*Disclaimer: No two agencies, counties, states, or countries are the same when it comes to the foster care home study process. What follows is an account of our experience, in the hopes of dispelling any crazy myths and reassuring you that YOU CAN DO THIS!*
Alright, class. Welcome to “Parenting 808: A Study In Home.”
We’ll be meeting 4-6 times over the next six or eight weeks, depending on how thorough the in-class discussions are. I’ll be giving you all of the homework on the first day, and your entire grade is based off one final exam that determines whether or not you are allowed to be parents.
Yes, you in the back. What was your question? Oh, no, you won’t be receiving a letter grade for this course. The only way to take this class is pass/fail.
Did I mention you’ll only succeed if you bare your heart and soul and expose your home and family to intense scrutiny by strangers? I did? Great.
Let’s get started.
8 Things to Expect During the Foster Care Home Study
#1: It’s not really as scary as that syllabus makes it sound.
I knew I needed to write this post because in the weeks leading up to our first home study meeting, I think I searched a million different versions of the phrase “What to expect during the foster care adoption home study” on Google and Pinterest and any other site you can imagine. What resulted was a very overwhelmed mind filled with horror stories of failed licensing visits, intimidating social workers, and probing personal interviews during which you separated from your spouse for hours. Thankfully, it wasn’t anything like the internet had convinced me it would be. So far, it’s been friendly, educational, and the right combination of serious and fun (and we were only interviewed individually for about three minutes each so that each of us had an opportunity to share any concerns). If you’re looking for an honest, authentic overview of what this process will be like, look no further!
#2: You thought you were done with paperwork. You are not.
That giant manila envelope we turned in had nothing on the homework we were given during our first home study meeting. During the six-ish weeks of meetings with our social worker, we were busy creating discipline, grievance, and emergency plans, watching even more webinars, reading through state foster care laws, visiting our vet to get the pup up to date on shots, completing additional special needs questionnaires, and so much more. So do some hand stretches, because you will be writing and typing a lot during this process!
#3: Your social worker is your friend.
So many depictions of the foster care and adoption home study paint the social worker as cold, callous, invasive, or worse. Keep in mind that your worker has the same goal as you do: to license you as a foster parent and match you with a foster or adoptive child. Period.
You are on the same team, so if you approach your relationship this way instead of going into it picturing them as the adversary, the whole process will go a lot more smoothly!
#4: Honesty is the best policy.
We went into this process from day one (not just the home study, but waaaaay back when we were just interested parties attending an hour-long orientation) committing to full honesty and transparency about ourselves, our strengths and challenges, and our comfort levels with various special needs. There are so many spots along the way where if someone wanted to cover something up, they could, and I’m sure some people do. I’m not saying someone would necessarily lie with bad intentions–this process can feel very intrusive and when you are so focused on growing your family, there is a definite fear that even the smallest of things could become a roadblock. From taking the “marriage survey” and fudging your answers to make it seem like you’re the perfect couple, to leaving out that one time you tried pot in college…just be honest. Think about it: if you tell one white lie thinking you are making yourself a stronger candidate, how many other lies might you have to tell down the road to cover up that one? How much anxiety or guilt might you feel if the truth ever did come out? You could be risking your family – your children – and nothing is worth that.
#5: Do the hard work up front.
One of the most intimidating parts of the initial application process was our “Self-Assessment Homework,” which ended up being about 25 single spaced pages EACH answering a ton of questions about our lives, families, and relationship. All of the questions were very open ended, so it was hard to know whether we were going about it correctly. Fortunately, our social worker walked into our first in-person meeting and the first thing she said was, “You guys did such a thorough job with your self-assessments, I feel like I could write your home study just off of that!” This was a huge compliment and has made the rest of the meetings go a lot more smoothly. She can ask us more pointed questions about specific things she wants to know more about, instead of having to start from scratch. So even though you may be feeling anxious to turn in your application, take the extra time to be super thorough, or you’ll just have to make up that time later.
#6: Prepare to answer a lot of questions. A LOT.
See #2. In addition to all that paperwork, your social worker will likely walk through anything you shared in your application and ask clarifying questions. You may also have to take a Relationship Assessment (ours was through an organization called Prepare/Enrich), or other activities that are meant to reveal your strengths and weaknesses.
These things might feel a little probing, but see #3 – you and your social worker are on the same team. These pieces are important to help your social worker know you well enough to write the final document that will be your Home Study (capital H and S)!
If they don’t ask, they’ll never know, and they won’t be able to answer questions from children’s social workers about what type of people and parents you are. So my best advice is to bring coffee with you, get comfortable, and share, share, share.
#7: It’s not really about your home.
Yes, there are some components of this process that are focused on your physical home–evacuation plans, emergency kits, smoke detectors, etc. But I was surprised to learn that in Minnesota, our social worker won’t actually visit our home until the very last meeting. That will be her chance to do a final walk through and point out any little things we need to fix before our license is finalized. But up until then, despite its name, the home study process has mostly been about US. Our relationship, our family culture, how we communicate, how we will parent, and more. The house is just a physical structure. It’s up to you to make it a home.
#8: Trust God. Trust your partner. Trust the process.
Before each meeting with our social worker, we took a few minutes to pray together over this process and what was to come. It always came back to this:
God has called us to this, and God will equip us for this. Because he doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called.
Over the past eight weeks (and eight months), We have shared tears and fears, whispered late night wishes after the lights were turned off, navigated tough conversations, and laughed over the unsurprising results of our relationship assessment. We have at times felt ready to take on the world, and at other times felt completely in over our heads. But we’ve also learned so much about ourselves and each other, and it has been a season of renewal for our relationship. If you fully submit yourself to this process and God’s will, and you might be amazed at the good work he can do within and through you and your partner.
Our prayers and best wishes go out to anyone reading this who is considering foster care or adoption, or those who found us by a Google search late at night before your first home study. We hope your mind is put a little more at ease by reading our experience – because as intimidating as it is, it is worth every second.
-Laura & Nate
Have questions? Want to learn more about foster care & adoption?