Surviving the Dreaded Adoption Homestudy

Dawn Davenport


Surviving the Dreaded Adoption Homestudy

Surviving the Dreaded Adoption Homestudy

I was talking with a woman last week that had just finished her third failed IVF cycle.  She and her husband were gathering information on other options for parenthood.  As we talked about other infertility treatment and adoption options, she said that she would prefer to adopt, but she hated the thought of the home study.  “I just can’t stand the idea of someone coming into my house and judging me and deciding whether I’m worthy to be a parent.  Haven’t I gone through enough already to prove that I deserve to be a parent.”  Boy, do I get it.

If anyone should have approached the home study with confidence, it should have been me.  After all, I thought of myself as a successful parent, despite certain evidence to the contrary.  The interviews at the social worker’s office were a breeze, almost enjoyable, but as the time for the first home visit approached, anxiety began to creep in.  I cleaned and organized in a frenzy that would put Martha Stewart to shame.  For some reason, on the morning of her visit, I bleach the kitchen countertops to kill all germs.  I’m not sure why I thought it was important to have a germ-free countertop since we are big advocates of the 5 second rule– if food drops on the floor you can still eat it if you pick it up within 5 seconds counted as slow as necessary to retrieve the food.

You may be smirking, but I know I’m not alone.  In fact, compared to my friend, I was fairly sane.  The day before her home visit she cleaned the house spotless only to decide that it looked too clean to be child friendly.  After selectively messing it up to a degree that showed flexibility but not filth, she was still not pleased with the overall effect.  She decided that a bulletin board on the kitchen wall would solve the problem.  That night her husband tactfully pointed out that the blank board looked ridiculous.  She stuck up the usual organizational junk of daily life, but then decided this made them look too busy and further detracted from the kid-friendly ambiance she was seeking.  In a moment of either desperation or brilliance, or both, she drove to her sister’s house, awakened her niece and nephew, and made them draw pictures for her to stick on the board.  Compared to that, bleaching the countertops was nothing.

I now know that the dreaded homestudy is truly designed to educate prospective adoptive parents about adoption, help them decide on the type of child they can best parent (age, special need, race, etc), and evaluate their ability to parent an adopted child.  It’s that last part—evaluate—that makes most of us nervous.  Our home is a safe haven, and we feel vulnerable to the possibility of it being judged as lacking.  While no one likes the idea of being judged, the home study process seldom warrants the worry it generates.

Home studies must meet the requirements of your state, the requirements of the child’s state if adopting domestically from another state, and the requirements of the foreign government and the US Citizenship and Immigration Service if adopting internationally.  Some adoption agencies also have home study requirements.  I realize that just listing all the different regulatory bodies has probably scared you spitless, but don’t panic.

The state requirements are usually focused more on the actual safety of the home environment, such as the presence of smoke alarms, fire extinguishers, and basic child proofing.  Some states have requirements on bedroom size and well water testing.  Ask you social worker ahead of time for a list of these requirements.  The foreign and federal government requirements, and most agency requirements, are more focused on preparing and educating you about adoption.

Most home studies involve three to five interviews with the social worker.  Agencies differ, but most will schedule a few interviews in their office and one interview in your home.  If you are married, the social worker will usually interview you and your spouse jointly and individually.  In the best of all worlds, the interviews are a give and take of information.

I have talked to people who approach the home study like they would cross examination at trial: the less said the better.  Undoubtedly it is possible to outsmart your social worker or to even lie and not get caught, but it likely isn’t necessary and it prevents the social worker from fully educating you and helping you decide what type of child you are best prepared to parent.  And remember, if you are caught in a lie, it may very well prevent you from adopting.  If you have any questions about how something in your background will be viewed, ask your adoption agency before the home study.  If your home study agency is different from your placing adoption agency, make sure you ask both.

Adoption agencies want you to succeed in adopting.  Although they want to exclude obvious nut cases or child abusers, it is not their intent to stand like a sentry at the gates of parenthood judging the worthy.  There are no perfect parents.  (Although I know a few who think they are, this smugness generally doesn’t last past the diaper stage.)

To prepare for our home visit I found it helpful to practice a visualization technique I developed.  Rather than visualize calm soothing images as recommended by those with years of training, I visualized my social worker over sleeping, yelling at her kids as she ran out the door, leaving chaos in her wake.  By comparison to that image, I figured my house would be a calm oasis, a virtual respite in the storm.  Never underestimate the power of delusional thinking.

If you have survived the dreaded home study, please post a comment on whether is was as bad as you thought it would be.

