Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Adoption Home Study Process

Imagine a stranger coming into your home, someone you only know of their name. You don't know their background, you don't know their age, you have no known facts about this person. The only thing that you do know is that this person is about to be your social worker and that he or she will be in your home 4+ times for 4-6+ hours at a time. He/she gets to decide if you're home is safe enough, that you and your spouse are sane enough to care for a child, that mentally/physically/emotionally you are prepared for a child, and that you're fully prepared for any age of child to a part of your family one day. This social worker of yours could be fun and enjoyable to be around or maybe he or she is very straight forward and incredibly serious. Like serious enough to think every word out of your mouth is being judged. Every. Single. Word. (Trust me, it's how we felt with the initial social worker when we began the process). Praise God that we ended up with a wonderful social worker!

But just think, you're opening up every detail of your life from birth to now and any challenging life event, this person is about to find out. He/she will know every ounce of you by the time the home study process is over. And guess what....all those fine details, you better believe they all go into a formal notarized document for the people in your adoption country to read. You will eventually have no secrets. Like none. Those things you tell very few people in your life, your social will know it within a few week time frame. Needless to say, just let it all out!

And for the rest of the family (even your aunts, uncles, cousins, etc), you better believe they make sure they are safe people, that they do not have any significant abuse (drug, sexual, physical, etc), that you as future parents are not concerned if they are in your child's presence, and to know which ones you'd feel comfortable leaving your child with. So yes, even the family gets a little highlighted moment in this process, like it or not.

But what you will have is a better understanding of is who you are at this time, things that may need to be worked on as an individual, who "we" are together,  and the strengths and weaknesses "we as a couple" have. What I'm saying is that there is a bit of a benefit to this whole home study process. And this is only part of the reason why we believe everybody needs to do this before they become a parent! They make sure we are emotionally ready, that we have prepared ourselves for conversations with a child that may include anything from sexuality conversations to multiracial family comments from others, and that we are in the process of finding doctors, therapists, and any other resources/supportive environments at a local and state level that will be helpful for an adopted child. Not to mention all the education hours that go along with those things as well (child specific, country specific, & general adoption). 

So welcome to our world and I suppose welcome to the world of all adoptees. This part of the adoption process is just about our home study, but that in and of itself is a big hoop to get through! And I promise you, we never thought they were as scary as they can sounded, but I can say there was a little anxiety that came with it initially. Fortunately, we ended up with a wonderful social worker that it made this process an incredibly enriching time for us individually as well as within our relationship now and as future parents.

We're not here to say that we now know how to be parents and that to this point we are even fully ready for all that is to come. Parenting is a process and as you parents out there know, there is always something to learn, something new to help our parenting skills, and obstacles to overcome with every child. We still have a long journey ahead to learn more, prepare for all the "ifs" of this child, and continue to enjoy all our moments we have together before we bring a child into this family.

Below, we brief on things that we discussed during the home study, example questions that were asked, and conversations addressed. Unfortunately, I can't even remember everything at this point so you get what you get today!

Home Study 1:
The "get to know ya" phase. Let the conversations begin!

-who are you and who are you (the now: jobs, activity/community involvement, hobbies, etc)
-who are we together, our story.
-every detail of your home with a visual safety check to the entire home (house stats, first aid, locks, alarms, windows, garage safety with tools, animals, living arrangements, outside hazards, etc).
-neighbors, neighborhood, locations of hospitals from our home, community centers, schools, etc.
-resources for the family and adopted child.

These worldly beanies have meant more to us than what most of you knew for that entire
year I had been whipping out as many as I possibly could. At one point, someone said to me,
"I don't know how you can do the same thing all the time....I want to pour all my time and love
into something." Well guess what, I was pouring a lot of time and love into making
many, many hats. If it meant work a little harder to pump more hats out to help us pay for 
the adoption process, then that's what had to happen. We are happy to say that the amount 
we made from the hats helped us pay for most of our home study process!

Home Study 2:
"Individual interrogations" as we called them.
Each person sat with our social worker for 2.5-3.5 hours for the down and dirty...

