By Susan Greenwood, Stepping Stones’ Adoption Program (formerly MAPS Worldwide)
The adoption home study can feel like one more hurdle on a long road to parenthood. But the truth is that prospective parents have little to fear and much to gain from all that can be learned during the process.
Every state requires a home study by a licensed agency or professional in order to adopt. The home study will probably take a few months and involve several meetings with an adoption professional along with a lot of information gathering and fact finding. The final document will be several pages long and will include background information about each parent, the couple’s history (if married), finances, employment, health, living environment, and other biographical facts. It will also verify that the family has had guidance from an experienced professional as they move forward with their adoption.
The whole process can feel tedious, but it’s rarely as daunting as families fear. So what can you expect? Here are a few reassuring points to consider:
Despite the imposing name, the home study is not about housekeeping or about having a beautiful home. Agencies and their professionals (usually social workers with experience in adoption) know that there is no such thing as the “perfect” home or family. Although the social worker will verify that your home is safe, that you don’t have a criminal background or unresolved medical/mental health issues, and that you can afford to raise a child, the home study should be a collaborative process, a two-way street between you and your agency.
You aren’t expected to be an adoption or parenting expert or to have all the “right” answers. In addition to background information, the home study provides a framework to explore what it means to add a child to your family and the additional factors that are introduced with adoption. A good caseworker will help you anticipate the needs of the child and what may lie ahead as he or she matures. Particularly if you are a first-time parent, it’s a valuable opportunity to learn from an expert and start building knowledge and resources about parenting in general and adoptive parenting in particular. Try not to become too consumed about having all the answers and “passing” the home study, but use the home study to prepare as best as possible to become adoptive parents.
You don’t have to know in advance what adoption program you want. Your caseworker will help you define what type of adoption is right for you and your family. Are you interested in domestic or international? An older child or a newborn? What about race or ethnic background? Are you more comfortable with an open adoption or one where birthparent information is limited? Is the sex of the child important to you? What health issues are you are comfortable with? If you are open to special needs, the caseworker can help you understand what the short- and long-term ramifications may be.
He or she can also help you decide not only which programs meet your needs and desires, but which you are eligible for based on age, health, and marital status. You may already know which program you want, but some families need this exploration time and are surprised to learn new information that leads to a different option than they had originally considered.
Most important, adoption agencies want to find families for children. Their goal is not to screen you out, but to help you find the adoption program that will help you become parents at last. Longstanding adoption agencies have worked with thousands of families, so it’s unlikely that there is anything in your background that they haven’t seen before. Being upfront about your family history and circumstances will speed the process along and help your agency steer you in the right direction.
Finally, adoption professionals are sensitive to the fact that the process can be intrusive, and a good caseworker will work hard to make you feel comfortable and to help you get the most out of your time together. Remember, the home study is just one part of the journey, and at the end of this road lies a new chapter for you and your family.
About the Author
Susan Greenwood was the Communications Manager for Stepping Stones Adoption Program (formerly MAPS Worldwide), a New England agency that offers both international and domestic adoption programs along with home study and post-adoption services. She is the mother of a daughter adopted from China.
This article originally appeared in our Fall 2010 Newsletter.