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Image credit: adesigna

16/02/2010 | by Dawn Davenport | Categories: Adoption, Adoption Blog, Blog | 46 Comments

46 Responses to Surviving the Dreaded Adoption Homestudy

  1. Avatar Caroline Byrne says:

    This is good advice assuming you are working with a competent social worker but I would advise that the less you tell the social worker the better. Unfortunately for us we met a flaky social worker who mislaid her notes, often arrived late and asked irrelevant questions. However I was emotionally honest with her about my experiences, but she never liked me and wrote in the homestudy that she thought ‘i suffered from stress from infertility over and above the norm’
    Sadly for us this comment proved to be enough to stop us bringing home a child we had met and bonded with in Russia and spent 20k trying to adopt. The Russian court decided against letting us adopt due to this statement.
    When I first saw this comment in our homestudy I begged the Head social worker to take it out, but it had already gone to panel (prior to us seeing it!) and they didn’t see it as a problem. I said I didn’t think it was a fair comment and that it wasn’t backed up with any evidence, I was told I was being paranoid and fretting unnecessarily.
    This incompetent and malicious social worker destroyed our chances of international adoption and five years later we do not have the financial savings to try to adopt again. It is extremely difficult to adopt in our own country and after years of infertility and being messed around by the Irish adoption authorities over a two year period we are now to old to adopt anyway. BE VERY CAREFUL about what you say to a social worker, they are not all competent or honourable.

  2. Avatar dimple says:

    We have our Home Study interview next Tues (so in 6 days) – my question is that since they’ll be over for 2-6 hours (estimate provided by our SW), do we plan for lunch or dinner?? What do most people do? Somehow orchestrate cooking a meal during the interview (I’m no whiz in the kitchen), or have you ordered in? Is ordering in seem like a bad precedent to set right off the bat? What type of snacks did you have handy or laid out? I’ve already started the cleaning/organizing part, which is much less stressful than the thought of figuring out what to do w/ the meal! Any help is so very appreciated =)

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      dimple, is the visit scheduled over lunch or dinner? Usually they are not. However, if the timing is such that you are worried that it will coincide with a meal, ask the social worker if she plans to be there for the meal. For example, if the visit is scheduled to begin at 10:00 am and you were told that it would last 2-6 hours, I would call or send an email and ask should you plan on lunch. It could be that she will take a break and go grab something to eat then come back. Or maybe she will say that it would be great if you could eat while doing the homestudy. If she says that, then ask her what type of sandwich she likes and have the making for that sandwich. Most often meal preparation is not a part of the homestudy. And don’t worry, you will not be judged as lacking if you are not a whiz in the kitchen.

  3. Avatar Mollie says:

    Thank you so much for all of your wonderful stories. Makes me feel so much better about my home study tomorrow… I am supposed to get a child aged 0-5 so I bought a toddler/crib and it had no instructions on how to put it together… my husband and I ended up putting it together backwards.. thankfully, my sister came over late tonight to help us fix it. what a nightmare.. Thank you everyone for giving me faith.

  4. Avatar Dana says:

    Our home study is tomorrow and I came down with a tummy bug early this morning!! It’s one way to not worry so much!! ?

  5. Avatar trish says:

    I’m having my first home inspection and honestly I’m terrified and a nervous wreck. O want this to go great and have everything ready. Any pointers from anyone in Florida

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Trish, as far as the home “inspection” part, they should have sent you a list of things they want to see in your house (smoke detectors, fire extinguishers, etc.) ahead of time. If not, they will usually give you time afterwards to get these things before the next visit.

  6. Avatar Ashley says:

    We are in the process of taking classes through the state foster system to eventually adopt, and we will have to go through a homestudy as well. We aren’t too worried about the cleanliness of our house (though I’m sure I will still freak out) but I am worried about one of our dogs. We have 3 golden retrievers and they are all perfect loves. The dad is 10, the mom is 2, and their puppy is 3 months. But to be honest we aren’t worried about the puppy, we are worried about the mom. She is a wonderful dog, very loving and extremely good with kids and babies, but she gets super excited when she first meets someone or they walk through the door. We have talked about just having the two boys here when they walk through the house, but I don’t want to worry about lying and then getting caught. But if we keep her here I’m afraid they will see the excited mom and worry about her temperament with a baby. What should we do???

    • Dawn Davenport Dawn Davenport says:

      Ashley, you are not alone in your worries about how your dogs will affect the home study process. I would explain this ahead of time to the social worker. Have you had experience with her around kids and babies? If so, I would share those experiences. Explain that she gets excited when people come to the house. Can you put her in a back room during the visit, and then bring her out to meet the social worker? How does she react to being brought into the room when someone is already there?

