So, you are about to launch your adoption journey. How exciting! One of the first steps is tackling the home study. The aim is to tackle, not be tackled. The game plan-ask smart questions!
The vision (AKA nightmare): stranger enters into your home with a white glove, evaluative checklist, trick questions about your parenting techniques and a red pen. This is not the way a home study should be conducted.
The Purpose and Product of the Home Study
First, let’s break down the purpose of the home study. Bottom line: the home study is the eyes and ears of a judge to ensure that adoptive parent(s) are “suitable” to adopt. The home study is usually the first step in the adoption process, because it is required:
For your profile to be shown to expectant mothers by some agencies/lawyers
By the courts for finalization (the very end of the adoption process), and in a few states it is required by the courts even before starting the adoption process (Arizona is one of those states)
For transfer of a child from the state where he/she is born to the state where the adoptive parents reside (this process is called ICPC-Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children)
In International adoption by the Immigration and Naturalization Service
Remember, judges simply evaluate your suitability to adopt according to your state’s regulations. And it is the home study that addresses each regulation by means of a tidy written report that lands on their desk. Reality check-judges do not have the time to interview and assess each prospective adoptive parent, thus this task is deferred to licensed adoption agencies. It is the written recommendation by your home study professional that the judge will rely upon when rendering a decision.
Reassurement for Home Study Approval
Before you freak-out about your life history being assessed by a judge, let’s absorb this important fact:
Very few individuals are disapproved!
And those that are usually involve one of these factors: criminal history, harsh discipline practices (physical punishment), or a life-threatening medical condition.
It’s a Checklist
When you sign-on to start your home study you will receive a checklist a mile long, like the receipt you get from CVS (except this one does not include Extra-Bucks). Remember, it is just a list. Gather…check. Gather…check. That is the name of the game. In short, you can expect to have a few visits with your home study professional, a background check, medical exam, verification of financial condition, references, an autobiographical statement, and a review of supporting documentation like birth certificates, marriages license, etc.
Home studies also serve as the Adoption 101 classroom. Your home study professional should act as a guide along the adoption pathway-pointing out next steps, twists and turns, how to avoid potholes and be offering water to you and cheers of support as you make your way to the finish line.
Time & Money
Time is a factor. The sooner your home study is complete, the sooner your profile is being shown. Most home studies take between 2-4 months. Much of that variability depends on how quickly you can gather documents and check boxes.
The price range for home studies is $1,000-$4,000. This cost varies because state regulations vary. Hiring the “cheapest” on the block may not be a smart choice. Again, your #1 way to avoid home study hassles is by hiring a tried & true professional!
The 5 Questions to Ask before Hiring your Home Study Agency
So, what can you do to make sure you have a positive home study experience? The first and most important step in the home study is to be a smart consumer! I don’t have to remind you that you are paying for the home-study service, so be picky! Before you sign on any dotted line, ask the following questions:
✓ “Is this a licensed adoption agency?”
First and foremost, the agency must be licensed in the state in which you reside to conduct the type of adoption you are seeking: domestic, foster or international. Yes, the type of adoption you are seeking matters! Each type of home study is different.
✓“Who will be my home study specialist?”
Chose someone with whom you you feel comfortable…someone who “gets” you. If you are selecting an agency that includes the home study as a service to their client, again, ask if you have a choice in the home study professional you are assigned.
✓“What degree do they have?”
Ask smart questions to ensure you are not getting the high school graduate, whose last job was at the local diner, and who does not know the difference between their, there and they’re. (Not making this up…I’ve seen it). You want someone with a degree (at least a Bachelor’s degree in a helping field like social work or psychology and preferably a Masters), a background in adoption, and has strong writing skills.
✓“Can we meet or speak with the home study professional before we sign-on for services?”
Would you buy a new car without test driving it first?
✓”Do you impose home study requirements that are not state regulations?”
Many states require a certain number of hours of adoption education outside of the home study visits. This can vary tremendously! Some agencies impose their own requirements that are above and beyond what the state requires. Many times adoptive parents unknowingly sign-up for more work than the state requires by choosing an agency that has self-imposed requirements.
Move Forward with Confidence
Creating your adoption “A” team is critical…and it includes your home study agency. Ask smart questions. Check the boxes. Get excited! Move forward with confidence!
This piece was written by Alison England and Kristin Taylor, from Momentum Counseling and Adoptions, based in Litchfield Park, AZ. a home study agency we recommend often and trust for our Arizona families. This agency is co-owned and operated by Alison England and Mindy Huang (pictured below).