The Home Study- What, When and Why

What do you think of when you hear the words “home study?”

What is your picture of the person who comes to your house to complete a “home study?” The home study process can be anxiety producing, particularly if you picture a social worker from the 1960s wearing orthopedic shoes and reading glasses.

Home studies have been called investigations, background checks, and parenting assessments. While all these may be true, that does not paint the complete picture.

At a basic and simple level, the home study is a document that gives the court reassurance that the home into which a child is placed is safe. It is typically completed by a social worker or other mental health professional. Requirements vary from state to state, but all home studies will include criminal background checks. Most home studies will also include such elements as medical physicals, financial statements, and reference letters.

All of this may seem very cut and dry.

Fill out a mountain of paperwork, wait for someone to come to your home and ask intrusive questions, and then you are given the green light to become parents. Never mind that other people get pregnant every day—even teenagers—and no one asks them for any paperwork suggesting they are capable of parenting! If this is your mindset, and the mindset of your home study provider, adoption may not be for you. Just as it is unlikely the social worker completing your home study will be a hold-over from the 1960s with orthopedic shoes and reading glasses, it is unlikely that your home study will be so cut and dry. A modern home study done by an ethical provider is more than a series of boxes to be checked.

The home study is a process and a tool. It is the means by which your home study provider gets to know you, and equally importantly, you get to know them. Your home study provider can be more than a “one and done” type of place. A good provider will be able to offer support and guidance down the road.

The home study is a conversation.

It’s a conversation about your dreams of parenting, as well as your practical knowledge of parenting. It’s a conversation about where you’ve been and where you hope to go. Most importantly, it’s a conversation about what you know about how adoption will impact a child, and what it is you still need to learn.

The home study is an education. From beginning to end, it’s an education about yourself, your relationships, and your community. You will not be expected to have all the answers to the questions, but hopefully, a good home study will point you in the direction of where you need to go to find the answers. Even more importantly, a good home study will make you think of more questions!

Yes, your home study will include the mundane pieces of your life. It will include those criminal background checks, health physicals, social histories and financial statements. Our advice? Don’t settle for the mundane. Immerse yourself in the process. Ask questions of yourselves and family members about your own history. Ask your home study provider about trends in adoption and where you might be able to make an impact. And most importantly, have conversations with your home study provider about the human side of adoption, particularly what a child who is adopted might need.

Focus your heart on your future child, then go through the home study process willing to learn and to share.

 


When Adoption ‘Breaks the Internet’

We’ve all seen them. Viral stories about celebrities who adopt a baby. Viral stories about families picking up their baby at the adoption agency, and then surprising their own extended families. Viral stories about children spending thousands of days in foster care, then having their adoption finalized. These seem to be everywhere.  

These stories evoke positive responses. They are shared and repeated, over and over. Who doesn’t love a happy ending?  

But adoption is not an ending, happy or otherwise.

In fact, bringing home the baby is only the beginning. The finalization of the adoption, whether with an infant or older foster child, is only the beginning. Adoption is the creation of a new family, but one that is built on losses. The adopted child’s identity will forevermore include the tag “adopted” and a genetic history that she does not share with her parents. To be an adoptee means you have had to say goodbye to the people who created you. And what’s more—you didn’t have a voice in that decision.   

Can we all agree that children are not delivered by storks?

They do not fall from the sky. Behind every “delivered” child, is a woman who struggled. For every child who is placed through foster care, there is a heartbreaking story of birth parents ill-equipped to raise children or faced circumstances most of us can’t begin to imagine. The reasons for placing a child are legion. There is no “one size fits all” adoption story, yet the common thread is loss 

Many adoptive parents begin the adoption journey because of infertility. Others adopt because of a sense of calling that is either faith based or service based. When a child joins a family through adoption, the dynamics of that family changes forever. The adoption will not fix infertility. It will also forever alter the “what might have beens” of the family without fertility issues. Likewise, adoption will not be the cure-all of a birth family’s struggles. It will be a loss for the birth family—for the parents, siblings, and extended family.  

