Note: This is the fourth part in a series of posts chronicling our home study process. The purpose of this series is to give you an idea of what the home study process is like so you can know what to expect. Just keep in mind that not everyone conducts the home study exactly the same way, so your experience may vary. Feel free to read part 1, part 2, and part 3 before reading on if you haven’t already.
At long last, my wife and I have completed our home study!
It’s been quite a while since I wrote the last part of this series. As I explained in my last blog post, we’ve gone through a lot over the last several months. Life got crazy, we went through some changes, we suffered a few delays and setbacks. Overall it took us over a year to finish our home study. This is not typical (it was supposed to take us around 2 to 4 months), but our circumstances were different. (And we procrastinated. Yeah, I’ll admit it.)
None of that matters now, however. The home study is complete, and we are ready to move on to the next step, putting our adoption profile out there and waiting for a match. I will share that process as it unfolds, but first, let’s wrap up this home study series.
We already went over the interviews and the home inspection. In addition to these, your home study agency will be looking to get a little information from you. Okay, a lot of information. They will want to know just about everything about you, from financial information to your medical history to your favorite doctor on Doctor Who. (Just kidding on that last one.) It may all seem excessive and invasive, but it’s all part of the process of making sure you can provide a suitable home to your future child. In addition to gathering information, you will most likely be required to do some type of adoption education to prepare you for adoption.
As always, the information your home study requires may vary, but here is a look at what our home study required.
1. Medical background
One of the first things your home study agency will want to know is whether you are in good health. This doesn’t mean you have to be in perfect health to adopt; they simply want to be aware of any medical, physical, or mental problems you may have which may impair your ability to provide proper care for your child.
For our home study, we had to visit our doctor for a medical exam. We were also given a form that had to be filled out by our doctor. This form asked for basic information such as vital signs, allergies, medical conditions, medications, family history, etc. We also had to do a urinalysis, tuberculosis skin test, and VDRL. The exam was very simple and took less than half an hour. (We did have to return two days later to have the TB skin test evaluated, but this took almost no time at all.)
In addition to the exam, your home study agency may also ask you to provide proof of medical insurance. A copy of your insurance card will usually do.
2. Criminal background
Your home study agency will also probably require a criminal background check. They will want to know if you have any history of arrests, convictions, drug or substance abuse, alcohol abuse and DWI’s, domestic abuse, child abuse or neglect, or sexual abuse. This is obviously for the safety of the child.
For our background check, we had to go down to our parish courthouse (that’s county courthouse for you non-Louisiana folks) to get fingerprinted. You may have to pay a fee for this, although some jurisdictions may waive this fee if the background check is for an adoption. (If you do have to pay, be sure to save any receipts for your tax credit!)
3. Financial background
I’ve said before that you don’t have to be wealthy to adopt, but your home study agency will still want to know if you are financially sound enough to support a child. This will require you to gather a lot of information; in fact, it seemed like most of the documents we had to provide dealt with our finances.
The information required may vary depending on your agency, but here is what we had to provide for ours:
- A letter from our employers verifying our employment
- Recent tax return(s)
- Recent paycheck stubs from each of our employers
- Recent bank statements for all checking and savings accounts
- Any statements dealing with retirement savings, IRA’s, investments, etc.
- Life insurance information
- Auto insurance cards
We also had to fill out a “financial statement” form which asked us to provide the following:
- Monthly income from all employers, plus any other income
- All major debts (mortgage, car loans, student loans, etc.), including monthly payments and balances remaining
- Any properties owned and their market value
- All securities, including savings accounts, retirement accounts, investments, etc.
- A list of all monthly expenses (utilities, groceries, recreational spending, etc.)
I wouldn’t sweat about giving exact numbers for all of these, especially things like monthly expenses that change from month to month. Just give them your best estimate. They are just trying to get a general idea.
4. Miscellaneous information
There were a few other things we had to provide as well:
- Marriage license
- Birth certificates
- Social security cards
- Pet vaccination records
We were also required to go through some educational training about adoption. There are many challenges that adoptive parents and adoptees face that are different from those of your conventional biological family, so it’s important to prepare for these challenges with the right education. That was the goal of these educational sessions.
