If you're planning to adopt, you'll need to complete a home study. This is a document containing the story of your life: your family and marital history, your health, your financial situation. It describes your home and neighborhood and includes personal references and discussion of any health concerns and criminal record. It also details your family relationships and your feelings about adoption, parenting and infertility, if applicable.
If the thought of opening up your life to a stranger makes you squeamish, you're not alone. People often worry that they will be found ineligible to adopt. In reality, it's rare for a home study to end with a negative recommendation.
While the process may seem invasive, remember that the goal is to make sure adopted children are placed in homes where they'll be loved and protected.
Here's what adopters should know about the home study:
Who conducts the home study?
- In general, the home study is an adoption social worker's written evaluation, based on interviews with you during at least one visit to the home.
- If you use a lawyer to adopt independently, you will probably use an agency or an independent, state-licensed social worker for the home study.
- If you adopt internationally via an agency in a state other than your own, you will have to use a home study agency or professional who is licensed in your home state.
What does the home study include?
- Meetings: Agencies sometimes ask applicants to attend group education meetings, submit to interviews and fill out questionnaires or provide an autobiographical statement.
- Home visit: The social worker will want to know how you plan to accommodate a new arrival. But when he or she comes to visit, your home doesn't have to be childproofed with a furnished nursery, nor do you need to have a separate bedroom for a baby or for each child.
- Costs: The home study can cost from $750 to $3,000.
What information am I required to disclose?
- Don't wait to tell: Experts advise not to delay mentioning medical, financial and prior arrest records. If you plan to adopt internationally, your social worker can steer you to a country that is more likely to be accepting and can address your situation in the home study in a way that's consistent with the country's cultural values and requirements.
- Conviction record: Misdemeanors stemming from youthful indiscretions usually aren't held against prospective adopters, although a social worker will want to know if your past behavior is just that. If you have a DUI on your record, for instance, you'll be asked about whether you went through a rehabilitation program and what your current drinking habits are. If you have committed a felony, the U.S. government won't approve you to adopt internationally, and you might have trouble finding a domestic agency to accept you.
- Health problems or disabilities: An agency will want to know that you can care for a child long-term. If your condition is under control, you may be approved to adopt. If you're in the middle of medical treatment or have a condition that threatens your life expectancy, you may be prevented from adopting.
- Financial problems: You don't need to be rich to adopt. But a history of bankruptcy, high debt or failure to pay child support may be cause for denial.
Lucia Moses is the adoptive mother of two. She lives with her family in New York.