At its best, adoption is for the child. Adoption is an institution that should guarantee a safe, loving, and happy home. And part of that safe, loving, and happy home needs to be the acknowledgement that the child is his own person. He comes to the adoptive family with biological family’s DNA. He comes to the adoptive family with his birth mother’s experiences while she was pregnant. He lives with the adoptive family and absorbs the love, the traditions, and connections that they offer. And one day he is ready to take on the world herself.  

What should you do when you see one of those viral stories?

Share it? Share it and comment? Before you do any of those things, take a moment to think of the people behind the story. Acknowledge, at least to yourself, that this story comes from someone else’s pain. From their brokenness. Be grateful for the family or families that created you. Those thoughts can be turned into comments that will serve the internet well. Those are the thoughts that can change the face of adoption to a more realistic view that honors the birth family, adoptive family, and the child who is adopted. Those emotions…joy and pain…are real adoption.   


Celebrating Birth Families

Where’s the joy? Where’s the excitement?

When a new baby comes home, the baby is welcomed with banners, balloons, visitors, and gifts. In adoption, the adoptive family is swamped with people wanting to visit, hold the new baby and offer congratulations. But when a woman who has placed her baby for adoption returns home from the hospital, there is no celebration. She may have family near-by who want to support her and love her, but celebrating is not a part of the vocabulary.

Not to be insensitive to the grief (which is oh-so real), think about what holds us back from celebrating the birth family. Balloons and banners are not appropriate as a welcome, but the sentiment behind them might be. Is it not knowing what to say? Yes, the grief is real. No, the baby is not with her. But the woman who just placed her baby is WORTH CELEBRATING! And if the birth father was a part of the adoption, he is worth celebrating also.

The dictionary defines the word “celebrate” as to make known publicly or to praise widely. The history of adoption in the 1900s did not involve celebration, especially for birth families. Rather, adoption was the secret no one wanted to talk about. It was too shameful. It reflected “mistakes” and “sinful behavior.

Fortunately, we’ve moved beyond the secrecy and shame. But are we ready to “praise widely”?

It’s time. It is time to praise widely. Please don’t misunderstand. It’s not the time to draw attention to someone who does not want that attention. It’s not the time to start a gossip session. But it is time to remember and acknowledge the birth mother and her choice.

So celebrate that she created life.

Celebrate the strength that it took to place the baby’s needs before her own. Celebrate her intelligence in sorting through her options and making her choice. Celebrate the hope for the birth mother’s future. Praise widely!

And if balloons and banners are not appropriate, there are ways to give that recognition and praise. Visit the woman who is now home from the hospital after giving birth, even though the baby is not with her. Talk with her. Ask if she wants to talk about the baby, her experiences, and her grief. If she says she doesn’t want to talk about those things, that’s ok! Follow her lead! At least she will know you care.

Provide a home cooked meal. Go out for coffee together. If she has other children, offer to babysit for an afternoon or evening. Offer a ride to the doctor or counselor’s office. Think about what you would do for the new adoptive family, and then offer the same to the birth mother.

The days of secrecy in adoption are gone. How will you celebrate the birth families in your life?


Rights and Responsibilities for Adoptive Parents

Adoption is an emotionally charged experience.

No matter if you come to adoption from infertility or because of a faith calling, it involves the lives of not just the child, but the lives of the child’s birth family and extended family. Adoption has an impact on the siblings the child may have in either the biological family or the adoptive family, the community in which the child lives, and the schools the child attends. Entering into an adoption relationship should be done only after much soul searching and with an open and committed heart.   

