H is for Home Study #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter HIt is exactly what it sounds like…a study of your home (not just the bricks and mortar) to ensure that it (you) are suitable candidates for parenthood.  Amazing that when we have biological children, the assumption is that we are suitable, but when we seek to adopt, we start at zero and must pass inspection of nearly every detail of our lives.

It is what it is, and if you’re committed to adopting, as we were, it’s part of the price you pay (no pun intended, right?).

We underwent two home studies, and in both cases we had a case worker with whom we forged a really great relationship right from the start.  That is important.  If you don’t connect, I would strongly urge you to find someone else do to it.  This is the person who, for all practical purposes, holds your adoptive future in his/her hands, and you want someone who advocates for you, which means you want someone who likes you…a lot.  It doesn’t hurt at all if the feeling is mutual.

The nitty gritty of the home study looks like this:

  • homestudyApplication…fill it out fully.  Rest assured you are being checked six ways from Sunday, so do not lie.  If there are things that need to be disclosed, disclose them.  Better to deal with them now – especially if they are deal breakers – than after you have spent a lot of time and a good deal of money.
  • Health History…physical and mental health, so get your physicals.  Your doctor will have to fill out a form from your application packet that confirms your fitness to parent.  It’s not about perfection, just about reasonable mental & physical health…and “reasonable” is a very elastic term.  Don’t let this worry you.
  • Criminal Background…the rule of thumb is no felonies, but obviously each state has standards specific to the state.  This requires fingerprints, and it takes several weeks, so get your digits inked early.  In our state, I learned it is a misdemeanor to fail to license your dog.  Now I think this is a huge overreach of government intrusion into my business, but it’s small potatoes when you want to adopt, and the home study will require it.
  • Financial Background…your credit history will be checked, so if there are issues, address them and fix what you can.  Your income will be verified.  Every state has a minimum amount a family must make to be considered for adoption, with a set amount more for each additional adoptee (if you want more than one child).  We were considering that, so we had to verify we could, in fact, financially care for multiple children.  You will need at least one, and probably 2-3 years of signed tax returns to provide, so find them and keep them accessible…and you will have to update them for every home study renewal, and for your final adoption hearing.  Fair warning…
  • magnifying glassHome Inspection…clean your house, lock up your firearms and ammunition separately, have a plan to keep your cleaning supplies & medications out of the reach of children, pick up your clutter, lock up hazardous materials in the garage, etc.  It will all be checked.  On this point, I think it goes easier for families who have kids already (we did), because the health and well being of your child(ren) is an indicator that you are, in fact, successful parents already.  I’m not sure this is fair, but it is reality, so if you’re seeking to adopt your first child, jump high & clean through the hoops.
  • Interviews…the only residents of your home who will not be interviewed are pets and young kids.  In our son’s interview (he was only interviewed in the second home study, and was seven at the time), we were allowed to be present, but he had to answer the questions.  We were interviewed jointly and separately.  In our individual interviews, we were questioned about many of the personal issues that were addressed in our applications.  Be truthful and honest.  Don’t gloss over struggles and weaknesses, because it looks and sounds bogus.  Address them head on, and be honest about how you manage them.  We both did that.  interviewCase workers understand that no one is perfect, and why would you want that anyway?  We are human, and fallible…what the case workers (if they are doing their job right) need to see is that you are functional, that your marriage is stable, and that you have the necessary qualities to make a good parent.
  • Documentation…make sure you have certified copies of birth certificates (for everyone living in the home), marriage license(s), divorce decrees and custody arrangements (if applicable), legal residency and/or citizenship (if you were not born in the US), dog licenses (I’m serious!), and any other that is required.  Keep it accessible, because you will need it more than once (thank you CPS, or whatever that agency is called in your state).
  • Money…yes, the home study costs money, and it is not usually included in the cost of the adoption.  This varies by agency, so check the stipulations of the agency you select.

