Once your home study is complete and you express an interest in a particular child, you will have an opportunity to talk in-depth with the child’s caseworkers and, possibly, others in the child’s life. Asking questions and listening carefully to the responses will help you better understand what it would be like to live with that child.

The questions you ask and the information you receive will depend to some degree on the child’s age. With an infant, the birth parents’ health history, particularly the birth mother’s prenatal history, will be most important. With an older child, you will be seeking more comprehensive information (including social, developmental, educational, and mental health histories). If the child has been in foster care, the questions you ask may be much more complex.

Keep the following questions in mind when listening to any child’s background information:

  • What would a child with this history believe about him/herself?
  • What would a child with this history believe about parents/caretakers/the world?
  • What types of behaviors should I expect from a child with this history?
  • What special skills, abilities, or resources might be necessary to parent this particular child (e.g., medical knowledge or skills, accessible housing, special cultural or parenting training)?

Questions Regarding the Child’s Medical and Family History

  • How complete is the social/medical history on the birth family, including extended family? What is missing? Is it possible to get more information?
  • What is the birth family’s racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious background?
  • What is the general physical description of the child’s birth parents, siblings, and other close relatives? Are there pictures? (Attempt to get pictures of a child’s birth parents and relatives whenever possible, because this will enable you to answer the questions frequently asked by adopted children: "What did my birth parents look like?" or "Who do I look like?")
  • Is there a family history of drug or alcohol abuse?
  • Is there a family history of mental illness or other genetic conditions, or predispositions to diseases such as diabetes or heart disease?
  • What was the age and cause of death of close relatives in the birth family?
  • What is known about the birth parents’ developmental history-physically, emotionally, cognitively, including language development?
  • What is known about the educational background of the birth parents and the child’s siblings?
  • What are the special skills, abilities, talents, or interests of birth parents and family members?
  • Are there letters, pictures, videotapes, and gifts from the birth family?
  • What was the birth mother’s health like during pregnancy, and what was the health of each parent at the time of the child’s birth?
  • What prenatal care did the child receive, and what was his or her condition at birth?
  • When did he or she achieve developmental milestones, and have there been any developmental assessments reflecting deviation from typical development?
  • Are there prior medical, dental, psychological, or psychiatric examinations and/or diagnoses for this child?
  • Are there records of any immunizations and/or health care received while the child was in out-of-home care?
  • What is the child’s current need for medical, dental, developmental, psychological, or psychiatric care?
  • What is the child’s HIV status?

Questions Regarding the Child’s Social and Placement History

  • Why did the birth parents make an adoption plan for the child, or why was the child removed from his or her birth family?
  • Did the child suffer any physical, sexual, or emotional abuse or neglect? At what point in the child’s life did he or she experience these traumas? How often? By whom?
  • How many placements did the child have, and where (e.g., relative placements, foster homes, orphanages, residential treatment facilities, hospitals)? What were the reasons for placements or re-placements? What does the child remember about his or her placements? What does the child believe about why he or she was placed or moved from one placement to another? (The child’s belief may or may not be accurate, but it is important to understand a child’s perception of his or her placement history.)
  • Where is the child currently enrolled and what is his or her performance at school?
  • What are the results of any educational testing and are there any special educational needs?
  • Are there significant events (early separations, multiple caretakers, abuse/neglect) in the child’s life that could affect his or her capacity to relate to a new family?
  • What are the past and existing relationships in the child’s life with people he or she has regularly lived with or visited (e.g., siblings, birth parents, foster parents, orphanage workers, teachers, therapists, nurses)? How has the child responded to visits with these persons in the past? Is future contact planned with any of these persons? How often? Who is responsible for seeing that it happens?
  • What are the child’s strengths?
  • What are the child’s special interests, talents, and/or hobbies?

You should seek assistance in interpreting this information by speaking with doctors, mental health professionals, education professionals, and parents who have adopted children with similar needs and issues.