Congratulations on deciding to be a foster or foster to adopt family! It a very exciting journey you are beginning, but the reality of the overwhelming tasks you must accomplish may be setting in now. One of those tasks is preparing for your home study and you may be feeling a little overwhelmed and nervous!
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As many of you know, my wife and I grew our family through foster care and adoption. We fostered 32 kiddos and adopted three during our 10 years as foster parents and learned quite a lot during our journey. As president of the Summit County Foster Parent Association, it was my job to help new and prospective foster parents get through the beginning stages of this challenging journey. I coordinated with a friend, that is also a social worker and home study assessor for a local foster and adoption agency to create 6 tips to help you prepare for your foster and adoption home study. I also created a FREE PRINTABLE CHECKLIST to help get you prepared.
What is a home study?
If you want to be a foster or foster to adopt parent, one of the necessary steps is a home study. A home study is an assessment of prospective foster or adoptive parents, and the potential home, to see if they are suitable for adopting and caring for a child. This assessment is completed through a series of interviews in the prospective home and review of documents about the prospective family. Though it is quite simple and straight forward, the home study is often the most overwhelming and nerve-wracking part of the approval process.
TIP 1: Be prompt and timely with your paperwork!
Sometimes the paperwork is what holds up a home study from being written or approved quickly. There is so much paperwork necessary to complete, many family’s find that by writing out a plan or a paperwork checklist it can help you stay on track. I have included a basic checklist for you with space to add more. Be sure to check with your home study assessor to verify what documents you should prepare.
Here are a few things to consider when gathering you documents:
- Birth certificates and social security cards will be needed for each person residing in the home.
- Tax records from previous years may be required to document consistent income.
- Pay stubs or proof employment from current jobs may be required.
- Pet vaccination records should be up to date.
- Physical examinations for adults (possibly each person in the household.) These take time to schedule, so it’s best to get on the schedule as early as possible.
- You will need reference letters from people who have known you for several years.
The earlier you begin making appointments and phone calls to gather this documentation, the easier your home study process will be.
TIP 2: RELAX!
Make sure your home is clean, but not spotless. Homestudy assessors want to see what your home really looks like on a daily basis so they can assess how a child would be treated or function within your home. If an assessor enters a home and there is not a speck of dust or there is pristine white carpet/ furniture, they may immediately have concerns over how this family might function when an inevitably messy child enters the home.
Homestudy assessors are not coming out with white gloves checking to see how much dust is on your furniture or that every outlet is covered safely. They have standards which are set forth by the state which they have to uphold and verify to declare your home “safe and compliant.”
Discuss with your assessor what those standards are and what is expected of your home in terms of safety before you invest a lot of money in changing around the layout of your home or updating things.
TIP 3: Prepare the children in the home!
If you have biological or other permanent children in the home who are over the age of 3 or 4 (depending on the standards of your state- in Ohio it is 4 years old) there is a strong chance your home study assessor will be required to talk to your children regarding their feelings about being a foster/adoptive sibling. Many parents spend time talking and even rehearsing with their children what to say; I don’t recommend this. Allow your children to speak freely and honestly about their feelings.
Ultimately there is no right or wrong answer and each child is entitled to their own opinion – this will be a big change in their life too!
I see a lot of families who do a great job of preparing their children for what it will be like to be a foster sibling and have a new child come into the home, but not many discuss with their children the concept of reunification and what happens when that child goes home, which can result in sadness and grief for birth/permanent children in the home. Be sure to discuss all aspects of this process, in age-appropriate ways, with the children in your home.
TIP 4: Keep your priorities straight!
The bedroom you have selected in your home to be used for foster children does not need to be immaculately decorated for your homestudy to be approved. Almost always you must be prepared to have the bed(s) set up and ready along with a dresser or closet space. Decorations are optional.
Some families like to wait until they know what ages or genders their placements will be and other families like to have an inviting and welcoming space prepared before a child arrives, it is completely up to the family. Too often though, I see families who are more focused on decorating the bedroom and making sure they have the appropriate clothes, toys, etc. then on getting their training or paperwork complete or making sure they are really trauma-focused and skilled caregivers who are ready to take on the needs of these children.
There will be plenty of time to focus on decorating a bedroom, shopping for clothes, toys etc. when the child arrives (and depending on the age of the child it may be a bonding experience to shop for these items together!) before your first placement comes, focus on attending training, read parenting books or books about foster caregiving and discuss with your spouse or support network ways you may need supported as you encounter challenges. These will be the things you will not have time to do (or it will be challenging to find the time to do) after a child is placed in your home.
Click here to see my 5 Tips To Help You Prepare Bedrooms For Foster Placements
TIP 5: A home study takes time to complete!
Speak to your assessor (the person writing your homestudy) about how their process works and the anticipated timeline for your homestudy to be approved. Most states have a set amount of time that every agency must work within (in Ohio it is 6 months but you can have an extension beyond that if necessary). Also, just because you complete your home visits does not mean you will be approved within the next week.
Every situation is different, but typically once your assessor has completed all of your home visits and has all of your completed paperwork, they must begin writing the actual homestudy document. This process alone can take up to a month, maybe more depending on the intricacies of your case, how many other cases the assessor has, if paperwork is still outstanding, etc.
Once the assessor has finished writing the homestudy there is usually a review process that follows where 1 or 2 people may read the homestudy for corrections and review the file and all paperwork to ensure compliance with licensing standards. Then, and only then, can a homestudy be moved to the approval stage.
Many families get excited after their final home visit thinking that their approval must be imminent, that is not always the case. Discuss the timeline with your assessor and adjust your expectations knowing that regardless of how long it takes, eventually you will be approved!
TIP 6: Be yourself!
Going through a homestudy is such a unique and sometimes awkward experience because you have likely just met your assessor, a formerly complete stranger, and now they are asking you to share intimate details about your childhood, your marriage and your ability to parent a child. Anyone would feel intimidated by this and likely feel a natural reaction to withhold or censor certain information. I encourage you to try to get beyond that thinking and be as open, honest and forthcoming as possible.
A homestudy is supposed to be an accurate representation of you as an individual and of your family, home, community, etc. If you do not share relevant information then that representation becomes skewed and inaccurate which will not serve you well down the road as children enter your home, because what social workers think they know about you may not be correct. Assessors are not there to judge you!!! Trust me, they have seen it all!
Maybe you have been divorced, maybe you had a DUI in your past or were arrested as a teenager. Maybe you had a dysfunctional childhood or you were fired from a job, those situations are not going to disqualify you from being a foster parent. When an assessor is working with a family and they share painful or uncomfortable details from their past, it shows them most importantly, that they are so committed to becoming foster/adoptive caregivers they are willing to share this, which they assessor may have respect for. Also it tells them they have overcome many of these situations and walked away with valuable life lessons they can use to help children placed in their homes.
In addition an assessor may find that you possess a certain level of resiliency and the ability to move past difficult circumstances which is also an important skill for a foster/adoptive parent. So I encourage you to share as much as possible and do not worry that you are being judged.
Download this FREE PRINTABLE FOSTER CARE/ADOPTION HOME STUDY CHECKLSIT at the end of this post. please do not share, resell, or claim any of these files as your own. This list is not comprehensive. Requirements may vary from state to state and agency to agency. This list contains much of the basic documentation required and should provide a good start to the process.
Scroll to the bottom of the post to access this free Home Study PRINTABLE and more.
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FREE HOME STUDY CHECKLIST – PRINTABLE PDF
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