5 Tips to Prepare for a Foster Care or Adoption Home Study

foster family with two kids on a rug

Do you want to be a foster parent or learn more about the process? If so, one phrase you've likely heard is the foster care or adoption home study. If you're wondering what it entails, you're not alone. 

Preparing for your home study is just a process. It is a list of items that all foster homes will need so that a child in foster care can be placed in your home. All our children in foster care have a social worker, and all the children in foster care have had a history of child abuse and neglect; as such, we need to be careful about the foster and adoptive families.

Many aspiring foster parents are curious about home study and want to know how to prepare for it. The home study aims to learn more about a foster family and determine if you and your home will be a good fit for a foster child.

While that might seem daunting, it's not as scary as it sounds, especially if you go prepared.  We all want to help you be a foster family, so we are not trying to fail you. We want you to be successful in the journey, but we have an obligation to you, your family members, and the child that comes into your home.

These five tips to prepare for a foster care or adoption home study. 

1. Keep Up With Paperwork

There's a lot of paperwork involved in fostering, and it's crucial to stay on top of it all. Falling behind can cause disruptions in the process and cause the home study to get disrupted or approvals to be put on hold. The documentation stage is easily the most time-consuming process, so don't make it even longer.  Many agencies now, including us, have a child welfare information gateway to help you upload documents so your parent record.

Also, you'll want to pull out certain documents to verify the information you've provided. These include but may not be limited to: 

  • Birth certificates and social security cards for each resident in the home
  • Pay stubs or proof of employment
  • Tax records from the last few years
  • Proof of physical examinations for each adult (and possibly children)
  • Updated pet vaccination records (if applicable) 
  • Reference letters
  • Fingerprint cards for your background check (your CPA will provide this for you)

Having these documents easily accessible makes filling out all the paperwork and sending it in much easier, which will help to keep the process moving.  Being part of the home study process is exciting, and you will learn a lot about yourself and if you have a partner, a lot about them.

Use checklists to keep everything in order. We'll provide a list for you later in the article. 

2. Talk to Your Home Study Specialist  

A home study specialist ensures that your home is compliant and safe as outlined by state standards. They'll ensure the home is clean, sanitary, safe, and in a reasonable state of repair. They'll also look for any hazardous conditions and areas inside and outside. 

Please remember a specialist is your partner in this journey. They are not here to catch or trap you; they are here to help and guide you in the journey so the home visits will go well.

Talk to your Specialist about what's expected of you. You'll get a checklist with tasks you need to complete and steps you must take to prepare for a foster child. Since the process can be overwhelming for new parents, asking if you're ever unclear about something is best. 

We are used to helping new parents, and all questions are great. Most likely, this is your first home study, so it is normal and expected that you would enquire about the process.

There may be a part of the inspection you didn't expect or don't know how to prepare for, but you can always ask about what you can and cannot have around the home. Doing so can save you a lot of money, preventing you from making costly purchases that may not be necessary. 

3. Relax and Take a Deep Breath

Many aspiring foster parents consider the home study process one of the most stressful parts of the application. In some cases, they may worry or overthink matters.  Please don't do this; we understand you want to be successful, but we also want you to be successful. We are your team; we are not here to hurt you but to inspire you.

For instance, ensuring every corner of your house is sparkling clean and bright white isn't necessary. Yes, the home needs to be clean, but a specialist is there to see how you live daily. Kids are messy, and homes without a single spec of dust or item out of place aren't realistic for many people. 

Relax and take a deep breath. Ask what standards you're supposed to meet and how you can prepare.

The best way to think about a home inspection is to prepare the house the way you would when your most loved family visits. Homes that are too perfect and spotless can make a home study specialist nervous that you should be ready to receive a child. After all, kids won't leave it in that condition for long, and they must consider how the foster parents will react. 

4. Set up the Bedroom

Before the home study, you'll want to have the bedroom space for the child ready to go. Of course, you don't have to go crazy with decorations, especially since you won't know the age or gender of the child that will be in your care for some time. You do need to show that you have a bedroom space ready that's clean and versatile. 

There should also be an area for clothes in the room. Make sure the closet is clean and has space for clothes inside or that there's a dresser. 

Have the bed ready and prepared for the inspection. Decorations are optional, and you might want to consider holding off and shopping for decorations with your foster child when they arrive. It's a great bonding activity! 

5. Prepare Your Family

The home study is a long and involved process. It's important to keep everyone in the family updated on what to expect. From when a future foster parent applies to when you receive your license will average 120 days. The home study process will take about 35 days, including three visits to your home.

So the quicker the specialist can get in your home and meet in person, the more flexibility you or your family have to meet with the specialist will speed up or slow down this time.

There's a strong chance that the home study specialist will talk with your children during the interview if age-appropriate. This will significantly change their life, and their voice matters.  We look after all the family and want to make sure the mental health conditions in the home are stable and healthy for you and a foster child coming to your home.

Allow your kids to be upfront about their feelings and concerns with you and the interviewer. Everyone in the home must be ready to welcome and love the new foster child!  Change is always hard, but if your children are educated and part of the process in time, they will see it as an amazing gift, they have given to a child in need and, when older, very likely will become a foster parents as you inspired them.

Home Study Checklist – What Every Parent Needs to Prepare

You'll receive a checklist and to-do tasks when you apply to become a foster or adoptive parent. However, this checklist will let you know what you can expect in the future. 

  • Ensure the home is adequately lighted, heated, and ventilated
  • Safely store all household cleaning chemicals and dangerous chemicals or materials 
  • Lock up all firearms and projectile weapons and store them in an inoperative condition
  • Keep ammunition and projectiles for weapons in a separate, locked area
  • Ensure access to a working telephone 
  • Test smoke detectors
  • Post emergency telephone numbers
  • Ensure the home has a working bathroom and toilet facilities
  • The house has a working smoke detector on each level
  • The home has a written evacuation plan
  • Escape routes are free of obstacles
  • Well water is tested and approved (if applicable)
  • Hazardous outdoor areas are reasonably safeguarded (such as pools) 
  • The home is clean, safe, sanitary, and reasonably repaired
  • Stairways accessible to children have safety gates (depending on the child's age)
  • The foster child's bedroom contains no more than four children 
  • Bedrooms have access to the emergency exit
  • All vehicles used to transport the child have liability coverage
  • Booster seats are available (if applicable) 

Documents to have on hand for the home study and adoption process include: 

  • Driver's license or ID
  • Birth certificates
  • Social Security cards
  • Proof of income
  • Tax records
  • Pet vaccination records
  • Marriage license (if applicable)
  • References

Background checks for foster parents

Background checks are a big part of the protection the Virginia Department of Social Services put in place. Your Child Placing Agency will request from the state police a local criminal background by way of fingerprints. These will also be submitted to the FBI to review national records.

If you have moved in from another state in the last five years, we will have to complete a state police check in that state as well. If you have moved around a lot, let us know as quickly as possible, as every state is different in the time it takes to get back a cleared check.

So if you have lived in two states, we will want to request these early, so we do not delay the process. Virginia takes about 30 days to get a check back. On average, your prior home may take much longer.

5 Tips to Prepare for a Foster Care or Adoption Home Study

We hope these five tips to prepare for a foster care or adoption home study have let you know more about what to expect from the process. The most important thing to remember is that this assessment ensures that your home and family make a good fit for a foster child. As such, it's critical to be realistic, open, and honest. 

Thank you for allowing us to help you understand the process, and please remember that these tips will work just as well for adoption home tips.

The foster or adoption home study process doesn't have to be daunting! Learn more about what to expect and how you can prepare to be a parent today. 

Fill out our web form