Social Work Adoption Home Study Assessments
by
Thomas M. Crea
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 August 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0172

Introduction

In the United States, all families who wish to foster or adopt a child must undergo a home study assessment. This process is the avenue through which families are prepared, and approved, to provide a home to a child. The home study serves three purposes: (1) to educate and prepare prospective families for adoption, (2) to evaluate the fitness of the prospective family, and (3) to gather information that will help in connecting families to a child whose needs can be met by the family. While formats vary across jurisdictions, the home study process typically involves orientation, parent trainings, home visits by a social worker, individual and joint interviews of persons residing in the home, criminal background checks, medical background checks, statements of income and assets, contacts with references, and possibly an autobiographical statement. The social worker then uses this information to write a home study narrative, culminating in a recommendation to approve or deny the prospective applicants. Home study assessments have long been a part of adoption practice, but few empirical studies have been conducted regarding how effectively these assessments screen families in or out. This dearth of research has been especially pronounced over the past three decades, with recent studies examining interactions between social workers and families, as well as social workers’ perceptions of innovations in the home study process. A broader body of research explores family assessments beyond the context of adoption, the conclusions of which suggest that greater structure in the interview process and the use of multiple informants improve the validity of gathered information. Discrepancies in the structure and quality of home studies pose problems to the interjurisdictional placement of children, as well as to efforts to match appropriate families to children and children’s levels of need. To address these issues, many jurisdictions have implemented a uniform home study format. Research suggests that this uniform structure is well received by social workers, although some workers prefer inclusion of a family’s written autobiography as a central component of the home study.

Process

The structure and intensity of the home study process differ across jurisdictions, but the documentation involved tends to be similar. Geen, et al. 2004 found that information included in home studies typically included information about the applicants’ home, neighborhood, employment, family history (including discipline techniques and relationships with parents, siblings, and extended family), medical background, spousal and past relationships, children in the home, the type of children applicants are interested in adopting, and the worker’s recommendation for approval. The adoption standards published by the Child Welfare League of America also recommend additional information to be included, such as factors relating to applicants’ emotional maturity, capacity to parent effectively, readiness to adopt, and reasons for pursuing adoption (Child Welfare League of America 2000). Children’s Bureau 2010 suggests the following elements that could be included in the home study: (1) family background; (2) education and employment; (3) relationships; (4) daily life; (5) parenting; (6) neighborhood; (7) religion and belief system; (8) feelings about, and readiness for, adoption; and (9) worker’s approval or recommendation. Despite these recommended commonalities, the process, structure, and content of home studies tend to differ across jurisdictions. Allphin, et al. 2001 found that the average time taken to complete home studies in five California counties varied from fourteen to seventy-five hours. Freundlich, et al. 2004 found that variations in the content and structure of home studies slowed down interjurisdictional placements of children, as workers often question the quality of home studies sent from other states.

  • Allphin, S., B. Simmons, and R. P. Barth. 2001. Adoption of foster children: How much does it cost public agencies? Children and Youth Services Review 23.11: 865–891.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0190-7409(01)00164-5E-mail Citation »

    Examines how much time and money are expended to complete an adoption from foster care in five California counties. Hours completing home studies were contributors to overall hours spent completing adoptions.

  • Child Welfare League of America. 2000. CWLA standards of excellence for adoption services. Rev. ed. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

    E-mail Citation »

    The most recent version of adoption standards from CWLA, this document includes service standards for birth parents, children, adoptive applicants and parents, family selection, pre-placement, placement, post-placement, post-legalization, organization and administration of adoption services, and adoption services and the community.

  • Children’s Bureau. 2010. The adoption home study process. Washington, DC: US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families.

    E-mail Citation »

    Documents the purposes of studies, common elements, information typically included in the home study report, and common concerns voiced by prospective families about the home study process.

  • Freundlich, M., M. Heffernan, and J. Jacobs. 2004. Interjurisdictional placement of children in foster care. Child Welfare 83.1: 5–26.

    E-mail Citation »

    Analyzes the policy and practice implications of children’s interjurisdictional placement, related to adoption, foster care, and kinship care. Concludes with recommendations for adoption practice and policy.

  • Geen, R., K. Malm, and J. Katz. 2004. A study to inform the recruitment and retention of general applicant adoptive parents. Adoption Quarterly 7.4: 1–28.

    DOI: 10.1300/J145v07n04_01E-mail Citation »

    A study using multiple sources that documents interest in general foster care adoption, applicant characteristics, characteristics of children whom applicants wish to adopt, and factors that explain successful adoptions. This article does not focus exclusively on home studies but explores common home study experiences of applicants.

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