Some agencies may hold their own educational sessions where you attend some sort of class or workshop. Our training, however, was online, so we were able to complete it at home on our own time. We were assigned a couple of online courses at Adoption Learning Partners. These courses took about an hour each to complete and also cost a fee, I think about $35 each. (Of course, these expenses can and will be applied toward our tax credit.) When we completed these training modules, we were awarded certificates to print out as proof that we completed them.
In addition to these courses, we were required to read two books and write a brief summary of one chapter of each book. These books were The Connected Child by Karyn Purvis and Twenty Things Adopted Kids Wish Their Adoptive Parents Knew by Sherrie Eldridge. Again, your agency’s requirements may differ
Organizing and Submitting Your Paperwork
As you can see, there is a lot of paperwork you have to gather for your home study. Therefore, it is important for you to keep all this paperwork together and organized. One simple way to do this is to grab a manila folder or large envelope and label it “Adoption Home Study”, and keep all your papers in there. Once you have everything you need you can hand it off to your home study caseworker.
However, if you are looking for a more “digital” solution, I suggest you do what I did. For our home study, I set up a free Dropbox account. Dropbox is like a hard drive that lives online. You can save files to it just like you can to your computer’s hard drive, but you can access your files from any computer, smartphone, or tablet device that is connected to the internet. What’s great about it is the ability to share folders with other people, allowing them to access the files in that folder and add their own files to it as well.
Once I had my Dropbox account set up, I created a folder labeled “Home Study” and shared it with our caseworker. Any paperwork we needed to share with her was scanned into a PDF file and saved to that folder. I use a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 scanner to scan most of my documents; it’s a pricey scanner but it’s super fast and works extremely well. Of course, you don’t have to spend a lot of money on a scanner if you don’t have one; any scanner will do. I also use an app on my iPhone (yes, there is an Android version too) called ScanBot which lets you use your smartphone’s camera as a scanner. It’s good for smaller or more simple documents like receipts or business cards, but powerful enough for full pages and multi-page documents as well. It even lets you save directly to your Dropbox. It’s a good alternative for when you are on the go.
Anyway, this system worked very well for us, especially since our home study case worker lived about an hour away. It was much easier than e-mailing the documents and allowed us to keep all our paperwork organized in one central place.
Receiving the Home Study
Once all of your paperwork, interviews, inspections, and education have been completed, your case worker will compile all of this information into the final home study report. This report outlines everything about your family and your home, and provides an overall picture of how you will be able to provide for your child. To give you an idea of what a home study report looks like, check out this sample home study report.
When you receive your home study report, the first thing you should do is go over it and check for any errors or inaccuracies. I strongly recommend you do this. When we first received ours, we found several errors. In our case, since we had changed addresses and I had changed jobs during the home study, many of the information hadn’t been updated. For example, in some places it named my new employer while in other places it said I was still working for my old employer. There were some other errors in there as well; most of them minor, but we decided to have those fixed as well. So don’t hand your home study off to your adoption agency or attorney until you’ve thoroughly gone over it. Consider it a first draft, and contact your home study’s social worker of any revisions that need to be made. Then when you receive the revision, go over it again to make sure that all errors have been corrected. Once that’s done, then you can hand it off to your adoption agency or attorney.
The Final Step
So now that our home study is complete, the only thing left for us to do was hand it over to our adoption attorney. The end, right?
Well, there was one more thing our case worker told us to do, and that was to contact her when we get a match. At that point, she will need to get some more information to update the home study one more time. But for now, that’s it!
Our next step will be finding a match with a potential birthmom. This will be a long (maybe?), unpredictable (probably), and emotional (definitely!) process, but I’ll keep you up to date.
Question: Have you gone through the home study process yourself? In what ways did it differ for you? What were some of the hardest parts of the home study process for you, and what have you learned? Sound off in the comments below!