A homestudy is a formal process of assessment of prospective adoptive family (usually a couple) by a licensed practitioner, typically a social worker. A successful homestudy is usually the first step in being approved for adoption, whether that adoption will be domestic or international.
What is a homestudy?
The name 'homestudy' is a hold-over from a time when the social worker would consider the prospective adoptive family's home itself as a key part of the assessment. As of the time of this writing, at least one in-home visit is still required, but a 'white glove' inspection is no longer to be expected. The focus of the assessment process is the prospective adoptive family's emotional preparedness for adoption. A secondary focus on the prospective adoptive family's fiscal and employment stability. The social worker also educates the prospective adoptive family on the many aspects of adoption. These include the adoption process itself, what can be expected when adding an adopted child to the family, and what to expect as the child matures.
The social worker's assessment is only a part of the story - the prospective adoptive family must also do some self-assessment to be sure that they are ready for this serious life commitment.
Arranging a homestudy
In many jurisdictions the homestudy may be arranged and funded by a children's aid agency if the prospective adoptive family is considering adopting a child from the service. If the potential adoption will be a private domestic adoption, or an international adoption, then the prospective adoptive family is responsible for arranging the study with a licensed social worker (and for footing the bill). In Ontario, Canada, in 2007, prospective adoptive families can expect to pay CDN $2000 to $3000 for a completed homestudy.
Elements of a homestudy
A typical homestudy involves approximately 5 separate meetings with the social worker. Each meeting will cover different aspects of adoption. Fiscal readiness, emotional readiness, expectations, knowledge about parenting, and attitudes towards open adoption may be discussed. Lingering feelings of loss from infertility may be explored, if applicable. Couples will be assessed both together and individually. Paperwork required by the process may include both local and international police background checks, letters from banks and employers, personal references from friends and family, and comprehensive medical reports. Attendance of seminars on adoption may be required, as may be a list of adoption-related books and articles read by the prospective adoptive family.
Once all of the pieces are in place, the social worker will prepare a report outlining the prospective adoptive family's readiness for adoption and recommending them to the appropriate ministry or agency.
Undergoing the homestudy
A homestudy can be very intimidating for prospective adoptive families. (We'll switch to the less-formal "you" now, to keep this readable.) You will be required to discuss personal and intimate issues with the social worker, who is very likely a stranger. You are keenly aware that this person has to power to stop your dream with a negative recommendation. Yet the social worker is there to help you, not to thwart you, and to prepare you for the process.
The home study requires a significant time commitment. In addition to the actual meetings, your social worker may give you the questions for each meeting in advance, so that you can prepare your answers. There are also forms to fill out, including the financial and medical reports, which may require visits to various professionals. There is also study time: reading books, evaluating adoption agencies, and learning about different types of adoption.
After the homestudy
Different jurisdictions have different approaches to the completed homestudy. Ontario, Canada, requires you to choose an adoption agency before the end of the homestudy. If the agency agrees to consider you as a client, the social worker will pass the report to the agency. If the agency approves the report and accepts you as a client, the agency passes the homestudy to the Ministry of Children and Youth Services for approval. Once the Ministry's "Letter of Recommendation" is received, the agency will begin the immigration sponsorship application process, as well as looking for a match for you.
The process can be relatively quick (if adopting a special needs child from a children's aid society). It can be quite long if adopting internationally (from months to years depending on the country of choice). It can be arbitrarily long if waiting for private domestic adoption, where you need to be chosen by the birth mother from a pool of potential adoptive parents.
Most homestudies are only valid for a certain period of time, and need to be renewed periodically. Usually this requires only a brief update visit with the social worker, rather than a completely new homestudy, although medical and financial reports might need to be redone.
Prospective adoptive families in Ontario, Canada, can consult the Ministry of Children and Youth Services' Approved Private Adoption Practitioners web site for a list of licensed practitioners.