Adoption & Foster Care: What Is a Home Study?

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It doesn’t matter how many times a social worker has visited our house for a home study or post-placement services. Every single time I’d find myself wiping down baseboards, cleaning the backsplash in the kitchen, and dusting everything in sight — as if this person would be running their finger along every surface with a white glove.

Welcome to the home study frenzy! We’re frantic here, focused on ridiculous things, but trying to put our best foot forward.

What is a Home Study?

For those who are interested in adopting or fostering children, the family must work through a home study. This process is typically conducted by a licensed social worker, usually working with a child-placing agency, or a court-authorized worker/agency. There are some agencies that only provide home studies and some agencies that provide home studies and placement services.

A home study is a series of checks in different areas of life, including paperwork you need to provide and interviews. It can feel very invasive, but it’s also very necessary to be open and honest for the safety of the child being placed in your home. 

From start to finish, the home study typically takes a few months — dependent on the speed at which you provide the required documentation and the speed at which others can do their part.

Home Study Documents

A family starting the home study process will receive a checklist of items needed for the process: such as background checks, financial statements, photocopies of birth certificates and marriage certificate, physical health examination forms, proof of insurance coverage, personal references, photos of the home, etc. A family may also be asked to answer questions in written form about their past history and family life.

Educational Requirements

Included in this process should be educational requirements that need to be fulfilled, regarding the specific adoption/foster route being taken. These requirements are so important to be taken seriously for each adult member of the household. Understanding of trauma and issues your future child may experience will not only help you in parenting them but also help the child adjust and work toward healing. The home study provider will usually have required or suggested seminars, and reading material for you to complete.

Interviews and Home Visits

Multiple in-person interviews and visits to your house are part of the process. The provider will meet with your family to interview you as the parents together, as well as each member of the family separately. If children are already in the home, these visits are very child-friendly. The provider will want to see how your family interacts together and will ask simple, child-appropriate questions to your kiddos.

These visits are to get to know your family on a more personal level, aside from the paperwork. The home study provider wants to gain an understanding of your history, motivations, and attitudes toward adoption/foster care, and help direct you in education. It is to ensure the route you’ve chosen will be a good fit for your family, and most importantly that placement of a new child into your home will be in the child’s best and safest interest.

Included in the home visit is a tour of the home. Your house does not need to be immaculately clean or clutter-free for these visits. The provider wants to see a space that is safe and suitable for an incoming child. You should know ahead of time what is expected as far as safety and space expectations for a new child in your home, but if you don’t have clarity on all the aspects of such — ask!

Home Study Approval

Once all of the above is complete, the provider will write up the actual home study document encompassing details learned about your family throughout the stages prior. This can take multiple weeks to complete, and then the document will need to be submitted to the agency and state for approval to continue the adoption/foster care journey.

Updates

Sometimes a home study update is necessary. The home study, unfortunately, has an expiration date (currently in SC that is one year). If a child isn’t placed in your home by that time, then an update to the home study will need to happen. Typically this requires a few forms/clearances to be redone, another home visit, and edits to the home study document. An update is also necessary if any significant changes happen in the family, such as a move, new employment, or the addition of a family member into the home.

A home study is a lot of work; I know from experience. Ultimately though, this whole process is to protect children — a cause we should all support. Any child who may be placed in your home has already experienced great loss and, therefore, trauma — plus neglect and abuse could be in their history. Doing your part openly and honestly in this process, with a humble and patient attitude, will help ensure a positive placement for a child needing a family.

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