One very important point regarding your interview:  talk ahead of time about how you want to discuss your discipline strategies, because you will be asked.  Spanking these days is controversial, so if you do spank, make sure you are prepared to answer that question.  Also know that you will likely be required to sign an agreement that you will not spank your adoptive child, particularly if you are adopting from foster care.  This is crucial to understand, because when you adopt foster kids, there are almost always issues with neglect and abuse (physical, psychological, sexual, verbal, emotional).  Spanking is counter productive, because it reinforces abuse in the mind of the child.  You must be willing and prepared to use other behavior modification strategies, and you need to make sure that you can administer them consistently and with love.

OK, soapbox done.  Just be informed, so you can be good parents to whatever child(ren) God places in your family.

home study approved

This is boring, tedious stuff.  A lot of it is, in my opinion, overkill to satisfy the state’s requirements, but it not optional.  My husband and I talked about adopting before we ever married, and we both felt (and feel) strongly that God called us to it.  None of the hoops that we have jumped through to get to the end were lofty, but they were necessary, and in the end, our second child is now home.  It was all worth it for him…even licensing the dog.

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C is for Child Protective Services (CPS) #AtoZChallenge

A to Z Letter CI have very mixed feelings about CPS.  Very.

Official CPS approval is a very big part of having a complete (and successful) home study.  And it is after the (licensed) agency has done a thorough and extensive background check, documenting residency history, job history, financial background, criminal background, health history (including mental health), our children, our pets, and some of our friends.  I’m sure I am leaving a few things out.  Not only did we have to provide legal and/or certified documentation for numerous details, we had to answer a lengthy application questionnaire, and all of us (yes, even our son, who was 7 at the time) had to be interviewed.

cpsBut even after all of that is done, we still had to get CPS approval, after which it was presented to a judge for final certification that we were, in fact, eligible to adopt a child.

That is not the end of CPS involvement.  30 days after baby came home, at our first post-placement visit, we were told that we could at that point contact the court and request the application to finalize our adoption.  We did, and submitted it, which triggered the court to start requesting our information from the agency.  At this point, our agency sent us a sheaf of paperwork to fill out, including another application on which we were to note any changes (there were none).  We had to update financial paperwork.  We had to submit (again) a certified copy of our marriage license and birth certificates.  And then…our entire file had to be submitted to CPS again for approval, without which we couldn’t go to court and finalize our adoption.

Why this had to be done twice within an 18–month period baffles me.  What on earth do they believe will change within 18 months that will change us from suitable to unsuitable parents?  It’s not as if we were not in regular contact with our agency.  We were.  It’s not as if we hadn’t been regularly signing and submitting paperwork as required.  We had.  It’s not as if we weren’t making regular payments.  We were.  It’s not as if our social worker had not been talking with us regularly.  She had, and the post placement visit had been done as well.  What on earth are we going to do, deliberately or otherwise, to disqualify ourselves after we have gone to this much trouble and this much expense?

Well, CPS had to make sure…twice.  And here’s the thing…it was a rubber stamp on a file they saw 18 months before that had not changed, but it could have taken weeks.  It usually does, our agency said, so don’t really count on it being done in time. It could have derailed our court date and forced a continuance, if not for the ANGEL of a paralegal in the adoption department of our local court, who rattled cages at CPS to make sure the approval got moved to the top of the pile and pushed through in time.

There is no alternative.  A licensed adoption agency is not “official” in the eyes of the government, even though it does the heavy lifting.  CPS is the official representative of the government, and in order to even be considered, they must approve us.  At least this is an area where, if the adoption agency has done its job (ours did), then CPS can’t really do any harm…unless being slow as molasses in January qualifies as harm (not really).

NO_cpsBut these were not our only dealings with CPS…and what follows could have derailed the entire adoption, and made us start from scratch, but this time adopting from the state.  All because our beautiful, perfect son was born exposed to methamphetamine.  Not addicted, but exposed.

Any time a child is born exposed to drugs or alcohol, it triggers a call from the hospital to CPS…which triggers a visit and an “official” report.  The agent came, and (thankfully) spoke to me first.  She then spoke to the birth mom, and apparently flexed enough muscle that our birth mom stopped talking to her, and would only talk to her agency social worker.  Thank God for that.  CPS did not need to even come to the hospital in this case.  What they needed to do was verify that an adoption plan was securely in place, and that would have negated any need for further contact.  They did not…they chose instead to rear their head, because they could.  They chose to give our birth mom a hard time, because they could.

