The laws of every state require all prospective adoptive parents (no matter how they intend to adopt) participate in a home study. This process has three purposes: to educate and prepare the adoptive family for adoption, to gather information about the prospective parents that will help a social worker match the family with a child whose needs they can meet, and to evaluate the fitness of the adoptive family.
The home study process can be a source of anxiety for some prospective parents, who may fear they will not be "approved." It may be helpful to remember agencies are not looking for perfect parents. Rather, they are looking for real parents to parent real children. With accurate information about the process, prospective parents can face the home study experience with confidence and the excitement that should accompany the prospect of welcoming a child into the family.
You will be interviewed several times by your case worker. These interviews will help you develop a relationship with your case worker that will enable her to better understand your family and assist you with an appropriate placement. You will discuss the topics addressed in the home study report (see below). The first meeting with your case worker is called the initial interview and will occur in the Mary Kendall Adoption Program office. The next meeting will be individual interviews with you and your spouse. They can occur on the same day or on different days and will be conducted at the Mary Kendall office. (Some programs, like China, require additional face-to-face meetings with each parent.)
You do not have to be rich to adopt; you just have to show you can manage your finances responsibly and adequately. (Some countries may have specific income requirements for intercountry adoption.) Prospective parents will be asked to verify their income by providing income tax forms. You will also be asked to provide information about savings, insurance policies (including health coverage for the adopted child), and other investments and debts.
You will be asked for the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of five individuals to serve as references for you. One of them should be your pastor, either past or present. References will help your case worker form a more complete picture of your family and support network.
If possible, references should be individuals 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 and one must be a relative. Good choices for the non-relative references might include close friends, an employer, a former teacher, a co-worker, a neighbour, or leader of your faith community.
Approval would rarely be denied on the grounds of one negative reference alone. However, if it were one of several negative factors, or if several of the references were negative, the agency might be unable to approve the adoption.
The home visit primarily serves 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, etc.). Your case worker will need to see all areas of your home, including where the children will sleep, the basement (if you have one), and the yard. She will be looking for how you plan to accommodate a new family member (or members, if you are planning to adopt a sibling group). Your case worker will not be inspecting your housekeeping standards. A certain level of order is necessary, but some family clutter is expected.
Prospective adoptive parents will be required to have criminal and child abuse record checks conducted. While the vast majority of prospective adoptive parents have no criminal or child abuse history, it is important for children's safety to identify those few families who might put children at risk.
Do not hesitate to talk to your case worker about specific situations that might disqualify you from adopting. Agencies are looking not just at your past experiences, but at what you've learned from them and how you would use that knowledge in parenting a child. If the case worker feels you are being deceptive or dishonest, however, or if the documents collected during the home study process expose inconsistencies, the social worker may have difficulty trusting you.
Prospective adoptive parents are required to have a physical exam. We just want to know that the prospective parents are essentially healthy, have a normal life expectancy, and are physically and mentally able to handle the care of a child.
If you have a medical condition that is under control (for instance, high blood pressure or diabetes that is controlled by diet and medication), you may still be approved as an adoptive family. A serious health problem that affects life expectancy may prevent approval. If your family has sought counseling or treatment for a mental health condition in the past, you will be asked to provide reports from those visits. Our agency views seeking help as a sign of strength; the fact that your family obtained such help should not, in and of itself, preclude you from adopting.
You will be provided a set of questions to which you will be asked to respond openly and honestly. This autobiographical information will help your case worker better understand your family and assist her in writing the home study report (see below). While writing about yourself can be intimidating, the exercise is intended to provide information about you to the agency, as well as to help you explore issues related to the adoption.
The time it takes to conduct the home study varies from family to family, depending on factors such as how quickly documents are returned and the flexibility of scheduling appointments. On average, the home study process takes approximately six weeks to complete. You can help speed up the process by filling out your paperwork, scheduling your medical appointments, and gathering the required documents without delay.
Prospective adoptive parents are responsible for a number of things in the adoption process. It is essential that all paperwork be completed in an accurate and timely fashion. This is especially true for USCIS paperwork. If you are in doubt, please do not hesitate to ask for assistance. An error in paperwork can delay placement.
It is also imperative that you be honest with your adoption caseworker during the entire homestudy process. Dishonesty that is discovered later will only create doubt in your caseworker's mind regarding your character and/or your motivation to adopt a child. This may directly affect the caseworker's ability to make a positive recommendation for placement of a child with your family.
Finally, it is your responsibility to prepare yourself and your family for life with an adopted child. Issues such as separation and loss, cultural differences, adjustment issues, questions about identity, are all unique to the adopted child. Adoptive parents need to understand and know how to deal with these issues in order to make the placement a successful and happy one for all involved. Preparation is essential when adopting older children. There are numerous reading resources available to adoptive parents that address these difficult issues and a lending library is available in our office. Your case worker will work with you during the homestudy process to increase your education and understanding regarding these issues.
Mary Kendall Adoption Program charges $2,000 to complete a home study. However, if you are a member of the United Methodist Church, you will receive a 15% discount on your first homestudy.
Children in your family (whether they joined your family through birth, foster care, adoption, or marriage) will be included in the home study process. Your case worker will ask how the children do in school, what their interests and hobbies are, what their friends are like, and how their behavior is rewarded or disciplined. Your case worker will speak to each child to find out how he or she feels about the adoption. If there are any adult children not living in the home, a phone interview will be necessary.
The primary emphasis will be on how the children see a new sibling (or siblings) fitting into the family and whether they are prepared to share your time and attention. Children's input is quite important in the overall assessment of a family's readiness to adopt a child. Your case worker will want to make sure that an adopted child or children will be wanted and loved by all family members from the start.
Although the adoption home study process may seem invasive or lengthy, it is conducted to help you decide whether adoption is right for your family, to prepare your family for adoption, and to help your family determine which type of child you could best parent. The process also serves to ensure children are placed in loving, caring, healthy, and safe environments.
Flexibility and a sense of humor are vital characteristics when raising children, and these traits can be useful during the home study process as well. With perseverance and a positive outlook, you will be able to team with your case worker to make this a valuable learning experience?one that will help you do the best possible job in parenting the child who will eventually join your family.
Information adapted with permission from The National Adoption Information Clearinghouse.
Jeannie Howard, MAE, LPCC
Adoption Services Director