I recently read an article about a couple preparing for a visit from their adoption social worker that had the following quote: “The adoption professionals were looking for skeletons in our closet.” With background checks, income verifications and personal interviews, the adoption process may feel like a probe into what’s wrong with you, but that’s not how social workers look at it. Yes, of course the social worker’s job is to make sure the family is suitable and capable of supporting a child, but it’s much more than that. An adoption social worker needs to know about you to write a document that will result in the best match with a child. The social worker answers your questions, educates you on adoption issues and is your advocate. If you’re getting ready to meet with an adoption social worker, here are some things you can expect.
1) Your social worker won’t be wearing white gloves when touring your home. Adoption laws and guidelines are set by states and countries, but they don’t include passing a white glove test. Your home should be clean, but it doesn’t need to shine like a model home. Items your social worker will be checking for involve safety (i.e., a fenced pool, locked up medications and toxic chemicals, smoke detectors and a fire extinguisher).
2) Your social worker will get personal. While most families seem to be most nervous about the home tour, the interview is the most invasive part of the process. The information covered in the home study document is determined by state law, agency policy and, in the case of international adoption, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and the child's home country. Most home studies cover the motivation to adopt, including how issues of infertility were resolved (if it was an issue) and how the decision to adopt was made. The interview will also include individual histories of the couple or single parent, information about their marriage, information about existing children or other members in the home, parenting philosophies, religion, health and finances. The social worker will ask how you express love and affection, how you manage stress and anger and how you resolve conflict as a couple. If you had a challenging childhood, they’ll delve into that, wanting to know how you’ve resolved childhood issues.
3) Your social worker will do background checks. Adoption agencies ask for criminal history and child abuse history checks. Many include fingerprinting and FBI checks, as well. If you’ve lived in different states, you may need to get clearances from all of them. If something comes back that wasn’t disclosed during the home study interviews, it could result in a non-approved home study. It is possible to adopt if you have been arrested in the past, depending, of course, on what the arrest was for. The social worker will ask what led up to the arrest and what you’ve done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
4) Your social worker will want to know about medical and mental health issues. You’ll be asked to get a medical exam, at which your doctor will provide information about your health, including whether or not there are physical issues that can impact your ability to parent or lessen your life expectancy. If you’ve had counseling or have or are currently receiving treatment for a mental health issue, you’ll probably also be asked to get a letter from your mental health professional attesting to your psychological and emotional soundness.
5) Your social worker will expect you to absorb adoption education. Love isn’t always enough when adopting a child. Even children adopted at birth will have questions, concerns and grief about being adopted. Adoption education covers everything from child development, parenting, attachment and bonding to raising a child who is culturally or racially different from you and dealing with a child’s past abuse.
Adoption and the home study is serious stuff, but unlike the mean old social workers depicted on TV who lack empathy, your adoption social worker will be friendly and excited to help you through the process. She’ll be there to assess, but she’s not looking for a way to not approve you. She’ll be your guide, your support and your advocate.