This is the point I became all too aware, once again, that CPS does not really exist to do what is in the best interest of the child.  If they did, then they would have consulted the reams of paperwork on our birth mom and us before they decided to get involved.  They might have made some discreet phone calls to the social workers attached to our case before coming to the hospital.  They might have even been kinder to our birth mom, because they already knew that she had made an adoption plan, and that she was not seeking to parent this child.  There was no need to treat her like a second class citizen because of the meth use, especially since she was not keeping this baby, but they did.  I believe here, just as with every other part of this adoption, that God was continually intervening on behalf of our precious child.

StilI, I have mixed feelings.  Very mixed, because though I understand the necessity of having an agency that protects children, the colossal inefficiency, and utter failure in some cases, of CPS to actually protect children, gives me no confidence that they can do what they exist to do.

Doing It Right This Time

An Adoption Manifesto

This is the second time in the past four years that we have been at the end of a home study and ready to add a child (or two) to our little family.  Our first attempt, undertaken in Tennessee, went smoothly through every step of the process, but the months ticked by as we waited for a match and I began to get discouraged.  We watched other families, who started their adoptive journey at the same time, bring their babies home.  I can’t imagine feeling any happier for them than I did (and do), because I intimately understood where they had been and how the struggles to expand your family can discourage even the most hopeful.  As we approached the anniversary of our approval, with no obvious progress, I found myself wondering what was wrong with us, what was wrong with me, what did birth parents not see in us that they saw in others.

Amazing, then, as we were contemplating having to renew all of our paperwork for another year, to have a job offer fall into my husband’s lap that we just could not refuse.  This was not out of thin air.  We had been open to relocation for quite some time, and my husband had even submitted his name for consideration on a four year international assignment in Santiago, Chile…one that ultimately fell through.  So my husband accepted this job offer, and we picked up and moved cross country so he could be a member of the start up team for a new office.  Our adoption file was placed on hold.  We settled in to life in the desert, sold our Tennessee home, and except for some truly precious friends we left behind, severed our ties to the Tennessee Valley.

It took me almost two years before I was able to tackle a home study again.  It is an arduous process, packed with lots of paperwork, interviews, and extremely personal questions.  It has to be that way…it should be that way…but it can feel really invasive.  After having been through it once, after having second guessed virtually every answer, every disclosure, every decision as we filled out the application, I was momentarily paralyzed at having to do it again.

My husband told me that the first time around, he felt like he was the one running point, pushing me to get everything completed and submitted, and though he knew I wanted to do it, he felt a little like he was dragging me along, and he wasn’t going to do that again.  If we were really going to do this, I had to run point this time.  I had to take the lead in getting the paperwork finished, scheduling the interviews, prepping our 7yo son for his interview, getting our house prepared, and basically moving the process along.  I think he wanted to make absolutely certain that I was in this 100%, and he was right to put the responsibility on me.  I needed that to get me moving, and here we are now, having completed the process once again…waiting for a child (or two) to add to our family.

And this time, we are doing it right.

My husband and I have had a lot of conversations about our experience in Tennessee.  He didn’t realize at the time how discouraged I was, in large part because I felt like the agency was not taking good care of us once our home study was complete.  I had sensed that our social worker (also the head of the agency) did not seem to have an aura of joy about her job.  She didn’t exhibit excitement about what she was doing.  She didn’t seem energetic or filled with an eagerness to find a match for us.  She didn’t seem excited to present us, and over the course of a year with them, our profile was viewed twice.  After all the hours spent making it as good as we possibly could, making sure it accurately represented our family, making sure it was well put together and error free, it seemed to languish on the shelf most of the year.  This is devastating to a family who has such high hopes that this (very expensive) process will culminate with a beautiful child to call our own.