Keeping that in mind, as you find yourself in the adoption process, you should remember that as adopting parents you have both rights and responsibilities. Regardless of how you come to adoption – after experiencing infertility, having biological children, or through a sense of calling – these rights and responsibilities are an important part of the journey  

The rights include of adoptive parents include:   

  • The right to be treated with respect and honesty. 
  • The right to have emotional support before, during, and after the adoption placement. 
  • The right to ask questions and receive answers about all steps of the process. 
  • The right to review and understand all legal paperwork before you sign it. 
  • The right to receive counseling services before, during and after the adoption placement. 
  • The right to health information about the child you are adopting, including any prenatal drug exposure or communicable disease. 
  • The right to refuse the placement of a child whose needs exceed your ability to care for that child 

Rights always come along with responsibilities. These responsibilities include: 

  • Treating others involved in your adoption with respect and honesty. 
  • Create a “go-to” person or team who is familiar with adoption issues who can help you answer your questions, and support you with your thoughts and feelings before, during, and after the adoption placement. 
  • Ask questions!  
  • Request a copy of the legal paperwork before you file a petition for adoption with the court. 
  • Process your infertility losses. Understand that having a child through adoption is not a “cure” or fix for infertility. Use the services of a counselor, pastor, or trusted friend who understands what you have been through and will help keep you moving forward. 
  • Be honest if your plans change. If you become pregnant during your adoption journey before the placement of a child into your home, place your adoption plans on hold. Focus on one birth at a time! 
  • Ask for medical records and review them with your child’s medical professional. 
  • Be realistic about your abilities as a parent. 

While these are general rights and responsibilities for adoptive parents, adoptive parents also have more responsibilities to their child that are unique to adoption and are key to developing a healthy sense of identity in the child.

These responsibilities include: 

  • Being honest with your child about the adoption piece of their identity. 
  • Speaking respectfully and lovingly of your child’s birth family. 
  • Using positive adoption language. 
  • Remembering your child’s story is their own and share it only with those with a true need to know. 

No single list is all inclusive. Remember the Golden Rule as you meet expectant parents and develop a relationship with them as your child is growing.  Above all else, you have the responsibility to understand the adopted child carries a piece of their biological family with them forever, and this should be celebrated!    


Rights and Responsibilities for Expectant Mothers

So many times in adoption, all the focus is on the adopting parents.

People share their infertility stories or their faith commitment on social media and with friends and families. Women experiencing an unexpected pregnancy are seen as simply the way for the adopting parents to get their baby. It’s hard to get in the way of their excitement and joy, but no one need ever feel put down or be ignored for choosing to place their child for adoption. No matter how young or old you are, as an expectant mom, you have rights.

These rights include:

  • Be treated with respect and honesty.
  • Have an advocate for support before, during, and after the adoption placement.
  • Ask questions and receive answers about all steps of the process.
  • Review and understand all legal paperwork before you sign it.
  • Receive emergency living expenses totaling up to $4,000.
  • Receive counseling services before, during and after the adoption placement.
  • Change your mind about placing your child at any point before you sign consents for the adoption.
  • Choose the family who adopts your child.
  • Know how the adoptive family has been screened and evaluated.
  • See, hold, and care for your baby in the hospital.

Rights always come along with responsibilities. These responsibilities include:

  • Treating others involved in your adoption with respect and honesty.
  • Let your advocate know your questions, thoughts and feelings before, during, and after the adoption placement.
  • Ask questions!
  • Request a copy of the legal paperwork before you make a firm commitment to adoption.
  • Use the emergency living expenses as intended.
  • Use counseling services to help process your grief and provide a way to move forward.
  • Be honest if you are not planning on moving forward with an adoption plan.
  • Think about what type of family would be best for your child.
  • Ask what screening measures were done by the adoptive family to insure not just a safe home but one where adoption is celebrated.
  • Being available for your child when they have questions about their identity.

No single list is all inclusive. Maybe the best way to think about rights and responsibilities is to remember the Golden Rule—that is to treat others as you want to be treated. 


Safe Haven Law/ Baby Boxes

Indiana and the Safe Haven Law

Since 2001, Indiana has had a “safe haven” law on record. In simple terms, this means that a baby can be handed over to a designated safe place where people will take care of that baby. The person who places the baby at a Safe Haven site will not get into trouble or face criminal charges of any kind. The Indiana Department of Child Services puts it like this:

“The Indiana Safe Haven Law enables a person to give up an unwanted infant anonymously without fear of arrest or prosecution.

