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Common Misconceptions

The night before the in-home visit of your adoption home study, you and your spouse collapse onto the living room sofa after performing the final walkthrough of your immaculate home.

“We are finally done,” your spouse says. “Let’s run through the list, one more time, just to be sure.”

“Alright,” you say as you exhaustively open your eyes. “Sparkling sinks and toilets? Check. Childproof locks on all cabinets, drawers and windows? Check. Padding on each ledge, counter and step? Check. Finished baby’s room complete with a new crib? Check. Well Honey, I think we finally did it.”

“...Wait,” your spouse says after frantically sitting up. “We aren’t done yet. We forgot to organize our sock drawer!”

As much as this scenario reads like a parody, it properly demonstrates the emotions adoptive families often experience prior to the home inspection stage of the adoption home study.

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The home study is one of the most crucial stages of the adoption process, and by inspecting the home, interviewing the family, running criminal background checks, and collecting medical and financial documents, the child-placing agency is ensured that both the family and the home are ready for an addition to the family.

Because of the home study’s inherent invasiveness and its importance to the adoption plan, the family tends to believe that the home study social worker wants to find a problem with their home. These feelings are natural, but unwarranted, says Angela, an adoptive mother who experienced those same emotions.

“Even though it feels that they are looking for something you did wrong or it feels kind of invasive, the social workers are on your team, they want you to succeed, and they want to find happy, healthy homes for babies who need to be adopted,” Angela says.

There are several reasons adoptive families become nervous during this time, but just like Angela, every adoptive family gets through the home study wondering why they worried about it in the first place.

 

Adoptive Families’ Uncertainty

Uncertainty is one of the leading factors of families feeling insecure about the home study process. While everyone experiences uncertainty, and consequently, anxiety, it can be more acute in adoptive families since most have been dealing with infertility, one of the most uncertain and emotionally draining times a couple can ever endure.

This uncertainty can persist, making the family feel vulnerable when the social worker is required to ask personal questions and evaluate their lifestyle and home, says contract social worker Joy Quante.

“I feel like most of these people have been through a lot,” Joy says. “I think a lot of families believe that whatever in the past has gone wrong that has kept them from having a child may possibly go wrong with the home study process.”

One of the first steps of the in-home visit portion is when the social worker makes an initial telephone call to the adoptive family to schedule the visit. An underlying purpose of the telephone call, however, is to comfort the family and alleviate some of their uncertainty.

This is when Joy helps nullify any of the family’s anxieties by being understanding of their concerns, being honest with the family about the process and listening to the family as they voice their questions and needs.

Social worker Karla Jacquin, who has performed hundreds of home studies, is also sensitive and understanding of the adoptive family’s emotions during this time. Over the telephone, Karla goes through each of the home study requirements to ensure that the family understands the entire home study and every individual stage of the process. She believes that it’s important to educate the family because it “puts them at ease,” she says.

Prospective adoptive parents Angelina and Michael found that any uncertainty they had was immediately quelled once they first spoke with Karla.

“Once we talked to her, we really felt at ease. She was just really straightforward about what was going to happen and her personality made us feel at home too,” Angelina says.

During her first visit to an adoptive family’s home, Karla brings a sample home study report to indicate why she needs to collect certain documents and ask certain questions.

Adoptive parents Kyna and Doug were apprehensive about the home study until Karla and then Joy guided them through the process and made them feel more comfortable throughout each stage.

“It’s a little bit difficult sometimes with this because you do feel like people are really kind of ripping open your life, and she did not make us feel that way at all,” Kyna says. “We did not have any problem welcoming her into our home and appreciating what she was doing and the reason she was doing it because she made it very clear as to why.”

 

Taking Control of the Home Study

Families’ anxieties differ in the home study because a particular component in the process may be more problematic for one family than it is for another.

For example, a family may find the documentation stage to be easier because their medical and financial history are neatly filed away. However, perhaps one of the parents had a past arrest, making the interview process the more stressful part of their home study.

On the other hand, an unorganized family may find the documentation stage to be more problematic than the other stages.