      Also, this is a great question for our Creating a Family Facebook Support group ( You’ll need to join the group, if you aren’t already a member. It is a closed group, so no one other than group members can see the posts. If you’d rather remain anonymous, let me know and I’ll post it for you.

      If you aren’t already on our weekly email newsletter list, please sign up. [ ] It is one of the best ways to stay current on what is happening in the world of adoption. I am so glad you reached out to us.

  7. Avatar FaithFilledMom says:

    Your post brings back so many memories! I so remember our first home study and how nervous I was. I felt like everything had to be perfect even though in my head I knew she was not going to be looking in every corner to find something I missed. It is a normal reaction but you really should not stress out over it even though we all do!

  8. Avatar Dawn says:

    Honestly, I didn’t think it’d be bad because we’d met our social worker and liked her quite a bit (still do!) and so I was looking forward to it since it meant STARTING the process! I was nervous about the house being clean enough but she barely glanced around — the fire inspection was much more nerve wracking and as it happens, we didn’t pass that one and had to move some smoke alarms that were in the wrong place. But even that was fine because it’s good to know your smoke alarms are set up properly!

  9. Avatar laura says:

    We are having our home visit day after tomorrow! I was in such a panic mode until I read this and everyone’s comments. Helped me calm down so much. I went from being on my hands and knees cleaning base boards around the house to realizing that it’s most important our home is safe and that we come across as genuine and real.

    Please please please check out my blog!

  10. Avatar Laura says:

    Thank you so much for this sweet relief! We are in the process of adopting in uganda. Our home study is this Wednesday (today is Monday) and I have officially woken up with a knot in my stomach. I have spent the last 2 weeks massively organizing and crafting (too much crafting) to have a ‘homey’ feeling home. I loved the story of the burnt cookies! Thank you for all of your encouraging stories!

  11. Avatar Keli says:

    I am so glad I came across this and everyone’s comments. Our Home Study is in 3 days. I admit I have cleaned over and over, making sure my husband walks in his socks lol. I am super nervous and the cleaning has actually helped me but I’m rethinking all the plug in’s in the house. It will probably give the SW a headache!

  12. Avatar Melissa Siebenthal says:

    We’re adopting from Russia and all the paperwork we had to complete was the hardest part of the home study and even that wasn’t hard, just time consuming. Our home study social worker was great, and really put us at ease. The home study agency screened us fairly well before we even went forward with the home study process, so we knew we would be approved to adopt. Now, we are waiting for our official referral from Russia. The waiting is much worse than the home study!

  13. Avatar Christina T. says:

    When we went through our first homestudy, I was a WRECK! I expected perfection from myself and just KNEW that the SW would accept nothing less.

    Five years down the road and 5 children later, I am sooooooo much more relaxed!! I prepare as if for a friend coming for dinner and that’s it. So much more relaxing now!

  14. Avatar Lucy says:

    Surviving the Dreaded Adoption Homestudy is very important and interesting. I am looking for this over the internet. Thank you very much for sharing this.

  15. Avatar Smith D. says:

    Great topic about Surviving the Dreaded Adoption Homestudy. I was looking for something on this. Thanks for posting this useful information. I’ll check out the show you did on this too. Thanks.

  16. Avatar F. Butler says:

    Your timing couldn’t have been better with this post. We are reaching the big decision making point on this IF path and need all the information we can get about our options. I’ve become addicted to the show and this site. Hope this next cycle works so we don’t have to make any decision, but I love being prepared in case we do.

  17. Avatar M. Wallis says:

    I have loved almost every one of your shows and blogs, especially this one. We are still totally committed to IF treatement, but I love listening to the shows and reading the blogs about adoption. The more I see adoption as a real option, the less stressed I am about fertility treatment. I didn’t even realize how much I hated the thought of being evaluated and judged in the home study until I started reading this. I laughed at you (sorry) and at the comments. I feel better. I still hope to get pregnant, but if not, we’re definitely planning to adopt.

  18. Avatar Anna Marie says:

    I understand how the woman you were talking to feels. I am truly dreading the homestudy if we decide to adopt. I have found your blog and especially the comment to be very reassuring. Adoption seems so scary. I’m going to download a bunch of your radio shows on my iPod today. Thank you so much.