As long as there are no signs of intentional abuse on the baby, no information is required of the person leaving the baby. Any knowledge of the date of birth, race, parent medical history, child’s health or anything that would be useful to the child’s caregiver would be greatly appreciated.

Once the baby is examined and given medical treatment (if needed), the Indiana Department of  Child Services will take the baby into custody through Child Protective Services where it will be placed with a caregiver.” (https://www.in.gov/dcs/2915.htm)

In practical terms, a safe haven space is a police station, fire station, or hospital emergency room. The law is also meant only for infants from birth through 30 days of age.

Safe Haven Baby Boxes

This law was expanded in 2018 authorizing the use of “baby boxes.” A baby box is a safety incubator where a baby can be placed and then receive immediate care without any interaction between the person placing the baby and the person who begins caring for the baby.

That is Safe Haven in a nutshell. In more practical terms, the Adoption Support Center recognizes that leaving a baby with medical personnel anonymously means the mother of the baby is struggling with the reality and practicality of caring for a newborn. Her circumstances are such that she is afraid to do anything else. The baby may not be “unwanted” as DCS suggests, but is the victim of circumstances the mother cannot face.

The short explanation does not explain what happens after the baby is placed in the custody of DCS. The caregiver is most likely a licensed foster parent or approved pre-adoptive parent. Without further contact from the baby’s mother, DCS makes all the decisions for the baby. DCS chooses the family and allows that baby to be adopted by them. The birth mother may never know where her child is or have any other communication.

But what if the mother changes her mind? What if she regrets dropping her baby off at a Safe Haven site? It is important to know that the mother’s rights are not immediately terminated when she takes the baby to a Safe Haven. She can come forward at a later time, identify herself, and begin to make choices for herself and her baby again without getting into trouble. Since the State of Indiana has legal custody of the baby at this point, the birth mother will need to work with the caseworker in making future plans for her baby. However, the birth mother’s voice can be heard. She will not be in trouble for leaving her baby with a Safe Haven provider.

If you have more questions,  visit the Safe Haven Baby Box website.


Social Media and Open Adoption

Social media is both a blessing and a curse.

Social media can bring bring people together or tear them apart. The ways in which people have communicated over the years has changed, and continues to change. What does this have to do with an open adoption? What does it NOT have to do with open adoption?

From sharing plans to adopt or seeking support from others in a similar situation, the connections made on FaceBook, Instagram, Twitter or even Pinterest demonstrate the best of social media. Looking for other women who have placed a child for adoption? Search for groups related to birth parents. Looking for adoptive parents who adopted across racial lines? It’s there on the internet to be found. Private groups really do serve a purpose.

So what’s the down side? Where’s the curse?

One very real danger in using social media as the primary means of communication is that we talk around and about things and issues rather than talking to one another. Conversation between people becomes limited to the photo we decide to share. It’s a matter of how we tell the story. It’s easy to hide feelings behind the presentation of our best selves.

Overcoming this can be a challenge but it can be done. If your open adoption relationship began on line, you may already have a jump on the process. If your open adoption relationship came after placement, consider how you will use social media as a tool to keep the lines of communication open.

Sure—it’s ok to share those baby photos if both sets of parents agree. Your child has started walking? Saying first words? Share away! Social media is all about the bragging!

What about the things that aren’t so great?

Birth moms—are you willing to let the people who follow you know that you are having a rough time with post-partum depression? Adoptive parents—are you willing to post that your new baby cries all night and you would give anything to be able to take a shower? We always want to put our best image forward, and sometimes these things don’t translate as well in a quick post.

Yet if relationships are going to grow, thrive, and meet the test of time, the people involved in the relationships have to be able to communicate directly with one another. This is where private messaging can help. Share a little of the struggle, parent to parent. Saying you are having a rough day is not the same as saying you don’t want to continue the open part of the relationship.  Be willing to take a step back if the hard emotional stuff of the adoption is clouding your thoughts. But before you do, let the other side know that’s what’s going on. Going dark only feeds the other’s fears.

