The Purpose and Product 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. More importantly, it gives expectant parents and adoption professionals some assurances that there are not any obvious reasons that the home is not safe for their child. 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
To do any of your own advertising (many states require you to be home study approved in order to make it known that you’re trying to adopt)
By the courts for adoption 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
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. Judges do not have the time to interview and assess each prospective adoptive parent, thus this task is deferred to licensed adoption agencies and in some states, private social workers. It is the written recommendation by your home study professional that the judge will rely upon when rendering a decision to finalize an adoption (and to certify a family in a state like Arizona).
Reassurement for Home Study Approval
Before you worry too much about your life history being assessed by a judge, remember this:
Very few individuals who apply are disapproved and the home study provider is usually your advocate in this process!
Those that are disapproved usually involve one of these factors: criminal history, harsh discipline practices (physical punishment), or a life-threatening medical condition.
If you do have a criminal background (i.e. a misdemeanor, DUI, or some other non-child related infraction), be upfront and talk with the provider before beginning the process to see if they expect this will be a bar to approval. They may recommend you have your background/fingerprints done first to see if you can get a Level 1 Fingerprint Clearance card. They will likely find out about even expunged criminal records through background checks, so it is much better to be upfront and honest and prepared to talk about how/why you are in a different place now and able to provide a safe home for a child.
It’s a Checklist
When you sign on to start your home study you will receive a checklist a mile long. Remember, it is just a list. Gather…check. Gather…check. In short, you can expect to have a few visits with your home study professional (likely one in their office and one in your home), a background check, medical exam, verification of financial condition, references, an autobiographical statement, and a review of supporting documentation like birth certificates, marriages license, insurance cards, pet’s vaccination records, etc. Note that they will likely meet with you and your spouse together and separately, and that at least one of the visits can be lengthy (multiple hours long), as they will get to know each of you, your background, your marriage, your family, your views on adoption, open adoption, parenting and discipline.
Home studies also serve as a source of adoption education, giving you information about what to expect in an adoption journey. Unfortunately, many home study providers don’t provide as much education as they did in the past. Many don’t give education on transracial adoption, open adoption or drug/alcohol exposure, many topics necessary to understand before diving into your adoption journey. However, some home study providers will provide some education, , so don’t be afraid to ask questions and use your home study as part of your adoption preparation.
Time is a factor. The sooner your home study is complete, the sooner you will be on your adoption journey!. Most home studies take between 2-4 months. Much of that variability depends on how quickly you can gather documents and check the necessary boxes. You’ll need to factor in additional time if you are in a state where court approval is required (like AZ and NY).
The price range for home studies is $1,000-$5,000.. This cost varies because state regulations vary. You may want to consider whether the home study provider will also have some opportunities to match you with an expectant mother after you are approved, so that may be a factor to consider if you’re having trouble deciding between two qualified professionals.
A Few 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! 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. Click here to learn more about each. Make sure you know what route you want to take BEFORE you begin the home study process.
✓“Who will be my home study specialist?”
Chose someone with whom 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 and ask if you can speak with that person first.
✓”What is the expected timeframe for completing the home study”?
If you are in a hurry to get this process started, you will want a home study agency that works promptly on their portion of the home study report. Keep in mind that delays are usually caused by the prospective adoptive family and any delays they have in obtaining necessary documents/appointments. But you want to understand how quickly they plan to move on your report assuming you move quickly through the checklist.
✓”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
Don’t stress too much about the home study process! Ask smart questions. Check the boxes. Get excited about the first step in the adoption process!