An adopted family doing homework together

The Ultimate Guide to Adoption Home Study in Pennsylvania

Individuals, couples, and families who are ready to adopt often come to the decision after a great deal of thought and research.

One of the phrases that people find most intimidating during their research is “home study.” While the adoption home study process looks very daunting at first glance, it is truly the best way to get through the final phases of adoption preparation.

The home study helps prospective adoptive parents get organized, refine their own thoughts about parenting an adopted child, and learn about the resources available to them as they travel the adoption journey. While adoptive parents often begin their home study with some trepidation, they typically come out of it feeling a sense of accomplishment, ready to welcome a new child into their family.

The easiest way to reduce nervousness about your home study is to get a good understanding of it well in advance. In our Complete Guide to the Adoption Home Study Process, we’ll answer the most common questions about the home study process so that future adoptive families can get familiar with what to expect.

Table of Contents

What is an Adoption Home Study?

A home study is a screening process that reviews the home and lives of the prospective adoptive parents prior to the adoption.

The main purpose of a home study is to:

  1. Educate and prepare the prospective adoptive parent(s) for adoption.
  2. Evaluate the overall well-being of the prospective adoptive parent(s).
  3. Gather information about the prospective adoptive parent(s) that will help the caseworker connect the family with a child whose needs they can meet.

Specific home study requirements and processes vary greatly from agency to agency, as well as state to state.

Who Can Do a Home Study in Pennsylvania?

The people being evaluated during the home study are the prospective adoptive parent(s) and any other individuals over the age of 18 who reside in the same home. Pennsylvania allows for a specific set of individuals or agencies to perform home studies:

  • Adoption agencies
  • Public childcare agencies
  • Home study service providers
  • Licensed social workers as designated by a court

While there are general guidelines involved in every home study, each individual or agency will have their own procedures. It is important to decide how you will go about the adoption process before you start your home study.

What are the Steps in a Home Study?

Each agency may conduct a home study differently, but many of them follow a similar procedure. For example, the Haven Adoptions home study comprises of the following step-by-step process:

  1. Participate in a Home Study Information Session via conference call or Zoom. This is a no pressure meeting to ask questions and learn about how to complete all the home study tasks.
  2. If you decide to move forward with Haven Adoptions, you will complete our Intake Form.
  3. Receive a personal Dropbox folder which contains all required home study documents, including an itemized checklist.
  4. Complete each item on your Home Study Checklist.
  5. Schedule your home study visit.
  6. Upon a successful home visit, your Haven Adoptions Home Study Case Manager will draft your home study report.
  7. Home Study Approved! You will receive a signed copy of your home study report, and a report can be sent to other adoption agencies or attorneys upon your request.

Our goal is to help future adoptive families navigate the home study successfully, so it is important to ask questions along the way and maintain good communication with caseworkers.

How Do I Get My Home Ready for a Home Study Visit?

Prospective adoptive parents are often worried that if their home could not grace the cover of a decorating magazine, they will fail the home visit. This could not be further from the truth.

The purpose of the home study visit is to ensure that the environment is safe for children. Your housekeeping skills are not under review during the visit.

The best way to get your home ready for the home study visit is to do exactly what you will do to get your home ready for a new child.

  1. Put the house in order, but do not worry about minor clutter or evidence of daily living within the home.
  2. Ensure that all smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are working, have a first aid kit, and place a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
  3. Have a plan in mind for outdoor safety in the backyard (consider fencing, pool safety, and any naturally occurring hazards).
  4. Designate a room for the child. The nursery does not need to be set up at the time of your home visit but we need to ensure your home has space for your growing family.

Your caseworker will identify any changes they believe are necessary to enhance the safety of the home and explain why those changes are important.

How Long Does it Take for a Home Study to be Approved?

The entire home study process typically takes between 3 and 6 months. If all your documents are in order at the outset, the home study can move along seamlessly. Some items on the checklist may simply take more time to complete, which could delay the final approval.

The best way to get your home study approved in a timely manner is to be completely honest with your caseworker at all times, complete your tasks thoroughly, and stay organized. Schedule yourself to complete a few tasks for the home study every week, and you will be amazed at how quickly it all comes together.

What Fails a Home Study?

It is always disappointing to find that your home study has not been approved. These instances are not common, but they do happen.

Sometimes, the home study is not completely disapproved, but the prospective adoptive parents need to make some changes or wait a bit longer before full approval can be given. For example, if the family has a history of moving often, the caseworker may ask them to establish some permanency in one home before approving the home study.

The most common reasons a home study fails include:

  • Felony conviction for one of the prospective parents or an adult who lives in the home
  • Health issues that would prevent a prospective adoptive parent from providing the necessary level of care needed
  • Concerns that other adults living in the home pose a risk
  • Financial circumstances that fail to show the prospective parents can adequately provide for a child
  • Housing or home life that does not provide a safe or stable environment for a child
  • Dishonesty during the home study process

If you have concerns about any of these factors, talk to your caseworker before you begin the home study process. Your caseworker may have resources that will help you resolve some issues prior to beginning the process.

How Long is a Home Study Good for in PA?

In a private adoption, which occurs when the biological parents voluntarily place their child for adoption, a home study is good for three years with an annual update. Private adoption is most often associated with infant adoption.

While the home study is good for three years, your caseworker will check in to make sure your paperwork is up to date during that time and ensure your home continues to meet safety guidelines.

What Documents are Required for a Home Study?