  19. Avatar Geochick says:

    Luckily I had a friend who had gone through a homestudy before us. The interviews were emotionally draining and the home inspection was the easiest part. I cleaned and I stressed over whether to serve snacks but as I was rushing home to meet our SW, I threw it all out the window, called DH and told him to light some candles to make the place smell nice. I walked in the door and was assailed by a wall of cinnamon/bayberry. No time to air it out before our SW showed up. I could barely stand it, I don’t know how she did!

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Geochick: How funny! I can’t stand incense or strong candle smells. They give me a headache. You have to admit, though, your DH can sure follow directions.

  20. Avatar chrissy says:

    for me the homestudy was not bad at all, the harder part i think for me was the postplacement visits, i really wanted them to know I was doing a gret job and yet i was so sleepy and plain exhausted , it was difficult

  21. Avatar Rebecca says:

    Great post, I finished my homestudy this last summer and am still awaiting my little one. I think your visualization is great. My SW called that she was going to be half an hour late since her daughter hadn’t been picked up on time. Her phone rang several times during the interview as her husband didn’t know where their daughter was and she lost her keys in my house. So it’s always good to remember that SW are imperfect people too.

  22. Avatar Jen says:

    Great topic! Although I was totally stressed out for the home visits for each of our children, the fact that we knew we were using an agency that we picked and felt comfortable with and absolutely LOVED our SW made it a bit better. The Gang’s Momma – I so relate. Our house is in a constant state of renovation and was during our first home visit. After she toured the house and we discussed our discipline styles, she and my husband discussed tools, basement projects, etc., because it turned out she liked woodworking, renovating, etc., almost as much as my husband! Who knew? Our SW liked work gloves much more than white gloves! We really had found the perfect agency for us – I’m so glad we spent so much time finding the right agency.

  23. Avatar Christy says:

    Our homestudy starts next week. The interviews I’m not too nervous about but coming into our home and “interviewing” our kids makes me a bit nervous. You never know what might come out of a 3 or 6 year old’s mouth and my house is only ever so clean. I will definitely pick up but my kids live here so hopefully she’ll understand (I do know that she’s a Mom so I’ll consider Dawn’s technique!).

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      Christy, so long as it is not filthy, you’re fine. I too was concerned about her talking with my kids. Most SWs are very capable of understanding where to go with young kids and how to take what is said with a large grain of salt. They also understand the natural hesitancy of many kids to share their parents and don’t make decisions based on that.

  24. Avatar Geri says:

    I think the main thing that the SW is looking for is home safety. Now. But before we brought our first son home in 2000, I re-cleaned our clean house before our SW came for our home visit. I didn’t clean our then tidy basement. I didn’t do any baking before her arrival. But I cleaned all of the woodwork in our home, just in case she wanted to give us the white-glove treatment. Our oven was spotless, just in case she wanted to look. Our washer and dryer were clean. It’s funny how you can drive yourself crazy. Before our second adoption, our house was still clean, but a little less tidy, and definitely more lived in. We were still approved.

  25. Avatar Cathy G. says:

    I think another thing to remember is that it will be to your benefit if the social worker sees you as someone who has a realistic idea of what parenting a young child really looks and feels like – the “perfect”, Martha Stewart bedroom or playroom is only going to look like that BEFORE the child comes home, and I would not want to be seen as a parent who has OCD and doesn’t ever want a crumb on the floor or a toy out of place, or has very unrealistic expectations for all the untidiness that comes with having kids. A house that does not look “lived in” is kind of creepy and intimidating, even though I admit loving it when my house is actually clean and tidy!!
    Cathy G.
    (home study 2003, adopted my daughter in 2004, now a happy healthy and rather messy 6-year-old)

  26. Avatar Isabel says:

    Oh my, what memories you have brought up for me today! I cleaned like a mad-woman on a mission! I went as far as cleaning the baseboards in our basement that we used for storage, i ‘tested’ our fire detectors by climbing on our ladder holding a match under them to see if they “worked”, i also baked bread in our home the day before and the day of so it would have that “home-baked smell”. I won’t go into how i re-did our file cabinets, you know, just in case she would want to see our electric bill from 2006. 😉

    And no, our SW didn’t look at the basement baseboards. She actually wanted to sit with us, and talk and get to know us better. A pleasant surprise for me…our SW has since become a source of information since we’ve been home and someone we now send our “cute-update” letters to as we do the rest to our family.

