How much will a home study cost? How long will it take? Can I fail? These are some of the most common questions prospective adoptive parents (PAPs) have as they consider an adoption home study. Every intercountry adoption process begins with a home study and we're here to give you the answers you need so you can be as prepared as possible.
1. How much does a home study cost?
While costs can vary greatly, a home study for an intercountry adoption is typically between $1800 and $4000. It’s important to take your time in researching your options and understanding what is included in the fee you are quoted by each agency. In addition to asking what the fee is, be sure to ask the following:
- What is included in the fee? Is mileage for the in-home visits a separate fee? How many visits will the social worker make? If adopting from a Hague country, are the mandatory training hours included or is there a separate fee?
- What are the terms of payment? I.e. must the fee be paid in full prior to starting the process, prior to the first in-home visit, etc.
- What are your post placement services payment terms? Do you require payment in full for the post placement services prior to releasing the final home study document?
- What forms of payment do you accept? Is there a fee for using a credit card?
2. How do we prepare for a home study?
Preparing is key. This is not the time to figure things out as you go. The home study is intended to be a robust process for the protection of children and the preparation and support of families. If an agency or social worker is making it sound simple or easy, that should be a red flag! However, just because it takes time and effort doesn’t mean it has to be overwhelming. Here are a few tips to help you navigate the process and get the most out of it.
First, prepare yourselves mentally and practically for the time commitment that is required to not only complete the paperwork, but to invest in the personal work that is necessary for adoption education and training to best prepare for the serious responsibilities of parenting an internationally adopted child.
Second, take inventory, then assign responsibilities.
It’s important to take inventory of your current commitments, and consider whether there are places that you need to scale back on temporarily in order to give this process the appropriate attention it deserves. Giving your future child the most prepared parents he/she can have needs to be a top priority and that requires giving yourself the bandwidth to embrace and fully engage with the home study process. Now is probably not the time to increase your volunteer hours, take on extra work in your career, sign your other kids up for three new activities, etc. You can always add things back in if the margin is there, but it’s best to be prepared now by making adjustments to your time to reflect the priority and value of the home study process.
If you are a married couple or if you have friends or family helping you with the process, identify who will handle tracking financials and ensuring adoption fees are paid in a timely manner. Who is good at organization and can track and file all the paperwork and keep you on top of deadlines? Can one of you handle childcare arrangements for the other kids, if needed, so you can give your attention to the required training and education classes? Don’t leave one spouse to carry all the load. If one is going to manage most of the paperwork, how will the other spouse pick up responsibilities in other areas? Make sure it’s a team effort that both are equally invested in. If you’re a single parent, this can be especially tricky. Again, be brutal with your schedule and create margin wherever you can. Don’t be afraid to ask for help – whether it’s with kids already in the home, more flexibility at work for a season, or a friend who is willing to run errands for you. And above all, select a home study agency that is known not only for quality social services, but for its experience, expertise and high level of support for the paperwork aspect of the process.
Third, choose to see your home study agency and your specific social worker, as your resource, support, and equipper for success. Decide to be transparent and honor the importance of disclosure. Don’t avoid what may feel like uncomfortable issues. Sarah, one of the social workers on our team here at Agape says, “My best advice for families about to start a homestudy is — get ready to get real! I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking for how you’ve handled trauma and adversity in your own life and in what way that’s brought you to the point of having me sit in your living room. We are going to get to know each other really well. Many families I will be working with for several years, so show me the real you. Laundry needing to be folded on the table, dishes in the sink…I want to see the real family I’ll be working with.”
Finally, begin the conversation now, if you haven’t already, with your other children. If there are other children in the home, or if you have adult children, now is the time to begin to talk with them about adoption, the home study process, their questions and concerns, and what to expect. Your social worker should be able to give you guidance and counsel on how best to prepare them for the visits and how to draw out meaningful and helpful discussions.
3. How long does a home study take?
A home study for intercountry adoption is typically completed in three to four months depending on the agency’s caseload, the family’s efficiency in completing paperwork and their adoption education hours, and how quickly various government offices process necessary background checks and other documents. Be sure to ask your agency how long they expect the process to take and if there are any specific requirements in your state that would add to the timeframe. Wondering if you can expedite a home study? Keep reading – we’ll cover that!
4. Can we fail a home study?
This is one of the most difficult decisions that a clinical social worker has to make. And yet, they are compelled, by law and their professional obligations, to act in the best interests of children. Sometimes PAPs are asked to complete additional preparation such as counseling or further education before a final decision is made. In rare cases, a case worker can determine that a prospective adoptive parent(s) is unsuitable to adopt. Typically they will consult with their supervising director before declining to approve the family. The agency will provide, in writing, the reasons for declining the family.
5. What will disqualify a person from adopting?
There are several reasons that a person can be disqualified.
When applying to adopt internationally, step number one is for the adoption agency to determine whether the PAP meets the requirements for a specific country program, or programs, and this usually takes the form of a pre-application. This should be completed prior to the PAP submitting a full application to the agency.
Adoption agencies must ensure that the PAP meets the criteria for suitability established through the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption. These standards apply to all PAPs in the U.S. whether they are adopting from a Hague or non-Hague country. Agencies may have additional criteria rooted in clinical best practice. This is an important discussion to have with your agency (or potential agencies) so that you can identify any possible problems in advance.
Unfortunately, some PAPs have chosen to withhold information that later comes to light and results in their disqualification. It is critical that a PAP fully disclose all relevant information. Most challenges from a PAPs history are likely not a disqualifier for adoption, but withholding required information will result in a denial. It is always in the best interests of the PAP, and their potential future child, to allow their agency and caseworker the opportunity to speak into issues and the impact on their eligibility and suitability to adopt.
“For families embarking on their journey through the home study process, I would tell them that we, the social workers, are not coming into their lives to judge them, criticize them, or find fault. We are there as their partners to help and encourage them as they prepare to adopt a child or children.” – Bonnie, Social Work Team, Agape Adoptions
6. Can I speed up my adoption process?
Sometimes paperwork can be expedited, although much of that process is a hurry up and wait on local and state government offices. But if you’re asking the agency to skip parts of the process, or rush their work, you need to consider the cost of rushing such a vital part of the adoption process that is critical to the long-term success of your future family. As Elaine on our social work team says, “Ultimately, it is important to know that the goals of the home study process are to help educate you about adoption, answer your questions, address your concerns, and ultimately for you to self-identify your own strengths, as well as areas of growth.” All of that deserves time, attention, and thoughtfulness.
The best way to keep your process on track and moving along efficiently is to be diligent with your paperwork, stay organized, and maintain good communication with your agency.
As you move through the process, be willing to slow down to prepare your family as much as possible. Of course, you are excited and anxious to get to the next steps, but look at this as a sacred time. The home study process is a time to honor the complexities and responsibilities of parenting a child who has experienced trauma and significant loss by doing the hard work of equipping your family, and preparing your hearts and minds for upcoming changes, joys, and challenges. You will never regret putting in the time.
*Please note that home study requirements can vary by state and by the type of adoption – private domestic, foster care, intercountry.
Agape Adoptions has adoption programs in Bulgaria, China, Dominican Republic, and Romania. Agape can work with families from all US States.