The following documents are required for your home study. Some of these documents will be easy to produce, but others will involve several steps to obtain. Your caseworker can help you prioritize and organize the list so that you can get through it efficiently.

  1. Copies of both adoptive parents’ birth certificates
  2. Copies of your driver’s licenses and passports (if you were born outside of the US)
  3. A copy of your marriage certificate, if applicable
  4. A copy of any divorce decree, if applicable
  5. A copy of medical insurance card
  6. A completed Adoptive Parent Medical Form
  7. A completed Child Medical Form
  8. Verification of income
  9. A completed Financial Information Breakdown Form
  10. A copy of latest income tax return
  11. Savings verification
  12. Five reference letters from non-related individuals
  13. A completed Guardianship Form
  14. A completed Discipline Policy Form
  15. A copy of your pet’s vaccination report, if applicable
  16. Autobiographical statements
  17. Child abuse clearance (
  18. Pennsylvania state criminal history record (
  19. FBI Criminal History Report (
  20. Certificate for completing at least two hours of parenting and adoption education classes

Obviously, this is a lot of information and paperwork to gather. Making sure you have a caseworker you can trust through the process will make the home study go that much more smoothly!

What Forms are Required for a Home Study?

The checklist mentioned above is an overview of all the documents you will need for your home study. The following breakdown provides more detail about the forms and why they are important.

Adoptive Parent Medical Forms

  • Each prospective adoptive parent will need a physical exam that is always current within the year from a general physician or nurse practitioner and a statement from him or her confirming that the protective adoptive parent is physically and mentally able to care for a child.
  • If any member of the prospective adoptive family has a medical condition that is under control, they may still be approved.
  • A serious health problem, such as a communicable disease or one that affects normal life expectancy, may prevent approval.
  • Every adoption situation is unique, and Haven Adoptions encourages all prospective adoptive parent(s) to touch base with the caseworker regarding any issues or concerns.

Child Medical Form

  • Any child currently living in the home will have a medical form completed by the child’s pediatrician or nurse practitioner. The form must always be current within the year.

Income Statements

  • Income statements prove that the prospective adoptive parent(s) can manage finances responsibly and have the means to provide for a child.
  • Haven Adoptions asks that the prospective adoptive parent(s) verify their income by providing copies of pay stubs, W-2 forms, and/or income tax returns.
  • Haven Adoptions also asks for copies of saving statements, insurance policies, health coverage, investments, and debt.

Reference Letters

  • Five reference letters, always current within the year, are required from non-family members. Haven provides an outline for your references to follow.

Guardianship form

  • A guardianship form is to be completed by the person(s) who the prospective adoptive parents designate as a guardian for the adoptee.

Autobiographical Statements

  • One autobiographical statement is required from each prospective adoptive parent(s).
  • The purpose of the autobiography is to help the caseworker understand the family background, childhood experiences, education and work experience, relationships, and employment.
  • This will assist the caseworker who is writing the home study report to gain a full understanding of each prospective adoptive parent’s history.
  • Haven Adoptions understands that this process might be difficult, but the exercise is intended to provide information to the agency to understand what life experiences have shaped the prospective adoptive parent(s).

State, Federal, and Child Abuse Clearances

  • Clearances are required to be current within a year for each adult living in the home until the adoption is finalized.
  • All agencies, private and public, must follow the state and federal laws and policies regarding approval requirements and how the findings of background checks affect eligibility for prospective adoptive parent(s).
  • If there is a situation that the prospective adoptive parent(s) feel may disqualify them from adopting, this needs to be addressed with the caseworker before the home study.
  • Anyone who has lived outside of Pennsylvania in the last five years is required to have child abuse clearances from every state of residence during the last five years.

Home Visit and Interview

  • A case manager will visit the prospective adoptive parent(s)’ home to ensure that the home offers a safe environment for a child and meets Pennsylvania state licensing standards.
  • The prospective adoptive parent(s)’ home should be free from hazards and offer a child-friendly environment for the age range for which they are being approved.
  • The caseworker is not inspecting housekeeping skills, and while some family clutter is expected, a certain level of order is necessary.

Prospective Adoptive Parent Interview

  • The prospective adoptive parent(s) will meet with a case manager to develop the case manager/client relationship.
  • The prospective adoptive parent(s) will explore feelings around important decisions that need to be made during the adoption process, such as feelings towards adopting a child of a different race, adopting sibling groups, and having an open versus closed adoption with the biological parent(s).
  • This process should be both a self-reflective process and a time to educate the prospective adoptive parent(s) about topics with which they may not yet be familiar.

Parenting and Adoption Education Classes

  • Prospective adoptive parents must complete two hours of parenting and adoption education classes, on-line or in person. Most adoption agencies, such as Haven Adoptions, can provide class options.

How Can I Ask More Questions About the Home Study Process?

No single guide can answer every question prospective adoptive parents have. While we have completed hundreds of home studies, each situation can be unique. Our caseworkers are very knowledgeable and are happy to answer most questions. If we need some time to do more research on your question, we will certainly keep you updated.

If you would like to take your first steps in completing your home study for adoption, please contact us to get started.

  • Resources:

About the Author

Kelly Weidner is a co-founder of Haven Adoptions, Inc., and is a a well respected advocate in the adoption community. In that time, she has lead Haven Adoptions in connecting countless children with loving homes. Kelly is a member of the National Association for Professional Women, on the Executive Committee of the Our Lady of Mercy Board of Jurisdiction and lives in Ambler, PA with her three children.
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