What do I do with all my household poisons?
For some reason, this is the question that first popped into my mind as I considered the prospect of a home study visit. But that question quickly spiraled into an anxious parade of other questions:
Do I need an outlet cover on every outlet? What about baby gates in front of the stairs? Surely, they wouldn’t expect us to have a crib now, right? What if Brian and I answer a question slightly differently? Should we put the wine away in a cabinet? What if I forget important details from my childhood? Where even is my birth certificate?
If you’ve ever been through an adoption process, these questions are probably familiar to you too. Maybe you’re currently considering or just beginning an adoption, and as you read those questions, you felt like I was reading your mind.
Or worse, maybe you hadn’t yet thought about those questions and now I’ve made you panic. So sorry! Hang in there—I have good news!
First, some quick refresher facts about what a home study is and what it’s for.
The home study is a major step in the adoption process. All U.S. states and the District of Columbia require prospective adoptive parents to participate in a home study conducted by a licensed social worker or caseworker (Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2015). The purposes of the home study are to educate and prepare prospective adoptive parents, to evaluate the capability of the prospective parents to adopt, and to gather information that will help the agency match the family with a child.
As such, the home study typically involves training, interviews, a home visit, autobiographical statements, health reports, income/insurance statements, verification documents, and background checks.
The home study is obviously a good thing. We are so glad that agencies are careful and intentional about the families and homes within which adopted children are placed.
But, the thorough and comprehensive nature of a home study can make it seem like a very lengthy, invasive, and overwhelming process where the prospective adoptive parents feel like they must prove their worth with a perfect house and perfect jobs and perfect childhoods and perfect finances. One misplaced bottle of laundry detergent or one exposed table corner and it’s all over.
Fortunately, that’s just not true.
Yes, the home study is a big process. And yes, you should plan appropriately and dedicate the time and effort it deserves.
But it’s totally doable. I promise.
When we first started the home study process, we were anxious, overwhelmed, and wondering how we were ever going to get all these documents together. And now, three months later, we are officially approved and moving forward with matching!
And honestly, it really wasn’t too hard.
So now, I’m so excited to be able to share with you the five things we did that made our home study a breeze, praying that it will ease your mind and make your home study process as smooth as possible.
1. Prioritize responsiveness when choosing an agency.
My first suggestion is to do some research. If you know someone who has been through the adoption process, ask for referrals. Who did they work with? What was their experience? Do they have any agency recommendations? If you’ve been working with an infertility clinic, they may have a list of recommended adoption agencies. Or, you can always do a little old-fashioned Googling. Typing in “list of adoption agencies licensed in *your state*” will yield a lot of helpful resources, like this directory.
If you’re pursuing embryo adoption, you’ll just need the home study and not all the other adoption services like matching, placement, etc. Some adoption agencies will only do a home study if you’re working with them for the rest of the adoption process, but many agencies offer the home study as a standalone service.
You can typically find a list of “services” somewhere on the agency’s website, but if you don’t see anything like that or if the information is unclear, ask. I inquired via chat, email, and phone with several different adoption agencies. And that really leads me to the heart of this item…
Listen. The home study process can be confusing and there are a lot of moving pieces. It’s important that you have an agency that partners with you, rather than one that becomes another obstacle on an already difficult journey.
So, have a list of questions to ask—about cost, mileage, the number of interviews or home visits, typical timeline, the number of children the agency places in a year—and start asking. The idea here is for you to learn not only about the agency and its processes, but also about the agency’s responsiveness. Do they respond quickly? Do they answer your questions thoroughly? Are they kind in their interactions with you?
2. Shop around for the best price.
Let’s face it: adoption in any form is expensive. If you are pursuing a traditional adoption and will be working with the agency from start to finish, there are other factors that will matter over price. However, if you’re pursuing embryo adoption, look for cost savings in the home study. Don’t feel pressured to go with one agency over another because their website looks better or because they have more name recognition or even because they’re more familiar with embryo adoption.
When we first started researching agencies, we talked with one of the larger, more widely known Christian adoption agencies. They were super helpful and responsive, but their home study price was over twice what we ended up paying with our agency. We ultimately chose Haven Adoptions, and it was a joy working with them. Our home study process was reasonably fast, our questions were always answered quickly, and their thorough communication made the process very understandable. And the price is what cinched it for us.
As we researched, I kept a spreadsheet of the key costs involved in each agency’s process: the cost of the study itself, mileage for visits, miscellaneous fees, and yearly update fees. I highly recommend tracking your information using a spreadsheet or table where you can compare individual costs as well as totals, otherwise you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to remember which agency had what prices.
If you know for sure that you are only interested in pursuing embryo adoption and you’re working with the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), you can also consider the Snowflakes Family Evaluation (SFE). Snowflakes is an embryo adoption program that’s a division of Nightlight Christian Adoptions, and they offer a home study process specific to embryo adoption. (Just be aware that it is non-transferable to a traditional adoption.) You may be able to save quite a bit going the SFE route, depending on your geographic location (because mileage, ugh!).
