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- Home Study Information for Adopting Parents
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by Catherine Clayton, attorney, Spragins, Barnett & Cobb
What is a Home Study? A Home Study is an investigation of the adopting family regarding their appropriateness as adoptive parents. Typically, a Home Study includes documentation of the prospective parents’ mental and physical health; a financial investigation to determine whether the prospective parents are financially able to provide for an additional family member; a criminal records check; a reference check; completion of various forms required by State law regarding family history and lifestyles; preparation of a short autobiography of each prospective parent; home visits to determine that the home is safe, free from health risks, and has sufficient space for an additional family member; and interviews to determine the adoptive parents’ fitness to act as parents, the general stability of their marital relationship if married, their general psychological health and the absence of substance abuse or physical abuse in the home. Ideally, a Home Study helps to prepare the adoptive parents for the adoption process and the related stress of that process, as well as preparing them for parenting generally. The person conducting the Home Study may also provide emotional support for the adoptive parents during the adoption process.
The adoptive parents pay for the cost of the Home Study. The Home Study agency usually will also provide post-placement supervision of the child pending the finalization of the adoption and prepare the final court report, which is a written document filed immediately prior to finalization that gives full information on the suitability of the adoptive placement. The statute does not define what supervision is required but most agencies make at least two to three home visits plus occasional phone contact, to confirm that the child is receiving appropriate medical, physical and emotional care, that the placement is a good one, and that the family still desires to proceed with the adoption. Costs for the initial home study and the post-placement supervision and final report range roughly between $1500 and $2000.
The Home Study is summarized in a document called a “Court Report”, which is a written report usually less than ten (10) pages in length. The post-placement supervision is documented in a “Final Court Report”, which is a written document giving information about how the child is doing in the prospective adoptive parents’ home and reporting to the Court as to the suitability of the placement. This Final Court Report is designed to update the status of the adoption placement and the child immediately prior to finalization of the adoption, and should be the last report the Court receives before the adoption is finalized by an entry of a Final Order of Adoption.
When is a Home Study Required? A Home Study is an absolute, non-waivable requirement in almost every adoption. The only exception is a relative adoption with parental consent. Tennessee law requires that the Home Study either be filed with the Petition or shortly thereafter. When a Petition to Adopt is filed, the Court will issue an “Order of Reference” to the Agency that prepared the Home Study requiring that the Home Study be filed with the Court, and will also require that the Home Studying Agency provide supervision of the child pending the final adoption, and make a final report immediately prior to finalization of the adoption. The Home Study must be dated within six (6) months prior to the Order of Reference. If the Home Study is too old, an updated Home Study and Court Report must be obtained. If the original Home Study is over two (2) years old, you will probably be required to obtain a new Home Study instead of getting an updated Home Study. If no Home Study has been completed prior to the filing of the adoption then a preliminary Home Study may be conducted. The Tennessee law on preliminary Home Studies requires that there be at least two home visits and a finding of no apparent reason why the adoptive home is not suitable. A complete Home Study must be prepared and a report filed with the Court within sixty (60) days after the issuance of the Order of Reference.
How do we obtain a Home Study? The Home Study must be done by a licensed child placing agency authorized by the Department of Children’s Services (DCS) to conduct home studies. If the child has been placed with the adoptive family by DCS or if the adoptive family is indigent, DCS will conduct the Home Study. If the adoptive family is working with an adoption agency, then the agency will take care of the Home Study and the post-placement supervision. In an independent adoption, the adoptive parents are responsible for finding a licensed child placing agency to conduct the Home Study. Although some adoption agencies will do Home Studies for independent adoptions, many adoption agencies cannot perform this service because of their caseload. Licensed clinical social workers who have completed the DCS licensing procedure usually conduct the Home Studies in independent adoptions.
There are several independent child placing agencies in the West Tennessee area who offer home studies for independent adoptions. Please contact our office for an updated list of licensed child-placing agencies in our area.
Note: this document is for general information only and is not intended as legal advice. The information contained herein is believed to be accurate but contact information listed in this document may have changed since the document was prepared.