Adoption Home Studies- What are Caseworkers really looking for?
Written By: Patti Cruz, Adoption Case Manager
After moving to Philadelphia ten years ago, I quickly learned the streets and layout of the city to find the best happy hours, the best chicken wings and the quickest way to the “El”. I know the city well, I know it’s rhythms, traffic patterns, crazy one way streets and how in almost all instances, it’s easier to walk to get to where you are going.
When I started with Haven, turns out that what I needed to know was the quickest way around 76, how to bypass Conshohocken traffic and something about 209. Or was it 309? I have now traveled to Doylestown, Horsham, Conshohocken, Douglassville, Phoenixville, Chestnut Hill, Ardmore, Hershey, Abington, some place called Oreland… the list goes on and on. As an adoptive parent case manager, most of my travels are to provide home studies for the families who are beginning the adoption process. So I have been driving all over town to come see you. I’ve seen your country grocery stores, your diners and most likely the inside of either a Dunkin Donuts, McDonalds or Starbucks near you that has free WiFi and I can sit at to write your home study.
Ah. The dreaded home study. After deciding to become a parent, possibly years after, you then have to “prove” that you are going to provide a “good” home to your future, potential child. It is hours of paperwork, gathering materials about everything from how much you weigh, what medications you are on, what your parents did for discipline, your fingerprints (!) and even writing a short novel on the story of your life. After all of that work is done, you are now ready for a home visit. This is where my travels begin. I get in my trusty Prius, load up on snacks and drinks and head out, listening to the gentle guidance of my electronic British navigator instructing me how to weave my way to your driveway. I usually pull over close to my destination. I make sure I have all of my documents ready, make sure I am not covered in crumbs and triple check that I’m going to the right house.
I always get nervous walking up to someone’s door. Do I look like a social worker? Do I look like someone from the old school vision of what a social worker is?? Do you think I have white gloves in my bag to test and see if there is dust on your counters? Would it be funny if I showed up with white gloves? Or would that joke scare you? I know you cleaned. Your house is always spotless and the magazines are laid out on the table in a completely natural way. ? I never see US Weekly in that pile of magazines. Where is your US Weekly? It’s not in the bathroom either (which I used to make sure that you have running hot/cold water by the way). And believe me, I get it. I would do the same thing! Sometimes the house smells like baked goods. You can continue doing this only if I get to have some of these baked goods. Anyone who knows me well knows that I enjoy a baked good. My team is often drinking coffee and drinking protein shakes as I gnaw on a roll with butter. It was multigrain! I swear!
We take a tour of your house, and you make sure to show me the fire extinguishers, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors. You show me the outlet covers you may have already gotten and the space where a crib might go. This is all good and appreciated. But it’s not all that I came to your house for. It’s not even at the top of the list. I came to your house so we can sit down at your table and talk. We can sit at the same table where you have cried into your dinner because you found out you can’t conceive or that you miscarried. Again. Or where you toasted with sparking cider that your IVF treatment worked. It’s the same table where you googled “adoption agencies” and found Haven. I want to sit at that same table with you and try to get a sense of YOU. What you are scared of and what you are looking forward to with adoption. What you have been through to get here. It’s my favorite part of the home study because at this point parents drop the magazine lining up, cookie smelling house and tell me what is in your heart. It’s a chance for me to talk to YOU and talk about the journey you are about to start. It is likely going to be slower than you would like. You might feel totally connected to a birth mom and she might pick someone else. It will feel like it is and has been “your turn” for way longer than it should. Friends might have their second or third child by the time you adopt. You don’t have to tell me you are okay with that, and even if you do, I might not buy it. Because it feels terrible to both of us that there are children in the world who need homes and parents who just really want to have children in their homes. But tell me how your partner and you have started walking together every night to deal with the stress of this, tell me how you started bowling, going to church or running. Tell me you if went to counseling, that you joined a support group, that you have a good friend who you talk to who has been through this process. I want to know what brings you comfort and joy, outside of the adoption process. As a team, we are going to need these things to get through the next period. I might need to remind you of them later. You might need to have your friends and family on standby in case it doesn’t work out as you envisioned. This is the meat of the home study- to see if the space you have created in your home matches the space you have in your heart to take this journey. It has been such an honor to be in your house, to hear your story and to get to know you so well.
Now pass the cookies.