The concept of conducting a home study prior to adoption in the United States dates back to the turn of the 20th century when orphans were placed on trains that took them out of the industrialized city and into rural areas of the country where they would be cared for by foster families who ensured that children escaped living in dirty, impoverished conditions. “Child-carers” or, what we refer to today as caseworkers, were responsible not only for ensuring that the families taking in children were equipped with money, food and space for a child but also that they were kind and loving people that would benefit a child otherwise destined to live on the streets of America’s overpopulated cities.
In the 1950’s the government established “minimal standards” for homes taking in children and for these home studies to begin being conducted regularly, as enforcement of home study regulations had been lax, if at all existent prior to this.
The guidelines set forth to determine if a home was suitable for a child have stayed largely the same over the last 60 or so years. Social workers are instructed to observe whether the house was kept clean, safe, and had water, heating and other essentials. In more recent years, laws have been put in place to ensure that those conducting home studies are qualified and that the studies themselves do not show bias to a certain socioeconomic background.
What to Expect
Foster parents have expressed that home studies are intrusive, uncomfortable, and unnecessary, simply because people who choose to reproduce conventionally, are not subject to investigation before choosing to bring a biological child into the home. Many foster parents have felt, “what they had learned about the qualities social workers preferred, implying that the entire procedure was nothing but a hypocritical game in which theatrical skill and the “right answers” mattered more than good intentions or truth.” which without a doubt is sometimes the case. The bottom line is that home studies are designed to ensure that a child will be adequately provided for, loved, and find a true sense of belonging despite not being blood related to their caretakers. Choosing the right private social worker to conduct your home study is essential as it will be a team effort in conducting and having your home study approved. Private licensed home study workers are able to complete home studies quickly as they are hired by you to do a timely and thorough study.
The object of home studies today is supposed to be to proactively find homes that ARE suitable for foster children, rather than to pick apart what isn’t adequate and all that is wrong. It is simply one of the bases that must be covered in order to foster and potentially adopt a child that is in the custody of the state. In the state of Florida, because foster care is privatized statewide, more often than not the person conducting a home study is hired privately or independent of the Department of children and families, sometimes by the perspective foster parents and sometimes assigned by the court.
Professionals who conduct home studies are trained to ask certain questions and identify red flags, if any, in order to have a clear idea of the home they are recommending for a child. Thanks to the laws and regulations of today, the state is required to investigate each foster home in order to prevent legal liability for further traumatizing a foster child and denying them the ability to adjust into a safe and loving home. There are two reasons a home study is required in Florida by law: If a child is to be placed with a family member or a non family member. An immediate family member does not require a foster license but any other party applying to foster or adopt must be licensed to foster. Each party applying for a home study is required to submit to a background check and submit their fingerprints on record. In Florida, first priority for a home study is given to those giving shelter to a child that has been in DCF shelter or foster care for a substantial amount of time (court order Priority 7 law), in the interest of “permanency”. Permanency is the requirement of DCF and the Florida State government to use any legal means necessary to find a child a permanent home. The average length of time to have a home study completed is about 60 days but the Department cannot approve a home study until all requirements are met.
In 2016, the family in a home study can expect:
- They will not have to have a specific living area for the child ready, nor will the house have to be baby proof
- The house does not have to be immaculate, just well neat and safe
- The social worker will have to observe that there is a bedroom in the house available
- The house does have to be safe from potential drowning (pools) and fire hazards
- You do have to have an awareness of what does have to happen should your house require baby proofing at some point
- The house must have carbon monoxide detectors and meet fire safety standards
- Your pets must be friendly and vaccinated
- All medications, chemicals and alcohol must be kept away from where a child can obtain them
How to Prepare
- Make sure your house meets the above requirements
- Make sure all the appropriate documents and paperwork have been filled out, submitted and are readily available during home study
- Make sure fingerprints and background check have been submitted and approved
- Make sure that the parents of perspective foster parents have had their parental rights terminated either temporarily or permanently in order for the foster or foster-to-adopt to be considered legal in the state of Florida
- Consider why you want to adopt and what your parenting values are
- Schedule a home study through a reputable agency that meets your state’s requirements (vetted, trusted, highly qualified) or one assigned by the court
- Know that the interview process is not designed to fool you or catch you off guard
- Prepare yourself to describe any questions regarding your social history
- Know that your socioeconomic background, race, sexual orientation, or any of the biases of the past should not affect your ability to become a foster parent (and if this does affect your standing you are within your rights to report this unethical practice)
- Know that your home study is valid in the state of Florida for one year and must be redone after it expires