  27. Avatar Lee says:

    Great topic. Wish someone had done this years ago. I had heard soooo many nightmare stories about the HS process over the years. About the SW being able to go through your draws, mail, checking the entire house attic to basement. Interviewing everyone who had ever crossed paths with you since birth. Digging into medical , school and private files of all types. lol. Even though we really didn’t have anything to hide it made us so uneasy to where we kept putting the process off for years. I was also told by an agency that they expected to see a fully decorated child’s bedroom .. complete with clothing / toys/ books and so on.
    When we finally did have our “WONDERFUL” SW come to our home she found a perfectly decorated, showroom shine clean home. With yes perfectly stocked and organized sock and underwear Yes we did clean out our attic and basement which she never asked to And I practically begged her to check our daughter’s room as I had already upgraded the decor 3X by then. Seriously 3 completely different looks. A double closet stuffed with new clothing and American Girl and My twinn dolls sets in all the possible color variations for her country. I was a woman obessed with perfection when it came to our HS. Looking back I’m glad I did what I did but a little less stress would have made the process so much more enjoyable. Bottom line is.. Choose a SW that truely enjoys what she/ he does which is helping to unit families. If you find someone like our SW she will look beyond the imperfections and see ALL the love you have to offer a child. I think the biggest mistake parents make is letting the SW or angency intimidate them. They after all do work for us. We do ultimately sign their check. If you don’t like someone.. fire them and find someone you do like. Life is too short don’t sweat the small stuff and stay away from people who thrive on making you sweat.

  28. I was only slightly neurotic about it – I’m a social worker myself and know what I notice when going into people’s homes. That said, I did clean under beds and organize closets on the off chance someone peeked inside. (He never left our living/dining area.) But I was probably a dork during the home visit – trying to make sure he knew that I had done my homework re: attachment disorders and attachment parenting.

    • Avatar Dawn says:

      I’m still laughing over Samantha’s burnt cookies. I’m so glad I didn’t think of that as a possibility. Michelle, I suspect many of us would seem like dorks. Particularly those of us who think we know something. 🙂

  29. Now, where was that visualization technique when I needed it? Brilliant.

    Ours was definitely not as bad as I’d built it up to be. In fact, for our second go-round, when we had a toddler, our social worker said if our house had been TOO clean, she’s worry that we weren’t spending enough time parenting.

    No white gloves in sight, thankfully!

  30. Avatar Samantha says:

    Dawn, the homestudy freaked me out! I was literally on my hands and knees cleaning for weeks — something I never do. The morning of the first visit I called my mom all worried. Her response was, “Honey, I was a 25 year old idiot during my homestudy and they gave me 2 kids. You can do this.” That night I burned the cookies I baked to make the house smell nice and the cats decided to race through the house playing, sending my soda flying all over the social worker. But my daughter has now been home for about 3.5 years. They are not judging you…they are helping you to think about preparing for a job that is impossible to prepare for — parenthood.

  31. We haven’t had our home study done yet, as we cannot start our classes until May. But I am definitely printing this out and keeping it for future reference to remind me when the time comes TO RELAX.

    Great post!

  32. Dawn,
    I laughed when I read this because, in preparation for our first home study,I was a mess–I was the parent who cleaned so deeply that it was very safe to eat off my floors. In preparation of our second adoption, I dusted and swept the floors. By the third, I met our social worker at the back door and we walked into the lived-in chaos together.

  33. Oh my word. We were sooo niave and stupid, looking back on it now. We were in the middle of a huge family room re-model (think, down to the studs remodel) and went ahead with our home study anyway. There was a huge tarp to keep out the construction dust and mess hung btw. the kitchen and the family room. We had the dining room, living room, and spare room (that was to eventually become the nursery!) stashed full of building supplies, tools, packed boxes of decor, and stuff was everywhere. We cleaned but only as much as one can clean when dust and grime are continually generated. The laundry room was piled with stinky ocnstruction-time clothing and reeked. There were tools, media wiring, ripped up carpeting, hanging insulation – you name it. Picture a room in the midst of the worst possible stage of a reconstruct. THAT’s when we invited our agency’s social worker to come to our home and interview/evaluate us.


    We were such newbies, and so focused on getting our process back on track after our son’s accident, that we just powered through. Thank GOD that our SW was so able to look past all that and see our hearts. And that we don’t always live with big black tarps and sheets covering main living spaces in our home! 🙂

  34. Avatar Laura Jean says:

    The homestudy is worse in our minds then in reality that is for sure. I also did some crazy cleaning to my typically pretty darn clean house, I polished woodwork and washed curtains which seems neurotic now but certainly didn’t then. It was a good way to channel that nervous energy.
    I think the hardest part especially for my husband was the homework and long narrative he had to write about his childhood. Our agency required the homework be done before the rest of the homestudy really began.
    At the time it feels really invasive and unfair that we have to go through so much to become parents even if you really do agree that adoptive parents need to be screened.

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