Contributed by Rebekah Hall, M.S.W., Director of Youth & Family Services
You have finally reached the place where you have made the decision. You’re going to adopt. That decision in itself is huge! Now, no matter if you are pursuing an international adoption, domestic infant adoption, adoption through the foster care system, or private adoption there is one thing that all of these have in common; the HOME STUDY. I am sure that in your decision making process you spent some time on google researching the home study. You have probably read and heard all different things about the home study. The home study can be disconcerting for many people. It can be scary, exciting, overwhelming, and a bit mysterious all wrapped into one big package. In order to alleviate some of your fears or anxiety here are ten facts about the home study (please note that this is based on the home study process in Virginia) to help you as you begin your journey.
1. Every state is different
When I meet with families and start discussing the home study process I often see confused looks on their faces as what I am describing may be quite different from what they have read on the internet. The first thing you need to know about the home study is that every state is different. So, while it is important to do research and those google searches can provide some wonderful insight into what a home study could look like please remember that some of the things you are reading may be applying to another state’s standards and not Virginia standards.
2. It is a process
Having a home study completed is a process. It is not something that happens overnight. I typically advise families that the time period from when they submit their application and their home study being approved is typically somewhere between 3 and 5 months depending on how quickly they are able to turn their home study paperwork in.
3. There are interviews
Yes, there are interviews, three to be exact. In Virginia I meet with families a minimum of three times. A joint meeting, individual interviews, and the home visit. If there are others residing in the family’s home (children, extended family, a close family friend, etc.) I meet with them as well. I realize that many families are very nervous about the interviews; that they might say the “wrong thing”. There is no need to be nervous. This is a time to get to know families. We talk about their childhood, school history, work history, marriage, relationship with friends and family, reason for adoption, thoughts on parenting and discipline, etc. This is really a time for me as the worker to get to know the families I am working with. And the reality is that it is a time for families to talk about themselves and that is a subject that you should know plenty about!
4. There is paperwork (a lot of it!)
Yes, there is a lot of paperwork. However, as a worker I try to break it up at intervals throughout the process so families don’t get overwhelmed. Home study paperwork includes things like background checks, references, questionnaires, medical reports, and lots of documents to read through and sign. My advice; take it one document at a time and you’ll get through it.
5. Be ready to be educated
Education is a large component of the home study. I want families to be prepared for adoption. In fact, Virginia has various training competencies that must be met in order for a home study to be approved.
6. It is a time to ask questions
While the home study process is definitely a time where I am getting to know you as a family it is also a time for you to ask questions. I personally love it when families come to meetings with questions. This is all part of the “getting to know each other “ process. So, don’t be afraid to ask your questions and trust me, there are no stupid questions in adoption. You need to be fully prepared and it is my role as a worker to help make sure that all your questions are answered!
7. What the home visit really looks like
The dreaded home visit (at least that is what I think families feel). It should not be feared or dreaded. It is a time for me to see what you as a family are like. I enjoy walking through your home and seeing what you are all about. I love to see pictures on the wall, how you decorate your home, even your DVD collection (because I have quite the DVD obsession myself). Are there specific things I am looking for? Of course! However, that list of home requirements is provided to you early on in the process so you have plenty of time to prepare. I am not going to be looking in your kitchen drawers or refrigerator. I will not be wearing my white glove to make sure that there is not a spec of dust. I am there to see how you live and that your home is a safe environment for a child. So, if you forgot to make your bed that morning no worries, that’s life!
8. It is a decision making time
It is the time for you to make decisions like the type of child you are open to (race, age, gender, etc.). It is the time for you to decide what type of ongoing contact you envision with the birth parents. It is the time to finally have those hard conversations if you have not already and come to some decisions.
9. Yes, changes can be made later
But you know what? If down the line you decide that you want to expand the age range of the child you are open to or you decide you might be open to some special needs we can amend the home study to change that so don’t worry, what you say on day one is not what you are held to throughout the entire process – you can make changes later.
10. What is the final product?
At the end of all the paperwork, interviews and education is a report. This is a 12-15 page report that combines all the information you have provided and was discussed into a final report that approves you for adoption.
So, while the home study is a major part of your adoption journey please don’t let it stress you out or overwhelm you. Embrace this time as a time to learn and ask questions and help prepare you for this amazing journey you are getting ready to enter into!