According to Karla, each individual family’s troublesome part of the home study can also have a silver lining as its completion can give them a sense of accomplishment, and more importantly, a sense of control.

“This gives them some power and control over a situation that has been very out of control for them, like their infertility,” Karla says. “By knocking out the documents or cleaning the house, it gives them some control over the situation. They feel like they have been struggling before and didn’t have a lot of control over what was happening, but now they are on a different track and they are going to get a baby.”

The excessive cleaning of the home is common because it is one of the most tangible ways that the family can feel in control. However, Karla says that social workers are not looking to see their reflections in the kitchen floor; they simply are looking for whether or not certain items are provided in the home, ensuring that it is safe for a child.

“I think sometimes people go a little overboard with all the cleaning and organizing,” Karla says. “Certainly that is important, but they go to the extreme sometimes. I certainly wouldn’t want anyone doing the white glove test on the top of my refrigerator.”

In favor of an immaculate home, families can forget the more practical features such as smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers and emergency escape plans. Furthermore, unbeknownst to some families, their homes don’t have to be completely childproof and child-ready.

“Many families go above and beyond with a completely clean home, outlet covers and cabinet locks,” Karla says. “That’s great but not something that has to be done. Since most families are adopting newborns, the baby won’t be mobile for a while. Families don’t have to have their crib up or have a car seat as long as they know they need them eventually.”

In an effort to feel in control during a turbulent time in their lives, most adoptive families do more to prepare their homes for the home study than what is necessary. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but sometimes these families stress themselves out for no reason at all.

This is where the social worker steps in to dispel any fears or anxieties they may have up to this point. This relationship doesn’t begin and end with the in-home visit, however, as many families have experienced firsthand.

 

The Partnership Turned Friendship

The adoption process is undoubtedly one of the most emotional times a family may experience, and consequently each stage of the adoption process challenges the family in different ways. Because the home study is usually the first time the family meets face-to-face with someone associated with the adoption process, it is often this stage that begins to make the adoption seem real and palpable, intensifying certain emotions.

This makes it easy for families to overlook the benefits the home study provides in the adoption process. Not only does the home study ensure that the home is safe and the family is ready for a child, but it anoints a partner throughout the rest of the adoption. For Karla, this relationship is necessary for a successful home study and especially for the interview process.

“It’s important to be able to establish that bond with them early on because they are sharing some really intimate details with you about their lives and all the struggles they have been through to get to this point,” Karla says. “I think families aren’t going to be willing to open up and to share as much if they don’t feel like they are in a comfortable and safe environment.”

One of the most beneficial aspects of this partnership is that it offers the family another person to whom they can ask questions, even when the social worker is not in their home. Both Karla and Joy receive many questions from families during the home study and even more questions after the families are matched with a child.

The questions can range from post-placement to general parenting questions, and like Karla and Joy, most social workers are enthusiastic in helping families in any way they can, which was experienced firsthand by Angelina.

“Karla was somebody who we could rely on and call, and it is nice to have that personal contact,” Angelina says. “She made it very clear that if we have any questions, we could feel comfortable contacting her.”

Families sometimes rely heavily on their social worker to help them throughout the adoption, and thus a personal relationship is often formed, which Joy says is one of the best aspects of her job.

“I still have contact with my very first home study family,” Joy says. “I still get e-mails, pictures and Christmas cards from her. I feel like I have a pretty good relationship with a lot of the families because right now I am working with two families whose first home studies I did, and they are now adopting a second time.”

Because of all the aforementioned variables, it’s clear as to why families associate certain fears with the home study. Uncertainty breeds anxiety and leads to a stressful time for families prior to the home study. However, the common theme for most families who look back on their home study is that their uncertainty and fears were almost always alleviated after the initial telephone call and the subsequent in-home visit from the social worker.

For Angela and Merlin and for many other adoptive families, the home study served as a checkpoint to remind them that they and their homes were ready for an addition to the family.

“I think it was really good at giving us confidence,” Angela says. “The home study reminded us that we were doing everything right, we were prepared, and we were as ready as we could be, which in the end was very reassuring to our adoption.”




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