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.
Other Creating a Family resources you will enjoy:
- What to Expect in the Adoption Home Study (1 hour audio interview with adoption social worker)
- What happens if We Have to Move After the Homestudy
- Adopting Without Going Into Debt