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The Basics of Adoption Practice
Series: Bulletins for Professionals|
Child Welfare Information Gateway |
|Year Published: 2006|
2. Family Assessment
Assessment of the family is one of the earliest steps in the adoption process for the worker and the family. Often, this process is called the "home study." It is a mutual process by which the worker and a prospective adoptive family determine the family's appropriateness and readiness for adoption. The assessment process is strengths-based, with the intent to screen in applicants. It often includes:
- The relationship-building between the family and the worker or agency
- The adoption education and development of families
- The exploration of values, expectations, and motivations
- The family self-assessment of strengths and limitations
- The preparation of the family for placement
- The agency's and worker's determination of the safety and well-being of the prospective family placement for the children (Rycus and Hughes, 1998)
Agencies use a variety of assessment tools and opportunities, including individual and family interviews; preservice training and other group sessions; written autobiographies; and collateral contacts through references, credit reports, physical and mental health evaluations, driving records, and criminal record checks. The assessment will vary depending on the jurisdiction and the type of adoption, but its components will be similar. Often, the final assessment or home study is shared with the family.
Prospective families should be assessed within their cultural context. Thus, adoption workers should strive to be culturally competent, so that they can relate to persons from diverse cultures in a sensitive, respectful, and productive way. To reduce the chance of misassessment, workers must consider different communication and interaction styles, nonverbal behaviors, differences in the use and meaning of specific words and phrases, family roles and relationships, and home environments.
What areas are assessed? Unlike home studies of the past (where the actual home was the focus), assessments consider personal and family characteristics that have been correlated with successful parenting of adopted children. Those include:
- The ability to provide safety and permanency for the child
- The motivation for and expectations of adoption
- The personal and emotional maturity
- The stability and quality of interpersonal relationships
- The resilience, coping skills, and history of stress management
- The ability to adapt
- Parenting skills and abilities
- The belief that adoptive parents have full rights and responsibilities to parent a child not born to them
- The ability to provide "hands-on" parenting
- The willingness to make a lifelong commitment
What are the outcomes of a family assessment? The final phase of the family assessment is to formalize the assessment's conclusions and plan next steps. Because the family assessment is a collaborative process, the formal approval should evolve as part of the discussions between the worker and family and will, in most cases, be mutually determined by the family and agency.
The possible outcomes from a family assessment include:
- The family is approved for adoption. This approval should include the age, sex, number, and type of child(ren) for which the prospective parent(s) is most suited. The family should be notified in writing and given information regarding their next steps. Families need to understand that receiving approval for adoption in general does not necessarily mean they are approved to adopt a specific child.
- The family is deferred. The family is not ready for adoption at this time. This decision may be made by either the family or the worker. It may be due to current circumstances (e.g., an unexpected pregnancy, health problem, or job change), unresolved issues from the past, or unclear or unrealistic expectations. If the worker makes the decision, the worker should provide the family with written documentation and offer concrete suggestions and referral sources to help rectify the situation. An open invitation may be left for the family to return to the agency when they are ready to move forward.
- The family is inappropriate to adopt. The worker has determined that the family is ineligible to adopt because they cannot provide a safe, stable, and nurturing environment for an adopted child. This may include such factors as a felony record, active substance abuse, chronic mental instability or pathology, sexual disorders, or a substantiated history of abusing or neglecting children. The worker should provide the family with written documentation of this decision, citing specific examples.
Deciding not to approve families is often difficult for most workers, so it is important to provide concrete, documented reasons why they are not being approved. These reasons should be linked directly to the parenting of an adopted child. Remember, denying or deferring a prospective family may prevent an adoption disruption or dissolution for a child in the future.
For resources on family assessment, go to the Information Gateway website section on Recruiting and retaining adoptive parents.
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