So consider what factors matter to you most. Especially if you’re pursuing embryo adoption only, shop around for the best price and remember that a lower price has no bearing on the validity of your study.
3. Make a schedule—and stick to it.
I need a serious game plan. That was my first thought when I opened the email from our agency detailing all that we were required to do. So, I read the email through a couple more times (okay, like ten more times) to make sure I understood each step and each requirement, and then I got to work on a schedule.
I know it’s tempting to dive straight into the to-do list—pulling a few bank statements, filling out basic biographic information on the application, or calling your parents to ask where the heck your birth certificate is.
But to dive into the to-do list, you first have to make one. And with the home study process, your to-do list should be more than just a sticky note by your laptop.
Start by grabbing your daily planner or a calendar, a copy of your requirements/instructions, and all related communications from your agency. And then, make a schedule:
- If you need clarification on any items, ask them. (And if you heed #1, you’ll get helpful answers!)
- Consider how fast you want to get through the home study process. If you want to get it done in a month, you’ll have to be aggressive with your daily “homework”. If you’re comfortable taking 2-3 months, you can space it out a bit more. To gather all our documents and to (very thoroughly) complete our question/answer autobiographical narrative, it took us 1.5 months working on it every single day. (Don’t forget that the interviews, visits, and final report still come after that.)
- Start with some easy tasks to give yourself a motivation boost! It’s exciting to see progress early on and it encourages you to keep going, so maybe your task in the first few days will be to compile “easy” documents—things you can easily access like your driver’s license, your health insurance card, a copy of your recent pay stub, etc.
- Consider your daily routines. We host a small group on Tuesday evenings, and so we built it into our plan to do less home study work on Tuesdays.
- For items like background checks, reference letters, and medical forms, get started early. The background check process can take several weeks, your references will need some time to write their letters, and it can take some time to get an appointment with your doctor. Start those items early in your process, and then you can really focus on the items where the timeline is more within your control.
When you’ve created your schedule, stick to it. There are going to be days when you don’t want to work on it. The new Bachelorette is on tonight. You haven’t been to the gym yet this week. And honestly, answering an application question about how you’ll discipline your future child for an unknown misbehavior in an unknown context is not something your brain is ready for right now.
But seriously, stick to it. Take a day off if you need a break, but jump right back in the next day. It’ll be worth it.
4. Create a system to organize your important documents.
Honestly, this tip seems mediocre, but having an organizational system already in place where we kept track of our important documents relieved so much stress when it came time to do the home study. The other great thing about this tip is that regardless of where you’re at in your adoption journey, you can work on it RIGHT. NOW.
For the home study, you will need documents like your birth certificate, passport, driver’s license, pet vaccination reports, W-2, marriage license, bank statements, and more. There’s no getting around it.
Because we had an organizational system already in place, I knew where everything was. No worrying about ordering a replacement document through an impossible-to-navigate government website. No digging through old dusty boxes in the cold attic. No half-joking that our marriage might not be legitimate since we can’t find the certificate (…but we did get one, right?).
Whether you want to store documents in a safe, electronically, in a filing cabinet, or using some combination of all three, start organizing your important documents. You will thank yourself later.
5. Finally, advocate for yourself.
Adoption is a big deal.
You’re not asking too many questions. You’re not being overbearing in your follow up. You’re not being too detailed in your application.
The home study process requires a lot of paperwork, a lot of preparation, and—quite frankly—a lot of you. And so it’s okay to expect a lot from your agency in return. Ask again if your question wasn’t answered clearly the first time. Send another email if they haven’t responded to you yet. Verify they received the document if they haven’t confirmed yet.
Yes, your agency is working on many other things with many other adoptive and birth parents right now. And yes, they are probably doing the best they can, and they certainly don’t mean to slow you down in any way.
But you matter too. Your journey. Your timeline. Your schedule. You matter.
So absolutely give grace, be patient and kind, and believe the agency is doing their best to help and serve you, because they are. But be your own advocate along the way.
6. BONUS TIP: Prepare for your home visit, but don’t go crazy over it.
Way easier said than done, right? I know. But seriously, your home does not have to be perfect.
You can trust your basic common sense to know what makes for a safe home for children and what doesn’t. And, if you’re pursuing embryo adoption, your agency recognizes that you’ll first be pregnant with your baby for nine months before even bringing him/her home.
So make sure you have working smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. Make sure any weapons are stored securely. And make sure the objects you have out, especially those at child level, aren’t hazardous or poisonous. (For the record, if you were dying to know if I’d found a solution for that dilemma, I moved my household poisons to higher cabinets!)
But don’t go overboard. If you’re unsure about what your agency’s expectations are, ask for clarification. Remember, your agency wants to help educate you and prepare you; they’re not looking to deem you unfit to be parents at the smallest hiccup and then move on to the next couple to kill off more dreams.
You got this.
Now, take a deep breath and get to work. Your sweet babe is waiting.