Open adoption is all about relationships.

Healthy relationships thrive with honest communication. No matter if you communicate through phone calls, texts, or even social media, take the risk of honesty. The payoff is worth the risk.

 

 


Building the Relationship & Learning to Listen

Since it can’t be said often enough, we will say it again. Open adoption is a relationship.

A key to making any relationship go the distance is communication. The typically overlooked part of communication that sometimes needs tweaking is listening. When conversations get tense, the go to mental response is usually defense. While the other person is talking, we are busy preparing our answer response…from our point of view…to get our point across.

And that’s just the words.  What we say is based on so much more than words. We are not machines or robots. The words we use are used in a context. Body language, tone of voice, and cadence all play a part in getting the point across. Think about this sentence: “Junior, get out of the street.” Without context, you don’t have any idea what the situation is. If this sentence is being said calmly and slowly, chances are Junior is on a quiet cul-de-sac where there is no traffic. His mom would just prefer he not get in the habit of playing in the street. On the other hand, if this same sentence is said in a rapid, loud, and fast way while the speaker is running into the street at warp speed, it’s a good bet that a two-ton truck is bearing down on Junior with death being imminent.

What makes the open adoption relationship tricky sometimes, particularly in the early stages, is that much of the communication comes in the form of texts. Unless the text comes in all caps, it’s hard to gauge the feeling behind the message.

While you are building that relationship after placement, (especially IMMEDIATELY after placement) it’s important to realize that emotions are raw. For the birth parent (mother or father) who has just said good-bye to baby, shock, anger or sadness, may be the emotions nearest the surface. For the adoptive parents who may have previously given up hope of ever welcoming a baby into their home, fatigue, joy, or relief may be the emotions nearest the surface. And let’s be honest. For BOTH the birth and adoptive families, fear may be lurking near the emotional surface as well. Fear of having made the wrong decision. Fear of never seeing the baby again. Fear of not being a good parent. Fear of the child someday resenting either set of parents.

So when the first communications begin to go back and forth between birth and adoptive families, recognize and honor those emotional back stories.

When birth mama asks for a visit and adoptive mama’s first thought is “I haven’t taken a shower in two weeks and can barely keep my eyes open”, an immediate response of “no, this is not a good time” does not do anything to build the relationship. It’s better to take a step back, recognize your own emotions, and then respond by trying to understand the birth family’s emotions behind the request. A reply text that acknowledges the feelings is the way to keep laying the foundation for a long term relationship. A text that says “I bet you are missing baby so much. It’s been crazy busy but let me look at the calendar so we can figure something out” followed by a picture of baby is a caring, genuine response to the emotion behind the request.

Likewise, when adoptive an family texts a birth family with an update, it’s a good opportunity for the birth family to recognize the positive emotions the adoptive family may be feeling. Recognizing that in the reply by saying something like “You seem so proud of her! I am so excited to see how big she is getting” reaffirms the decisions made by both the birth and adoptive family. In turn, this contributes to that strong foundation that will carry the open relationship throughout the child’s life.

A final thought for today…texts, letters, and electronic messages do help keep people connected.

But it’s hard to really listen for the more subtle messages that the human voice conveys. When it comes to long term relationships—like open adoption—don’t rely on texts. Call. Skype.  Meet in person. The listening part of communication will only get stronger. Ultimately, your child deserves this…this healthy, honest, and mutual relationship between the most important people in his or her life…their family.


Summer Visits for Open Adoptions

Summer time. It’s that season in which we all want to kick back, take in the long hours of sunlight, and relax. It’s also a great season to connect with old friends and keep relationships fresh. This is especially true for families in which adoption is a part of the mix. Schedules tend to be more flexible, there are no worries about road conditions for travel (other than knowing where the cone zones are!), and community events and activities abound. It’s a wonderful time to keep the relationship on track with visits, make memories and start traditions.

What do you do during these visits?

