“So… what exactly is a home study?”
This is a question Matt and I have been getting A LOT since starting the process two weeks ago, and note that I used the word “process,” because that’s exactly what it is – a process. For people who’ve never been through it, there is a misconception that “home study” just refers to a social worker visiting your home. That’s part of it, yes, but it involves SO much more.
The home study process takes an average of eight to twelve weeks to complete, and the actual home visit(s) don’t even come until the very end. Before the visits comes a mountain of paperwork. One must get multiple background checks from different agencies (you probably cannot fully grasp how disconnected our different systems are in America if you haven’t had to do this). You need a doctor to sign off that you are healthy, and while that might sound like the easiest part of the process, if you have any diagnoses – even mild anxiety – or take daily meds for even the slightest condition, you need your doctor to attest that none of that will affect your ability to parent. And then there’s the family history. You have to talk about the kind of childhood you had, your relationship with each parent, state the personal history of every full, half, or step-sibling – regardless of whether they are a part of your life – and more. There’s also the hand-full of references from both family members and friends, residential histories, and pre-selecting guardians for your future child or children.
This part of the process can cause a great deal of stress and worry for any prospective parent, but for couples entering the adoption process after suffering infertility or pregnancy loss it can bring up a lot of bitterness as well. I don’t think it is lost on anyone – prospective adoptive parent or the friend who plans to remain childless – that those who can have biological children will likely never undergo the kind of scrutiny that comes with the home study process.
Once the paperwork is complete, a social worker will schedule one or two visits (depending on agency and the state in which the couple is adopting) to the home. During these visits they will interview the prospective parents based on all that paperwork they submitted. There will also be a home inspection to check for basic child-proofing such as outlet covers, fire alarms and extinguishers, chemicals and medications placed out of reach, and that there are no obvious hazards in the home. Once the visits are complete, the social worker will compile a document stating all that they learned about the couple and whether their home study has been approved. Only once you have an approved home study can you become active with an adoption agency.
And that, my friends, is a brief overview of what the home study entails.