One of the most nerve-wracking components of the adoption process is the thought that a social worker is required to visit your home as part of the home study.  You may imagine a prim woman coming to visit, someone dressed in a perfectly pressed business suit with a matching pillbox hat.  She will sweep judgmentally around your home, peering into corners, sniffing the carpets, wiping the tops of door frames with a white glove, and evaluating the quality of the art on your walls. You imagine that she will discover something you missed—maybe your throw pillows are too soft or your bathroom sink is too hard or your cupboards are too ugly.  Or maybe–horrors!– she’ll open a closet door and something from a top shelf will come loose and fall on her head.

“Ah ha!” she will say, the moment she finds something wrong. Immediately she’ll sit at the kitchen table (noting with some satisfaction that it has a slight wobble), whip your file out of her briefcase, and boldly stamp it– in indelible red– with the words “Unfit for Parenthood.”

“To say that I was nervous regarding the home study is minimalizing it.,” writes one adoptive mother of two, of preparing for her own Home Study. “I put in new kitchen flooring, painted rooms, and reorganized our entire garage.” But, she adds, “all that was so unnecessary as Stephanie [the adoption social worker] immediately explained to me that her role was to assist us in the process of becoming parents.”

And her experience is almost universal. So please scratch that pill-box-hat-wearing woman from your head. An adoption social worker is there to help you become a parent– not prevent you from becoming a parent. And the home study is part of that process. Here are some ideas to bear in mind when preparing for your own home study:

1. Understand the purposes of the home study.

An adoption home study is a report created by a social worker regarding a potential adoptive family. Its purpose is to verify that the adoptive parents are emotionally, physically, and financially capable of caring for a child. (Many people would argue that all prospective parents should go through this process!) On its website, the United States Department of Child Welfare advises, “Remember, agencies are not looking for perfect families. The home study process is a way for a social worker to learn more about your real family, as a potential home for real children. It is also an opportunity for you to explore adoption issues and what types of children you can best parent, with the social worker’s help.”

Most adoption agencies come into a home with the goal of helping you become qualified to adopt, not to find reasons to exclude you for the adoption process.

2. Be yourself.

The best approach in a home study is to be honest, open, and authentic. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Remember the ad campaign with the slogan, “You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent”? It’s the truth. Just be who you are.

3. Voice Concerns.

Don’t ever feel that you are stuck in a relationship with a home study social worker. If you believe you are being mistreated as part of an assessment, the social worker is uncomfortable with you, or that he or she is being unfair in making on the assessment (perhaps because of your religious beliefs or sexual orientation), address these concerns with the social worker.

If this doesn’t help or if you feel that for any reason the social worker is unable to complete the assessment fairly, be aware that you can contact a supervisor or agency administrator and request that a different social worker complete the Home Study.

4. Speed things up by getting as much done before the home visits as possible.

The home study is a comprehensive review of all aspects of your life. You’ll participate in interviews, fill out forms, talk about your daily routine and your parenting experiences, describe your reasons for wanting to adopt, and provide financial and medical information. While you can’t control how quickly the social worker does his or her job, you can help by:

-Gathering up your documents. Your agency (or the social worker completing your home study, if you’re participating in a private adoption) will specify what documents you need to provide for the home study. Commonly you’ll need to provide proof of citizenship and financial documents such as paycheck stubs, W4 forms, income tax forms, proof of insurance, and information about savings, investments, and debts.

-Completing your background check. You’ll need to complete a Criminal History Background check.  Talk with your adoption agency before beginning this process to ensure you’re going through an approved entity for your check).

-Ensuring that your home is safe– ie, that there are working smoke alarms, that medications and household cleaners are kept in a locked space, that electrical plugs are protected, that firearms are safely stored, that pools are fenced and/or covered, etc– so that the social worker doesn’t have to recommend that you make changes and then come back to ensure that the changes have been implemented.

-Finding people who will serve as references for you. Generally your adoption agency will ask that you provide the names of three to four people who know you well but who are not related to you, people who can vouch that you’ll be able to provide a good home for a child.

-Scheduling medical appointments to receive a statement from a physician certifying that you are healthy enough to adopt a child.

-Filling out all paperwork provided by the agency promptly and accurately.