-every detail of every year of everything you could ever remember!
-what happened to you, what was your childhood like, your involvement in the community
-what are your parents like, how did your siblings treat you.
-how did your parents parent and what sorts of things would you use/not use.
-what were relationships like with aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, & 
friends during all phases of life.
-what were relationships like with previous boyfriends/girlfriends in high school and college.

Each time we made a little progress in our home study process, we rewarded
ourselves and our little babe with new books. These books are tales from South Africa
and Zulu words (one of the languages in South Africa, spoken by many).

Home Study 3:
Individual interrogations again, this time a bit shorter than the last time.
Further details on the previous individual interrogations plus "the planning"...

-more on your parent's parenting: what would you use, what would you not use with your child
-situational questions & responses (racism, sexuality conversations, age related parenting, etc.). 
-plans for schooling, raising a child with/without electronics, options for South African events in the area and providing the child with ways to maintain their heritage.
-projected work schedules when the child comes home, caregiving when parents are unavailable depending on the child's age and needs (all sorts of situations/circumstances presented to us).
-plans for various specific adopted child needs (special therapists, doctors, community & state resources for various mental/emotional health needs and/or physical health needs).

My grandma took us to an African performance about a year ago in which the children come to the US after training their voices and dance moves to perform for churches all over. These children were of all ages, from various places in Africa, and unbelievable! The doll came from the women and children who hand make items in their home country to raise money for their performances and travel.

Home Study 4:
Half individual meetings, half together with social worker.

-the individual: go through every member of your family, provide known history (abuse, health, etc), who you'd leave your child in their care, safety concerns, etc.
-wrap up missed questions needed for documentation.
-quiz us on situational plans, yet again...and the one below was clearly not my finest moment!

There are lots and lots of situations our social worker presented us with. At this point, she was asking about sexuality, bathing with children and to what age that would stop, bathing with siblings/cousins and again ages that would stop, and how comfortable we are with being nude in front of children and how often they would be exposed to it...
well I jumped right on that answer and made sure she knew I was very comfortable with those sorts of things. I mean as a nurse, I see things every day! There is no problem on my end to explain sexuality and what have you and there's nothing wrong with being nude in your own home. I made sure to note that I keep the curtains closed of course if I were to be nude in our home (and I was referring it to after showering) and that I had no problem with young kids seeing nude bodies at a young age.
Well my intentions were one thing, but what was written in our formal document for our home study was this:
"Cori likes to walk around in her home naked with the curtains closed."
Beginning and end of story. I almost peed my pants and cried laughing all at the same time. My intentions were to say, there's no problem with walking around naked real quick after a shower if you need to go from bathroom to bedroom until your clothed, otherwise I typically wear a robe because I prefer to stay warm. I do not wander around like a nudist in my home or outside my home. I'm fine with people that do, no problem with that whatsoever. I am just too cold to do it. So the awkward part was not only reading that, but having to submit a new statement to fix the above statement without making it sound like I was backtracking or lying or whatever you want to call it. But instead, to make sure it was adjusted accordingly. Who knows if she even believes me, but either way it was modified on our formal document. Hopefully South Africa doesn't expect a naked woman to walk off the plane and into an orphanage nude to pick up her child. My intentions are to come fully clothed.

The finale! We had shirts made for our family as well as our friends who were happy
to vouch for us along the way that we were truly the Stanleys, we were decent people, 
and could potentially be decent parents. Thanks for doing that (you know who you are!).

As I said above, you get what you get because this is all I remember. My brain can only manage so much at a time as I "age." But as far as the home study process goes, we can look back and say we enjoyed the entire process...not everybody gets the chance to go through something like this. We feel incredibly blessed to have been able to reflect on ourselves, our relationship, and become as prepared as we ever could with the help of our social worker. So now, we sit and wait, fill out some more documents for the dossier, and continue to enjoy our time as single parents before this time comes!

Thank you to all who even read these posts and even further, enjoy keeping up with the journey.
We are forever thankful for those who are closely tied into our journey and for all those who follow from afar.

♡The Stanleys