There’s no set format for home studies, but most include the following steps.
- Training: Many agencies require prospective adoptive parents to attend parental training prior to or during the home study process. These sessions are meant to help you understand the needs of children waiting for families, and decide what type of child or children you could parent.
- Interviews: You will probably be interviewed several times by the social worker. You will be asked to explain how you handle stress and describe past experiences of crisis or loss. In the case of couples, some agency workers conduct all of the interviews jointly, with both prospective parents together. Others will conduct both joint and individual interviews. If you already have children, the social worker will want to chat with them—even if they are adults and are living away from home
- Home Visit: Home visits primarily serve to ensure that your home meets state licensing standards (e.g., working smoke alarms, safe storage of firearms, safe water, adequate space for each child). Some states require an inspection from the local health and fire departments, in addition to the visit by the social worker. The social worker will generally want to see all areas of the house or apartment, including where the children will sleep, the basement, and the back yard. He or she will be looking to see how you plan to accommodate a new family member or members.
- Medical Exam: Most home studies require prospective parents to have some form of physical exam. You can almost always choose to have this done by your own physician. Some agencies have specific requirements; for example, agencies that only place infants with infertile couples may require a physician to confirm the infertility. Other agencies just want to know that the prospective parents are healthy, have a normal life expectancy, and are physically and mentally able to handle the care of a child.
- Background Checks: Most states require criminal and child abuse record clearances for all adults (including children over 18, relatives, and live-in household help) living in the home. In many states, local, state, and federal clearances are required. Your social worker will give you blank cards, which you take to your local police station to get your fingerprints taken. You then send the completed cards, with accompanying forms, to your state clearance agency.
- Autobiographical Statement: Many social workers ask prospective parents to write an autobiographical statement. You’re not being graded on the quality of your writing; they just want to know a bit about your own childhood and life, why you want to adopt, and what kind of parent you expect to be.
- References: The social worker will probably ask you for the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of three or four people to serve as references for you. If possible, referees should be people who have known you for several years, who have observed you in many situations, and who have visited your home and know of your interest in and involvement with children. Most agencies require that references be people unrelated to you. Good choices might include close friends, an employer, a former teacher, a co-worker, a neighbor, or your pastor, rabbi, or leader of your faith community.
What Do I Do Next?
Organize. Order appropriate copies of all the documents you’ll need. Ask your local police station about fingerprinting; find a friendly notary; make appointments for your physicals. Start a filing system.
Warn. Call your references and let them know what’s expected of them.
Prepare. Before your home study, compare notes with your partner on parenting philosophies. Walk around your house and imagine how a child will fit in: Don’t bother polishing silver, but check for dangers—an unfenced pool, a snapping dog.