By Carolyn Berger, LCSW
Stories about couples readying themselves for their adoption home study are legion. Couples have been known to repaint their apartments, scrub between the bathroom tiles with an old toothbrush, and make sure there are cookies baking in the oven when the social worker arrives.
But what is the purpose of an adoption home study? It is designed to meet state and federal government standards as well as meeting adoption agency requirements for people wishing to adopt. It is part of the certification process whereby a couple or individual is deemed ready to bring a child into their home.
It is also an opportunity for future adopters to learn more about adoption and child rearing.
What to Expect During the Home Study
During the home study the social worker will want to know where your child will sleep and will check the safety features of your house or apartment. She will ask you about your families of origin, how you met, how you resolve disputes, and how you plan to discipline your child. She will ask for various documents: birth certificates, marriage certificates, health reports, and proofs of income. And, anyone planning to adopt a child must get child abuse clearance and a criminal check by having their fingerprints sent to a registry in Albany.
The home study demands honesty from you—even if it’s painful. If you were arrested for drunken driving as a college student, say so. If you’ve had involvement with drugs, you will need to be able to demonstrate that this is no longer a problem. Social workers and the courts take a dim view of hiding infractions or omitting important information. In fact, withholding information can lead to the denial of a person as an adopter.
In New York State, where same sex couples can marry, a joint home study is often done. Some attorneys take a “belt and suspenders” approach, though, and have each member of the couple certified individually. Your attorney can tell you the benefits of each approach.
Home Study Example: Jack and Robb
Jack, 36, and his partner, Robb, 37, were concerned that it would be hard for them to attract a birthmother because they are gay. Fortunately, they chose an adoption agency in New England that is known for its work with the LGBT community. They were counseled that pregnant women were open to working with gay couples, and that they need not worry about being chosen by one. The agency also told them that the home study was not something to be feared, but was, in fact, an opportunity to learn.
On the evening of their home study Dave, 42, a social worker from Jack and Robb’s agency, met them at their apartment and helped them through a structured conversation in which they could imagine themselves as parents. Through this process—which Robb thought was akin to a conversation with a friend along with some in-depth questions that reminded him of therapy– Jack realized he had some unfinished business to attend to before adopting. He had only recently come out to his parents, and while his mother was mildly accepting, his father was definitely not. Both had difficulty with the notion that Jack and Robb planned to raise a child as a same-sex couple.
With Dave’s encouragement, Jack and Robb realized they needed to try to work things out with Jack’s parents before adopting.
A few months later, they were connected to a pregnant woman in Colorado, who was planning to place her child. After the baby’s birth, they flew out West to pick him up and had him for a day—until the birthmother changed her mind. Disappointing though it was, this situation brought Jack’s mother closer to Jack and Robb. She became a “grandmother in waiting” and was enthusiastically on-board as they all anticipated their next match.
Today, Jack’s mother is at their home frequently, serving as primary babysitter to 16-month-old Alice, who they successfully adopted. Jack’s relationship with his mother is better than ever—and though his father still hasn’t met Alice, he asks about his granddaughter frequently. Jack says his father is trying to come to terms with his belief that being gay is unacceptable with his love for his son and granddaughter. Jack and Robb agree that their home study challenged them to acknowledge the importance of Jack’s parents and their attitudes about his relationship with Robb. This has had a positive impact on their life as a family.
Home Study Example: Emily and Heather
Emily and Heather, both in their late thirties, always knew they wanted to be parents. They looked into alternative insemination using the sperm of a friend, but it never felt right. Over time, they realized they were drawn to adoption. For a year, they attended a “Wannabe Moms and Dads” support group at The LGBT Community Center in Manhattan. They explored using three different adoption agencies, and like Jack and Robb, they chose the one they believed was most committed to helping same-sex couples become parents. This agency simply “blew the other agencies away,” says Emily, and they offered a pre-adoption weekend where the couple could further explore their desire to adopt.
The day of the home study loomed large, finding Emily and Heather anxiously cleaning and re-cleaning their apartment. When the social worker arrived, they quickly learned that cleanliness was far less important than the fact that they had fire alarms and guards on their windows.
What surprised both Emily and Heather was the intensity of the parenting questions they were asked. While they were supported by their families and had solid relationships with their parents, they realized that the two of them as a couple had different approaches to parenting.
After the home study, they got some books on parenting and engaged in conversations about how they planned to raise their child. Between the coaching they received from their support group and the exploration of their parenting ideas with each other, Emily and Heather soon found they were ready to bring a child into their home. So far, their adoption journey has spanned 15 months and they are eagerly awaiting their baby.
Jack, Robb, Emily and Heather all benefited from the home study experience. Their desire to choose an agency that supported same-sex couples and the skilled social workers who conducted their home studies helped them identify areas they needed to work on and they all took their task seriously—to prepare themselves and their homes for the arrival of a child.
Would they have “passed” their home studies without doing all that soul searching? Probably. Would they have been as prepared to bring a child into their homes? I don’t think so.
Carolyn Berger, LCSW, is Founding Board Chair of the American Fertility Association. She is Chair of The AFA Adoption Advisory Counsel and has a practice specializing in Fertility and Adoption at NY Fertility Services in NYC and in Larchmont, NY. You can contact her at www.carolynberger.org