for adoption steadily expanded during the twentieth century. Children
and adults considered ineligible for adoption in 1910, 1930, or
1950 —because they were “feeble-minded,”
racially ambiguous, homosexual, or abnormal in some other way—have
been incorporated into the circle of family life, at least in theory.
Considering the revolutionary changes heralded by the era of special
needs adoptions, it is all the more striking that the basic
rationale and elements of adoption home
studies have remained constant over time. Interested readers
might compare this twenty-first-century statement with home investigation
outlines and reports from earlier eras.
The laws of every State and the District of Columbia require all
prospective adoptive parents (no matter how they intend to adopt)
to 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.
Specific home study requirements and processes vary greatly from
agency to agency, State to State, and (in the case of intercountry
adoption) by the child's country of origin. This fact sheet discusses
the common elements of the home study process and addresses some
concerns prospective adoptive parents may have about the process. . . .
Elements of the Home Study Process
There is no set format that adoption agencies use to conduct home
studies. Many agencies include the following steps in their home
study process, although the specific details and order will vary.
For more information, talk with the agencies you are considering.
Many agencies require trainings for prospective adoptive parents
prior to or during the home study process. These trainings help
prospective parents better understand the needs of children waiting
for families and help families decide what type of child or children
they could parent most effectively.
You will probably be interviewed several times by the social worker.
These interviews help you develop a relationship with your social
worker that will enable him or 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). You will
likely be asked to explain how you handle stress and 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 families
have adult children living outside the home, they also may be interviewed
during this process.
Home visits primarily serve to ensure your home meets State licensing
standards (e.g., working smoke alarms, safe storage of firearms,
safe water, adequate space for each child, etc.). Some States require
an inspection from the local health and fire departments in addition
to the visit by the social worker. The agency will generally require
the worker 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 for how you plan to accommodate a new
family member (or members, if you are planning to adopt a sibling
group). Social workers are not typically inspecting your housekeeping
standards. A certain level of order is necessary, but some family
clutter is expected. Some agencies would worry that people living
in a “picture perfect” home would have a difficult time
adjusting to the clutter a child brings to a household.
Most agencies require prospective adoptive parents to have some
form of physical exam. 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 the prospective parents are essentially healthy,
have a normal life expectancy, and are physically and mentally able
to handle the care of a child. . . .
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 may be asked to provide
reports from those visits. Many agencies view 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. However, each
family's situation is unique, so check with the agencies or social
workers you are considering if you have concerns.
You do not have to be rich to adopt; you just have to show you
can manage your finances responsibly and adequately. . . .
Many agencies also ask about savings, insurance policies (including
health coverage for the adopted child), and other investments and
Most States require criminal and child abuse record clearances
for all adoptive and foster parent applicants. . . .
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. Some agencies in some States may be able to
work with your family, depending on the charge and its resolution.
If the social 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
Many adoption agencies ask prospective adoptive parents to write
an autobiographical statement. This is, essentially, the story of
your life. This statement helps the social worker better understand
your family and assists him or her in writing the home study report
(see below). If you are working with an agency that practices openness
in adoption, you also may be asked to write a letter or create an
album or scrapbook about your family to be shared with expectant
birth parents to help them choose a family for their child. . . .
The agency will probably ask you for the names, addresses, and
telephone numbers of three or four individuals to serve as references
for you. References help the social 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. 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. . . .
The Home Study Report
Typically, the above steps culminate in the writing of a home study
report that reflects the social worker's findings. Home study reports
often are used to “introduce” your family to other agencies
or adoption exchanges (services that list children waiting for families)
to assist in matching your family with a waiting child.
In general, home study reports include the above-mentioned health
and income statements, background checks, and references, as well
as the following types of information:
Family background. . . .
Education/employment. . . .
Relationships. . . .
Daily life. . . .
Parenting. . . .
Neighborhood. . . .
Religion. . . .
Feelings about/readiness for adoption. . . .
Approval/recommendation. . . .
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, prepare your family for adoption, and 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 they can be useful during the home study process
as well. With perseverance and a positive outlook, you will be able
to team with the social 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.