Adoption Home Study: Tips for Success!

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“Your adoptive home study has been reviewed and approved.” I had to read that line in my email inbox three times before I believed it! Our home study is done and we are on the list for consideration as adoptive parents. Yay!

We are pursuing domestic adoption from foster care through the Department of Social Services in our home state of South Carolina (specifically Upstate Adoptions). Read more about our decision to adopt here.

It took almost 9 months from the time we submitted our initial application, and I feel triumphant that we did it in less than a year! Beginning in mid July 2021 and ending in April 2022 meant that we were still doing most things virtually and dealing with longer than usual wait times.

Overall, I feel like the whole process went very smoothly. There’s no manual for navigating the system and the details vary in every situation, but there are a few things that I believe will be helpful for you in your home study process.

Here are the things that helped our home study approval to stay on track and finish in good time.

1 – Set Up A Binder

My binder has three sections:

  • Information and to-do lists: Things I found online that were helpful or things I received from our adoption agency
  • Our paperwork: I printed out all the paperwork we had to complete, and carried it with me so that I could work on it whenever I had a minute. This is also where I kept a hard copy of any paperwork we submitted.
  • Training manuals and class notes: This section includes any notes I took during our pre-service training or paperwork that was provided for those classes

It helps to have all of this paperwork in one place. More than once, someone asked me to send them a form or report that we had already submitted. It was easy to locate what I needed and send it back quickly.

My favorite binder supplies:

  • Dollar Tree 1 Inch Binder (Dollar General also sells them for $2)
  • Dollar Tree Tabbed Dividers
  • Pilot Erasable Pens: a must-have for filling out all those essay-style questions!
  • 3 Hole Punch

2 – Save digital files and emails in one place

I created an “adoption” folder and a tag for my Gmail account. I used my email address for both of us (my husband and me) so that all adoption correspondence comes to one email address and is easy to locate.

All attachments from our case worker are downloaded and saved to the “Adoption” folder on my home computer.

We submitted all of our paperwork electronically instead of through the mail. I scanned all of our paperwork and renamed the files using our name (“Paul and Whitney Pendell Attachment 1,” etc.). This makes it easier for the case worker to keep up with.

Having all of our paperwork saved to my computer also made it easy to re-submit documents as needed. You may be reassigned to a different case worker (we were) and there’s a strong chance your file will end up with a few missing pieces in the transfer.

3 – Remember that you’re driving this train

It is your job to stay on top of things and to always be working toward the next step in the process. Don’t expect someone else to be organized and on top of things – be the one who is organized and on top of things.

I can only speak from my personal experience, but no one held our hand through this process. It might be different with a private adoption agency, but we are dealing with overworked, underpaid, overloaded DSS employees.

Keeping your paperwork and files organized will help with this, but here are a few other things you can do:

  • Email your case worker or contact person regularly (once a month, maybe even once a week as needed). This keeps your name and your emails closer to the top of their inbox. When I’m waiting on something, I set a reminder to check in every two weeks to politely ask for an update.
  • Copy your case worker’s supervisor on all emails. This is not to “tell on” your case worker, but simply to keep someone else in the loop in the event that your case worker is out of the office or unavailable for some reason.
  • Communicate clearly with your case worker/contact person. Sign all your emails with your full name.
  • Hold their feet to the fire. If you’re promised an inspection/meeting/interview by a certain date, check in until you get what you need.
  • Place your most important question at the top of the email, so they’re sure to see it when scrolling email on their phone. I found that I never got all my questions answered in one email, so I tried to only ask one per email.
  • Always ask your case worker “What is the next thing?” once you’ve completed a step. There’s always something you can do to get the next thing moving, even if it’s asking your case worker/contact how things are going with your case.

These might feel like selfish and annoying things to do – but you’re all working toward the same goal. Always speak with kindness and assume the best about your case workers (they have stressful jobs!). Give them grace but remember that your end goal is something that’s super important!

One more tip: I made treat bags (this spring snack mix) and dropped them off at the DSS office that handled our home study. I went in to the adoption office and met our adoption specialist in person. That seemed to make a difference – it put a face to our name and gave me a chance to serve her instead of always asking questions.

I am not an adoption expert, but I hope these tips will be helpful as you move through the home study process.

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