What Is Involved In a Home Study?

In Illinois, as in many other states, the adoptive parents must be licensed as a foster family by the state in order to adopt. (The only exceptions are in related adoptions and in a non-related adoption when the birth parents transfer custody of the child directly to the adoptive parents. In that instance, the attorney may assume the primary role of gathering the required information and filing the necessary papers. However, post-placement investigations must still be done by a licensed child welfare agency.)

No matter how the child is located or where the child is born, if the adoption is to be finalized in Illinois, a licensed child welfare agency must be involved. In all adoptions in Illinois, the legal status of the adoptive parents is that of temporary custodians under an interim order until a final judgment of adoption is entered, usually six months after placement of the child with the adoptive parents.

During interim period, court-ordered investigations of the adoptive home are conducted and a report is generated for the court. In Illinois, the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) is the state's public child welfare agency. Private adoption agencies in Illinois are regulated and licensed by DCFS. Foster family home licenses are regulated by DCFS, though such licenses may be obtained either from DCFS or by a licensed adoption agency. The rest of this section will focus on agency and agency-assisted adoption.

The first step in obtaining a foster family home license is to have a home study evaluation done. Although this can be done by DCFS relatively inexpensively, there is often a very long waiting list and many couples choose to have their home study done by a private agency.

After making application to the agency and being accepted, the home study process begins. The adopting couple fills out a voluminous amount of paperwork about themselves, including information about their childhood, family of origin, education, work history, religious beliefs, relationship with their spouse, criminal convictions, health and psychological history, interests, hobbies and social activities. The adoptive couple will also be asked to provide a narrative about how they reached the decision to adopt, their hopes for the adoption process and their plans once they become parents. Several personal references are also required. References are asked to fill out a short questionnaire and also to provide a narrative of their opinion of the adoptive couple's potential as parents. The adoptive couple must also be fingerprinted and have a criminal background check done.

One thing that prospective adoptive parents can do ahead of time is to assemble the necessary documents that will be required by the agency. A minimal list of required documents includes:

  • Certified copies of birth certificates for each applicant
  • Certified copy of their marriage license, if the applicants are married
  • Divorce decree, if either applicant was previously divorced
  • Recent physical examination report and physician's statement of good health for each applicant
  • Copies of psychological evaluations of applicants, if applicable
  • Comprehensive list of all past employment for each applicant (your local Social Security office will provide this list for a nominal fee)
  • Income tax returns for the past two years
  • Past two years business income tax returns, if self-employed
  • Employer's letter confirming current position, current salary and length of present employment
  • 3 letters of recommendation from persons unrelated to the applicant(s)
  • 6 names and addresses of personal references, unrelated to the applicant(s), who can be contacted directly by the agency to give a reference
  • Records of any criminal convictions, if applicable

Once all of the paperwork is finished and reviewed, a social worker or home study worker will meet with the couple in their home 3-4 times or for one extended visit. During the home visit, the worker will review all of the material provided by the couple and ask for further elaboration. The worker will observe the physical surroundings and check for safety violations that must be corrected prior to issuance of the foster family home license. The worker will also observe the interaction of the couple, how they cooperate and will make an assessment of their abilities as parents. Finally, the home study worker will generate a report, which is combined with the information provided by the adoptive couple, to be sent to the state with a recommendation that a foster family home license be issued. The wait for the actual issuance of the license may be several months, however this does not prevent the couple from adopting in the interim. The license need only be in place prior to finalization of the adoption.

To those who haven't been through it, the home study sounds like and intrusive and scary process. Remember that the person of utmost concern in any adoption is the child. The safety and well being of the child take priority over everything else, which is as it should be. Many couples, though initially intimidated at the prospect of the home study, find that it stimulates discussion between them and helps them clarify their feelings, hopes and expectations about parenthood.