No adoptive parent is really at home with the home study, but knowing what to expect can ease the anxiety and get you through with flying colors.
Here’s a little adoption humor for you. A man comes home from work to find that the couch and all the chairs in his living room have been cordoned off, just like a museum exhibit. “Come on, Marge!” he yells out to his wife. The home study visit isn’t for another two weeks!”
Like all jokes—this one’s from a cartoon that circulated among social workers—it’s an exaggeration based on truth. Everyone gets anxious about the home study, a process all prospective adoptive parents must endure to see if they can provide a safe, stable, and loving home for a child. Never mind the fact that if you got pregnant and had a baby on your own, no one would give you a second look. If you want to adopt, you will probably have to take a series of classes, get finger-printed, have a medical exam, gather reference letters, go through several soul-baring meetings with a social worker, pen your autobiography, and, to cap it off, allow the social worker to visit your home.
It all sounds pretty scary, not to mention time consuming and inconvenient (there’s a whole lot of paperwork), but as someone who has been through the process, I can say that it’s not all that bad. If you know what to expect and are properly prepared, it will go smoothly and it might even be slightly enjoyable (really!). By the time the whole thing is over, you’re going to know a lot more about adoption—and about yourself. Prelude to Adoption Home studies are mandated by law, but there’s no law that mandates exactly how they must be conducted. As a result, home studies vary from state to state and agency to agency, and home studies for international adoption can be different from those for domestic adoption. If, for instance, you do a home study because you intend to adopt from China, but then decide to adopt a child from your local foster care system, you may have to do your home study over again. It all depends on the agency that’s in charge of releasing the child you’ll be adopting.
There’s been a lot of discussion about standardizing home studies, but a consensus is nowhere near. “What questions should be included and how assessments should be conducted is a matter of great dispute,” says Madelyn Freundlich, a New York-based child welfare consultant who has researched the home study process.
Some of the differences among home studies include how long they take: The entire process can take anywhere between three to six months, though sometimes you can help speed it up by getting all your paperwork done quickly. The cost is variable, too. Many foster care agencies don’t charge at all or charge only a few hundred dollars, while home studies conducted by independent agencies can cost as much as $3,000.
Yet despite these and other differences, most home studies share many basic elements. Here are some you’re likely to encounter.
Divide and Conquer
If you’re part of a couple, you’ll be together for most of the meetings with your social worker, but sometimes you may be apart. Lisa Frye was a little surprised when she and her husband were interviewed separately during their first home study. “Maybe it was to see if we were on the same page,” she says.
That’s certainly one reason, and something to keep in mind. “I’ve heard of situations when a couple didn’t seem to both be on board with the adoption,” says Freundlich. “Maybe the woman is very eager to adopt, but the social worker is picking up all kinds of ambivalence—if not outright hostility to adopting—from the man. That, too, could raise a red flag.” In other words, get your story (hopefully an honest one) straight.