family. Financial assistance in the form of subsidies is often available when adopting children from foster care.
- Personal references. You will need to supply names, addresses, and phone numbers of three or four individuals who can attest to your experience with children, the stability of your current marriage or domestic partnership and household, and your emotional maturity. Most agencies require that references be people who are not related to you. Good choices might include close friends, an employer, a former teacher, a coworker, a neighbor, or a leader of your faith community.
- Autobiographical statement. Many adoption agencies will ask each applicant to write an autobiographical statement or story. This is, essentially, the story of your life. It helps your caseworker understand your family better and assists them with writing your home study. Some agencies have workers available to assist you, and most will have a set of questions to guide you in writing your statement.
- Copies of legal documents. You will most likely be asked to provide copies of any applicable marriage licenses, birth certificates, divorce decrees, and other legal documents relevant to your application to foster or adopt. Depending on the agency you work with and the child you want to foster or adopt, this information could be shared with birth parents or others. If you have questions or concerns about the confidentiality of your information, verify with your agency how extensively it will be shared.
Reviewing a copy of your home study report
If you aren’t given a copy of your home study, ask to see it so you can look it over and correct any inaccuracies. Depending on the agency you work with and the child you want to adopt, the information contained in your home study could be shared with birth parents or others. If you have questions or concerns about the confidentiality of your information, verify with your agency how extensively it will be shared.