Social Studies are court ordered when Judges would like additional information about parents, their parenting styles, living conditions, employment and educational backgrounds and your relationship status. These studies are conducted by Social Workers who have experience and expertise with working with families and children. Custody evaluations are usually conducted in the home and involved completion of extensive questionnaires about your background, your children and others living in your home. During the process you will be asked to give the names and contact information of individuals who know you and your children. These individuals should be professionals including teachers, physicians, psychologist, therapist, child caregivers and others who know you and your children. Relatives may also be contacted to provide additional information. All of this information, along with the Social Workers evaluation and recommendations will be placed in a report that will be submitted to the judge. This information along with other information presented to the judge during the custody hearing will the basis for the court’s custody decision.
What is a Home Study?
A social study is both a process and a document. It is an evaluation of the circumstances and condition of the child and the home of the individual requesting possession or conservatorship. The process involves a social worker conducting a series of interviews with potential conservators, family members, references and third party collaterals. The social worker will evaluate all aspects of a prospective family’s life, including their health, social, family, employment background and disciplinary practices with their own children and children in the prospective home. This evaluation provides the court with a picture of the family, its dynamics, and the current abilities of the prospective conservators’ abilities to meet their children’s needs.
Why Have a Social Study Conducted?
The court may order the preparation of a home study on any person requesting conservatorship or possession of a child. This may be in the case of adoption, disputed custody in a divorce or request to change the custody arrangement of a child by an interested party. The Social Study, provided by the social worker is an augment to the legal and judicial process. When conducted in custody cases it can help families avoid a court battle, or if a trial cannot be avoided, it can provide the court with valuable insights into the family dynamics. Many evaluation reports contain a recommendation, to the court, outlining parental responsibilities for the children and a suggested parenting and custody arrangements. It may also contain suggestions for counseling or other family services to address issues identified in the evaluation. The evaluation can help facilitate a settlement between the parties. If an agreement is not reached and a trial is necessary, recommendations are made to the court to help determine the children’s best interests. This evaluator’s report is only one factor in the court’s decision. The report is considered along with the evidence presented by attorneys, other professionals, case law, and other legal and judicial factors involved in the case.
How is the Study Conducted?
The social worker will use the following tools to conduct the study:
- Interviews with children, parents, family members and others interested parties
- Questionnaires – provided to potential adoptive or separating parents.
- Home Visits – to observe living conditions and to determine appropriateness of the home.
- Collateral Interviews – references and other professionals involved with the family
- Document reviews – relevant documents related to the parents, children or other involved individuals.
When this process is completed, and all the information from interviews, questionnaires and other information are consolidated into a written report. This written document, the “social study”, is prepared by the evaluator and filed with the court.
The Social Study Report
The report is the actual document filed with the court containing the social workers finding and conclusions based on the study process. It contains a description of the parenting abilities, living conditions, and financial ability of the prospective conservator(s). This report will also contain information about the social history and background as well as the physical, mental and emotional capacities of the prospective conservator(s) and other household members. It will provide the court with a picture of the family functioning at the current point in time. The report will contain an assessment of the parents’ ability to meet the child’s needs and will include suggested custody and/or visitation arrangements when parents are separated.