Possibly the most important part of the foster care (or adoption) process is the home study.
Somewhere along the line, home studies got the bad rap of being an intense white-glove test. People see it as the state or agency trying to fail you or your home, like the social worker is out to get you.
That's simply not the case!
I can't speak from the adoption side of things, though I've been told it's pretty similar, but from my experience and research, the home study was anything but a white-glove test. Not at any point did someone run their finger over my furniture to gauge the dustiness of my house. Never once did I feel like I was being scrutinized or criticized. In fact, our home study was a time to let our agency representative get to know us. She essentially is our advocate to the agency before we are assigned an official case worker, so she WANTS us to succeed. She wants to see us become licensed. She wants to fill our home just as much as we want to fill it.
We just finished the last step of our home study today--the safety inspection. We are days away from welcoming in our first foster care placement. Our lives are about to change!
While this process can be nerve-wracking, it doesn't have to be! If you follow the five tips below, you'll be sure to knock your home study out of the park!
1. Be yourself!
Like I said, the home study is the time for your agency rep to get to know you. She will ask lots of questions and she will type them into her computer. She will ask more questions, trying to get a better handle on you and your answer. Hopefully, you will have a worker who is kind and personable. This aides in your ability to BE YOURSELF. Remember, your worker is your advocate! She presents your home study to the agency where she takes you from just a name on some papers to an actual person who has hobbies, passions, talents and flaws. It is her job to present a crystal-clear picture of who you are to the agency so that they can decide whether or not they want to contract with you to be a foster parent. You want to be yourself. You want the worker to get to know you. You want an accurate account of your being to be portrayed.
2. Don't clean.
You might think I'm crazy saying this. But seriously, your case worker isn't coming into your home to make sure it's clean. She's coming in to make sure it's safe, to make sure it's livable. Now, granted, if you have piles of dirty clothes in the corners, an overflowing bag of rotting trash stinking up your kitchen or haven't dusted yet this century, you may want to re-think this tip. In fact, if this is you, you may want to rethink bringing a traumatized little one into your home. If you can't manage your household B.C. (before children), then you most definitely won't be able to manage it afterwards.
3. Be honest.
The home study is designed to reveal your past and your flaws. But it's also meant to highlight your strengths and talents. When the worker asks if you've experienced abuse, tell her. If she asks if you struggle with depression, tell her. If she asks you if you are in counseling, tell her. Lying about any of these things is not only detrimental to you and your standing before your agency, but it's detrimental to the traumatized children who will be placed with you. And foster care isn't meant to bring more harm to the children.
Wear comfy clothes. Sit in your favorite chair. Brew some tea or coffee. Light your favorite candle. Make yourself as comfortable as possible. The home study interview is LONG. Ours was a total of 3 hours. If I had to be confined to tight jeans and a hard dining room chair, I would have been miserable. Instead, I wore stretchy pants, had a glass of water and was sitting in my spot on the couch. I'm pretty sure I even snuggled up in a blanket. Just get comfortable. That will help you even more with tip #1.
5. Prepare the space.
Now, this may sound like I'm contradicting myself. But I'm not telling you to clean! I'm telling you to prepare the space you have set aside for a foster child. Make it look suitable for the age group you are being licensed for. Each child needs a bed and sufficient storage for clothes. There needs to be a window, a door and a heat source. There needs to be a smoke detector. Those are the basics. It doesn't need to be perfectly decorated. But it does need to show the agency worker that you have the space and the ability to care for a child.
Preparing the room can be a lot of fun. I thought it was going to be super painful for me because of our loss, but it was actually really cool to see how everything pulled together. We were given many items. Other items I scored for cheap or free on neighborhood Facebook sale sites. It's not what I thought I'd want in a nursery. As it turns out, it's everything I didn't know I wanted.
So, as you prepare for your home study, keep these 5 tips in mind. The more nervous you are, the less likely you will be yourself, which I think is the most important thing for the home study.
And above all else, remember, your agency worker is for you, not against you. You've got this!