If you have the kind of easy going relationship where conversation flows, this may not be an issue at all. On the other hand, if you have a more casual relationship and you are still in the “getting to know you” phase, visits may induce some level of anxiety. Sitting in a restaurant or office room somewhere can be tense and awkward. What happens if there are children of different ages—both older and younger?

Planning is the key. Keeping busy and staying active can help keep the visit moving and if conversation lags, the activity can help fill in the blanks.

With that in mind, here are a few summer time activities to get your imagination stimulated.

1. Splash Pads! These are popping up all over the place. Running through water and having water fights are fabulous ways to cool down on hot, sticky days.  Many communities now sponsor these pads as part of their park systems.  They are typically free, although if they are attached to a swimming pool such as those at YMCAs this may not be the case.  
2. Picnic in the park! Parks often have substantial playgrounds as well as picnic areas. Take along some simple toys like bubbles and hula hoops, and there is always something fresh to keep short attention spans on the alert. (Bubbles are fascinating for children of all ages. If you’ve forgotten the joys of blowing bubbles, try some today. You won’t be sorry.)
3. Paint rocks! This is part of a recent trend. Search for some flat stones, paint designs or words of inspiration on them, and then plant them for others to find. Older kids can help younger kids, adults can help all the kids, and the designs and inspirational words can prompt more in-depth conversations.
4. Have a ball! It doesn’t really matter what kind of ball your family is into, that spherical object offers something for everyone. Baseball, soccer, basketball and even playing catch—all offer opportunities for hand(foot)/eye coordination and conversation. And if those bigger balls are too much—pick up a putter and find a miniature golf course.
5. Visit the zoo! While this can be a little more pricey than some of the other options, it’s still a fun way to get out and make a special and memorable day.  

In the end, it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you are all together.

Pack the sunscreen, snacks, and water so that you all stay healthy. Most importantly—don’t forget the camera (or make certain you have plenty of space on your phone) and make those memories together.

 


The Math of Relationships

Relationships. Are good relationships a math equation?

When both sides give 50 percent effort to making the relationship work, it must be a good relationship because 50 + 50 = 100Oh, just meet me halfway! That’s all I’m asking of you, right?  

Realistically…good relationships are not math equations. Why not? There are simply too many variables. Time, energy, control, desire, needs, values, goals, personality, chemistry, effort…each of these variables can come into play in a relationship at any given time on any given side. Whether it’s a friendship, a romance, a working relationship, or an adoption relationship, what makes the relationship work  depends on any or all of those attributes. And the mixture of these elements can change from day to day, hour to hour. 

What does this have to do with open adoption?

It can’t be said enough. Open adoption is all about relationships. It IS relationships. It is the relationship between adoptive parents and birth parents. It is the relationship between adoptive parents and their children. It is the relationship between birth parents and the children they have placed for adoption. It is not only about keeping in contact, although keeping in contact is certainly an element of open adoption.  

The thing is, if contact is the only variable in these open adoption relationships, they start to look like those math equations. Isn’t that what keeping score becomes? Adoptive parent first texts birth parent, and if birth parent does not respond, adoptive parent does not believe any further effort needs to go into reaching out to birth parent. So what is wrong with that? Potentially many things. Birth parent may not have the time to respond when the text first comes in. Or she may be having a rough day and can’t emotionally bring herself to respond. Or is afraid to respond at that time.  

So many variables.  

In the interest of healthy open adoptions that foster confidence and love between the children placed for adoption and their birth families, the adoptive parents should get out of the score keeping, math equation type of relationship. Send those texts, even if there is no response! Stop only if the birth family specifically asks for that to stop. Have letters and hard copies of photos ready to send, even if the birth mother’s address is not current. Someday your child will be happy to see that you loved his birth family enough to share his life. Offer a specific date for a visit and be willing to be flexible. Don’t wait for your child’s birth family to ask! Not even if it is the birth family’s “turn” to make arrangements. Not even if it is tiring for you to be the one to always be the contact initiator.  

Not even if. 

Score keeping math equations? Or healthy relationships?  

It’s all in your hands.