What is a Home Study?

pennsylvania adoption home study
Kathryn Russell
Kathryn Russell

LMSW, Director of Absolute Love Adoptions

pennsylvania adoption home study

Why a Home Study Is Not Just a Checklist:

Whatever route you take to adopt a child, you will require a home study. So, what is it?


The most simple explanation is that you hire a licensed social worker or agency in your state of residence to vet you thoroughly and then create a lengthy document that summarizes who you are as people, potential parents and assures that in their professional opinion, you can or cannot be recommended to adopt. This home study process is intended to be collaborative and to create a foundation for life-long success for you, your child and their birth family. 


Historically, adoption relationships were not well informed. At their worst, they were secretive, shameful and often driven by money or power. Many of those relationships became estranged or disrupted completely. Within the profession there are now best practices that have been established to demand ethics, education, collaboration, accessibility…Absolute Love’s core values. It is in that spirit that we approach a home study. 


Like adoption, a home study visit is not designed to be a singular event. It certainly isn’t a just a checklist of tasks to obtain a professional signature and the stamp of approval. It is a *process*, a study of who you are and how those complex and unique variables will enhance and challenge your pursuit of becoming adoptive parents. The findings from this *study* should guide you and your team towards finding the ideal adoptive situation for you as it pertains to age, race and number of children, medical diagnoses, openness of birth parent relationships and anything else you hold of high value. We utilize this information to help identify the characteristics of a child and birth family that would be best suited to become a part of your family.


So how does a home study work? 


The first step is submitting documentation to give the agency an understanding of who you are. This includes demographics, background checks, finances, an autobiography and a whole lot more! We receive this information and review it to ensure all the basic criteria regarding health and stability are met. 


Then an Adoption Specialist comes to your home and all family members are required to be there. Since the visit lasts about 3 hours, we like to sit in a comfortable space in your home, drink coffee, get comfortable and learn about you. 


We’ll ask about your childhood, your parents, your social circle, school and work, hobbies, dreams, mental and physical health and finances. We want to see the authentic you —the good and the bad – and learn how all of that defines you and has contributed to your identity. Don’t be afraid or anxious! It’s hard for us too, to sit there for 3+ hours making sure we ask all the right questions and to ensure you are who you say you are, and that you will be appropriate to parent a vulnerable child. 


We want to get an idea of how a child will physically fit into your life, so we conduct a home inspection. We want to see that your house is clean, but we are not going to take a white glove to your baseboards so don’t go overboard. We will ask to see fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors, we’ll ask about safe storage for medicine, chemicals and cleaning supplies, we’ll identify where baby gates or locked doors would be beneficial, assess bodies of water on or near the property, and we’ll want to see how you store guns and ammo, if you have them, and that you are fluent in gun safety. 


So, what happens if we hear or see something that might be of concern? 


Rest assured that all families have challenges. You wouldn’t be human if you didn’t. Our goal is not to rule out families. 


It is to help them determine whether adoption makes sense and if so, what that should look like to set the family and child up for the highest opportunity for success. 


If we identify an area of concern, we work together to come up with a plan to address it. Ideally, after education and further discussion, we will reduce the impact of that concern to a level that is not concerning. 


For example, if you have animals in your home, we will create a safety plan so that if the addition of a child into your home creates unsolvable issues or aggressive reactions in your pets, you’ll have an emergency plan in place. 


If you are open to adopt a child that is not of your same race, you need to show evidence that you can adequately invest in your child’s racial identity. If observations do not support that, we’ll recommend that you pause your home study process and spend some time learning about transracial adoption. You’ll either create a plan with your new knowledge to demonstrate how you understand race and how that effects adoption, or perhaps you’ll discover either your family or your community does not lend itself well to a transracial adoption. 


If you say you have the will or the resources to parent a special needs child, then we’ll discuss the specific experience you have and the resources available. If we determine what’s available to you doesn’t suffice, or you are not well prepared, then we will likely recommend that you not pursue matching with a child diagnosed with an uncorrectable medical condition such as Down syndrome or cerebral palsy.


These are undoubtedly difficult conversations and as such, alignment is crucial for this relationship to work. The agency and the family being studied must have a rapport that allows for collaboration and problem solving. The professional identifying areas of concern in your life or home is not a means to insult you or kill your dream of adopting, but rather so we can work together to figure out how to remediate that concern, or to get to a place where you acknowledge perhaps that concern is too great for your family at that time. Honesty, openness and alignment are necessary in our relationship to get the most of out this home study experience. 


So, after the initial visit and any follow up phone calls, visits, or communication, what happens?


After the lengthy visit, the Specialist takes all this information you provided home and compiles a 15+ page report over a few weeks. We send the document to you to review and edit. When you feel it is the best, most honest reflection of who you are, we finalize it and send it to your home agency(ies) and you are officially recommended to adopt. You’re home study approved! Congratulations! 




Now, the work isn’t done yet…but is it ever?


As a hopeful adoptive parent, you simply must invest in understanding the issues your adoptive constellation will face, which means a lifelong relationship with grief, loss, rejection and shame, all of which will affect your and your child’s identity, their place in their family and their relationship with peers, themselves and you! We provide recommendations, beyond the Woven Together training, to get you moving forward. This process should evolve daily. 


You should take initiative to read, listen to podcasts, and connect with community resources that will support your identity as an adoptive parent and your future adopted child.

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