This is the second part of a series encouraging adoptive parents and adoption service providers to reconsider our perspective and reset our thinking about the purpose and goals of the home study.
Executive Director Myriam Avery and Director of Social Services Debby Fields from Agape Adoptions, and NCFA Vice President Ryan Hanlon, weighed in on some of the most common questions and issues surrounding home studies today. In Part Two they outline the hallmarks of a good home study, what families should look for in a provider, and pitfalls to avoid.
Standards have evolved, and yet many believe there is still room for improvement when it comes to parent training and preparation for intercountry adoption. In your opinion, what are the hallmarks of a good home study that prospective adoptive parents should be looking for as they evaluate their options for an agency?
DF: The home study process should include a good deal of education to ensure families are really acquainted with the possible challenges they may face with their child. The social worker and homestudy agency should be ensuring that families are knowledgeable regarding the resources in their area for their child, have a strong support system, understand the differences in parenting a child from adoption versus a bio child who has had their needs met from the beginning of existence, have realistic expectations for the challenges they may face with their child, and know strategies for helping their child thrive. In addition, the homestudy agency and social worker should have a solid understanding of the requirements of USCIS and the sending country and write a professional and complete homestudy that meets these requirements and doesn't cause delays for the family along the way.
Hanlon concurred with Debby and added, that a good home study will “adequately gauge what the limitations/boundaries should be in terms of a fit for the adoption. Meaning, the family is approved broadly enough to adopt a child that’s a good fit, but narrowly enough so that they aren’t matched with a child that is not a good fit.”
If the home study is this critical, and the home study preparer is really the key, then what should parents be looking for when choosing a home study agency?
RH: Families need to select a home study provider with a long-term view in mind. This should be an ongoing relationship throughout the pre and post placement process. At a minimum, select a home study agency that is Hague accredited, but one with deep intercountry experience would be better. There are some states that do not have a Hague accredited home study agency. (There is a process in place to acquire a waiver from Hague sending countries to utilize a non-Hague accredited agency, but it’s key that the placing agency understand and conduct that process accurately.)
Do not look for the cheapest agency. Personally, I would put a lot of stock in previous adoptive parent recommendations. I would choose the country program before I chose the agency, and then find an agency with good resources/reputation for that country program.
DF: It’s really important for families to choose a provider that can give them personalized attention and really great service. Their social worker has a critical role in preparing them for this major life change and the social worker should be equally as supportive and involved, if not even more so, during their post-placement season. So, when choosing a provider, it’s important to think through the full lifecycle of working with the homestudy agency.
MA: I encourage families to choose an agency that focuses on the homestudy as a process not a product. There are cases in which an expedited homestudy is warranted, such as a medical expedite. But even in those cases we can still do quality work to ensure the family is properly assessed and prepared. Also, families sometimes choose not to disclose all of the required information up front, or they really struggle with disclosing all required information. We may not need it all, and we understand that there is a lot of information collected and much of it is very personal. It’s our job to safeguard that information and we do. We also know that most families have something in their background. It’s really rare that someone does not have something and it’s okay. The incident of being a victim of abuse or having a DUI or some other infraction, does not define the applicant- a good social worker and a good agency understands this.
This line of work is not always easy. Sometimes you have to have hard conversations, and make difficult decisions. What is most rewarding to you as a home study provider?
DF: The best part of being a homestudy provider is seeing the parents together with their new child and seeing the children thrive in homes where the parents were well prepared and suited to meet their child's needs compassionately and effectively.
MA: Getting to know families is really great; the majority of families are really wonderful to work with and we are so appreciative of families opening their hearts and home (and past) to bring a child into their world. I’ve been doing this work for 20 years, and I still get teary when I see a family and child come together. It’s really amazing. I also LOVE to see the transformation from a child without a family to a child into a family- that is the BEST! Kids do well in families.