I remember my nervous twitching during our first home study in 1991. A home study writer sat across from me, my husband, and my two sullen preteens in our hastily cleaned living room. As I silently prayed that the kids would say the right things and our Golden Retriever would not lick her face, I tried to relax. After all, we were a normal family and excellent parents. What could possibly be seen as a mark against us? (With the exception of that mysterious black smudge on the sofa!)
After nineteen years of adoptive parenting, eight years of foster parenting, and six years of working as a home study writer for the state of Colorado, I finally know the answer to that question. It’s really fairly simple. A home study should be an uncensored and clear representation of you and your family–as if the home study writer was looking in the window and seeing your life on a normal day. The dog drooling on the floor. The kids screaming about who gets the remote control. And everyone talking at once at the dinner table.
Your home study is not a test. It’s an evaluation of your potential ability to parent an adoptive or foster child. Your worker isn’t there to determine whether or not you can diaper a baby or install a car seat. But she does want an honest answer to the question, “How do you and your partner resolve disagreements and what do you argue about?” If you say, “We never argue,” she’ll raise an eyebrow!
Your skill as a home maker is not on trial either. No one is going to look in the refrigerator or peer into your laundry hampers. We just want to see a home that’s safe, comfortable, and non-toxic. Lock up the firearms and put the medicines out of reach. Let your worker know that you did that.
And what about those “skeletons in the closet,” like your Uncle Fred who has a drug problem? Share the information but tell your worker that you don’t approve of Uncle Fred’s lifestyle. What about your own history? Maybe you were arrested in the ‘60’s for demonstrations against the war. (Like my husband.) It’s fine, just be up front about it. Since the agency does a background check the record of your arrest is sitting in that folder on her lap anyway. She’s waiting for you to bring it up.
Most importantly, home studies are a chance for you to show the agency that you acknowledge your life–good and bad–and that you understand how it’s guided you to where you are now. Answering all those intrusive questions is also good practice for when you’re a parent and your kids ask you about your past. You will know how to make those questions a “teachable moment.” You will be able to answer honestly and tell them why you don’t do drugs anymore. (If you ever did.) That’s what your home study writer wants to hear too, so come clean. The truth and nothing but the truth is the best way to go. Telling her about that smudge on the couch is optional.