He also didn’t realize that I had been feeling profound regret about some of the choices we made regarding the type of child we wished to have.  I made these decisions against my personal convictions, and I knew when I did so that I would regret them.  I hated myself for compromising what I believed was the right thing to do in the name of avoiding some really difficult conversations.  I’m no stranger to conflict.  I’ve dealt with it all of my life, but I have capitulated many times when I wished I had not (even though it was to keep – or make – peace), and here was yet another example of doing just that .  Again.

Not this time.

There were many, many conversations with friends and family over the course of our first home study.  We were grateful beyond words at the outpouring of support & love, at the willingness of those closest to us to provide references, and at their unabashed happiness for us as we pursued what was in our hearts.  So I was completely taken aback when I was cautioned:

  • to think long and hard before we decided to adopt a black child
  • to think long and hard before we decided to adopt a mixed race child if one of the birth parents was black
  • that adopting a black or mixed race child would be fraught with problems throughout our lives
  • that black people value their culture highly, and that would be cause for conflict and frustration in our family
  • that only white people adopt trans-racially and trans-culturally, because we don’t put as high a value on our own culture and traditions
  • that adopting a black or mixed race child would cause the child to have problems being accepted in both the black & white communities
  • that a black or mixed race child would have identity issues being raised in a white family
  • that a black or mixed race child may not be accepted by their own families
  • that people would talk about us having a black or mixed race child

AND:

  • to think long and hard before we decided to adopt a child with any special needs
  • that we would not know what we were getting into
  • that we would likely encounter more difficulty than we anticipated
  • that we needed to be very, very sure we wanted to take on those burdens

I was utterly unprepared with any answer to these cautions, especially the reservations voiced about race.  It NEVER OCCURRED to me until that moment to exclude certain racial or ethnic backgrounds when indicating the children for whom we wanted to be considered.  My husband and I had talked at length about what special needs and/or health problems we felt competent to handle, but the truth is, you never know how special needs and health issues will manifest themselves…until they do.  Adoption is no different from biology in that regard, and the only difference is that in an adoption, you can withdraw.  But if you have discussed it, and prayed about, and know that God has your back in all things…well…

We had also discussed all of the racial issues, and we had no racial concerns or exclusions…until some reservations were verbalized to us.  And I did what I have done some many times throughout my life…I made the decision that would not ruffle feathers, and I nearly choked on it.

Not this time.

If you attended church when you were a child, or have attended regularly with your own children, you are probably familiar with this little song:

Jesus loves the little children,
All the children of the world.
Red or yellow, black or white,
All are precious in His sight,
Jesus loves the little children of the world.

I was reminded of that song as we started our current home study, because “red or yellow, black or white,” all are precious in MY sight, too.  I do not care what color my child is, what race my child is, what ethnicity my child is, or what culture my child is.  I want my family to reflect the body of Christ, and that means actively seeking not to exclude certain of those whom God may entrust us to raise, but rather to be willing and open to whomever God brings into our family.  I can’t do it any other way.  I am compelled as we go on this journey to make decisions I believe are right in the eyes of God.  I believe that includes making practical decisions regarding the health and safety of our biological son.  I also believe it means cleaving to our convictions, and if it ruffles feathers…well, we are prepared for that.

I’ll leave you with one final thought.  We had a discussion with our son a few months ago about what kind of child he might want for a brother or sister.  After telling us he wanted a big brother, a little brother, a big sister, and a little sister, we had the following exchange:

Mom:  What color brother or sister would you like?  (I was teasing, because he’s as likely to say green or orange as any other color)
Dad:  What about green?
Son:  No Daddy!
Mom:  So what color would you like?
Son:  Like us.  You know, human color.
Mom:  Well, what if we get a brother or sister that is the color of D____? (a black/Hispanic kid at school).
Son:  Mommy, D_____ is not a color, he’s a boy!!

What a perfect response from a child who sees people, not colors.  May God continue to keep his heart that pure and unencumbered with prejudice.

Thank you for reading my heart.  Please, pray for us as we pursue adoption once again.  Your prayers are a life raft for us during this journey.