Whether you are considering doing an agency or independent adoption, one of the first things that you will have to do is to work with an agency to complete a Home Study. The Home Study is comprised of information that you give to the agency in the form of questionnaires, interviews, and forms. For many couples, this is the most nerve-racking part of the whole adoption process.
What is a Home Study?
The first thing you should do is to choose an agency that you feel comfortable with. You have to share a lot of information during the Home Study process, and you need to feel good about the agency that is getting all of this information. Most agencies will hopefully try to make you feel as comfortable as possible during the process. They are not there to judge you or to give you a pass or fail grade. They are there to help you become a family. They recognize that in many ways it is not fair that adoptive families have to go through the Home Study process to become parents when they would not have to have a Home Study if they weren't building their family through adoption.
The purpose of the Adoption Home Study Process is two-fold. As a legal document, it lets the court know that families have met certain state and federal guidelines surrounding adoptive families. It also lets Birthparents who are choosing adoption to know that their child will be with a loving family in a safe home and they will be well cared for. Typically in agency adoptions, the written Home Study that contains identifying information is not shared with the Birthparents, but non-identifying information is shared if they have questions. Birthparents are given a copy of the Home Study in many independent adoptions.
Although each state has its specific guidelines surrounding the Home Study, most states agree on the same basic information to be included in the Home Study. This basic information includes a local and nationwide police background check (sometimes done by fingerprints, sometimes done by name and social security number), a child sexual abuse, child abuse and sexual offender registry background check, a physical including blood work, a TB test and a drug screen, reference letters from friends, family and other people and a financial form that basically needs to show that there is more money coming in that going out.
There are forms or questionnaires that cover such subjects as parenting, marriage, views on adoption and your fertility process. You can expect to write a short autobiography and should receive a basic outline for the autobiography from your agency. You will have individual interviews and interviews conducted as a couple. At some point, the agency will conduct a home visit. During this visit, you will need to have working fire alarms, a fire extinguisher and you will need to show that any firearms you own are locked and secured so that no children can get to them.
Although the Home Study is quite extensive, it takes a lot not to be approved as an adoptive family. Minor offenses that happened 20 years ago or traffic violations typically do not affect being approved as an adoptive family. Illnesses that are controlled by medication and are not terminal or minor mental health issues that are controlled by medication and counseling typically do not affect the Home Study process either. Terminal illnesses, current police records, being on the sexual offender registry or child abuse registry are all things that would more than likely keep you from receiving approval for your Home Study. Not being honest during the Home Study process can have a negative effect on approval as well.
If you have a police record and do not discuss it with your casework, it can cause more problems in the long run, even if it was just a minor incident. They will find any records, arrests, charges you have had when they do the background check even if the charges were dropped, so it is best to be upfront about everything.
Many agencies also have agency-specific guidelines or items that they include in the Home Study. Some agencies might include information about your religion, even including a statement of faith. They might ask you about your views on disciplining and have a special section in the Home Study that discusses your discipline plans for your child. They might have you fill out a form that states what kind of placement you feel comfortable with including Birthparent medical and social background and activity during pregnancy, such as a Birthmother who smokes during her entire pregnancy or a Birthfather whose family has a history of Schizophrenia. Many agencies want a statement from you about openness and adoption and how you feel about continued contact with the Birthparents, sharing pictures and letters and talking you to your child about adoption.
When doing an agency adoption, you may have to go through a Home Study group with other couples who are currently going through the adoption Home Study Process at the same time you are. The groups are like the educational part of the Home Study. They will include such topics as talking to your child about adoption, openness in adoption, meeting Birthparents, grief and loss surround infertility and how to put together a picture profile/resume to be shown to Birthparents. Sometimes Birthparents, adoptive parents and adult adoptees come and speak to the group about their adoption experiences so that you can get information from everyone's viewpoint.
This is all the basic information that you can expect to be included in your Home Study process. You may find that the agency you use has a few additional things that they will have you do. You should feel comfortable asking your agency questions along the way and discussing what you need to have completed when they do the Home Visit, such as childproofing, fire extinguishers, etc. You need to remember that they are here to help you become a family, not to judge you or stamp you with a pass or fail grade. Work with your agency and be open and honest during the process. Doing these things will help your Home Study process to go smoothly, and it will be easier on you in the end.
For more information about Adoption, check out Adopt Help.