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Home Study – An overview

Home Study

As promised, I am including some helpful information we picked up during our foster-adoption journey.  I think the question we get asked the most was how was passed our Home Study.  I’m not going to lie, I don’t know the ‘magic combination’ or formula of how we passed the home study. What I do know it is a stumbling block for many couples and I also know that each agency has their own rules, guidance and requirements. What I will attempt to do in this blog is tell you what we did to get ready for our home study and hopefully some of these steps will resonate with you, if you are going down a similar path.

We had to go through the Charles County Department of Social Services in the state of Maryland in order to complete our home study.  We had a thick packet of information, appointment requests and forms that we had to complete.  Here is a list of things we needed below:

–Copies of drivers license
–Copies of birth certificates
–Copy of marriage license
–Forms – Questionnaire I & 2; Attitudes on Sexual Issues, Biographies
–Forms – Childhood and Family Life Experience Form
–Medical forms with TB results
–Verification of income; month of paystubs, Federal income tax cover sheet with AGI
–Pets – rabies (if applicable)
–Addresses for References (3)
–Certified copy of driving record
–Criminal clearances

A lot, right? Going through this packet and filling it out was quite a chore – in fact, we almost quit, TWICE!  In particular, the questionnaires and forms were very lengthy.  They asked very invasive questions on our family history, our sexual history, our educational background, income – you name it, they asked it.

A word of advice – during this process it is important to remember that you have to be completely transparent with the agency and your assigned case worker.  Even if you have gone through some less than great experiences, it is important to tell the truth. I believe our case worker was actually looking for those vulnerable moments, not to trip us up in the process, but to make sure we had overcome anything and could move on in a healthy space.

Thankfully for my husband and I, we had relatively normal childhoods and upbringings. As I mentioned above, this was surprising to our assigned case worker.  We had to discuss our questionnaires in person, in the form of interviews, as a part of the home study.  Our case worker asked us over and over again about our education, experiences, and what brought us to this place.  She also asked about trauma, abuse and was intrigued at our vanilla stories. She later explained, “typically potential resource parents have previously gone through foster care and are attracted to this process.  They’re interested in becoming foster parents after having negative experiences growing up. They want to make a difference in the lives of children who are like them. It is rare that you don’t see some sort of traumatic experience, as most of the foster parents have been through something in their childhood.” That made sense to me, as she explained it. I helped to fill in the gap for her by explaining, “Well, you’re looking at a foster child success story – one generation later.  My father was that foster child you spoke of.  But he overcame his history and was placed in a supportive resource home. He then married my mother and raised a great family, so you’re seeing the fruits of a foster placement, gone correctly.” Her eyes brightened and she seemed appreciative and I further shared my father’s story and how it impacted me to become a foster mother.

As if the interviews weren’t enough, we also had to undergo an examination of our home. This included a sanitary inspection and a fire marshal inspection of our home.  We had to set up appointments with each of these departments to inspect the home to their levels of safety.  The last part of the home study included a long checklist of items, based on the ages of the children you are willing to have in your home.  For us, we included infants as possible placements, so we had to basically baby-proof our home, with no actual “promise” of baby placement.  This means we had to buy a crib, safety plugs, safety gates, etc.

I’ll admit it, it was kinda creepy sleeping in a house without a baby but fully ‘furnished’ for one to walk into it.  We waited until the very last minute get some of these items.  Overall, we started the process in September 2013 and our Home Study, Interviews, Questionnaires and other forms were approved by the end of March 2014. The process was most intense throughout the month of January 2014. We got our first placement June 20, 2014.

Oh, one major important detail I forgot to share – if you are going through the local government/state, a home study is FREE! That is one major difference between going through a private agency vs. the state government.

Lastly, here  is a link to the Home Study Process in the State of Maryland.

I hope that this gives you some insight into the often intimidating Home Study process. If you plan on going through this soon and would like some additional help and resources, please feel free to hit the contact button and reach out to me.  I’ll be glad to walk you through the process and share some of our forms with you.

Hopefully, within the next year, I plan on publishing a book with a detailed account of everything we went through in order to get certified in order to help others navigate this foster-adoption journey!

 

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Who are We? More…

I’m going to jump back in where I left off on our foster-adoption story. You ready?

So, we are back with these two little kids and I’m desperately trying to remember everything they taught us in that 9 week foster/adoption certification class about how to be a parent.  I mean, talk about a struggle!  We only had a couple of hours between us making the decision to “accept” the kids and us actually getting the children that fateful Friday afternoon on June 20th.

You should have seen us, a young couple who had NEVER researched on car seats or crib mattresses, or anything related to infants and toddlers, in Target trying to figure out which car seats we should buy. We had no idea how much either of them weighed, which brands were best or how to even install them in the car. I remember telling my husband, “We have to turn the little one backwards! I remember seeing that somewhere!” After finalizing our purchases, we rolled up to the Department of Social Services and met the kids.

I recall exactly what was happening when we first laid eyes of them.  My son was playing with some toys in the waiting room. One of the social workers was holding my daughter and she had tears in her eyes, but wasn’t quite crying. The petite social worker was rocking her up and down to calm her. I remember thinking…they’re cute. They have big heads (hey, just being honest, lol), but they’re cute.  Then I heard her words again, “Don’t get too attached.” And I quickly snapped into business mode.

The kids’ previous foster parents were there and the foster mom gave me a thorough run down of everything.  “She is on stage 3 baby food and she just starting drinking whole milk.  She just got her 1-year-old vaccines today, so she may be a little fussy,” she explained.  I was vigorously scribbling down notes on an old envelope trying to retain everything she was giving me. I remember thinking, “Stage 3 foods? What is that?!” And also pondering, so if she’s fussy from the vaccines, what do I do then? It was all so overwhelming and it honestly felt like she was speaking a foreign language.  She was actually…it was “baby/kid talk” and I had no idea what any of it meant.

After speaking with the foster mom, I was more than convinced that this would be a quick ordeal.  She was kind, compassionate and provided everything we needed to know despite this being a potentially awkward situation.  I was sure the investigation would conclude and the kids would go back to them in no time.  3 weeks, I thought to myself.  3 weeks.

The first night, the kids did okay. They both slept through the night, which surprised me and my husband. I thought them being in a new place would leave them frightened and unsure. Thinking back on it now, it was just a testament to how resilient my kiddies were. They were such fighters and knew how to adapt to any situation and survive.

Saturday, I quickly went to work trying to secure a daycare for the kids.  Because their current daycare was also under investigation, we weren’t able to send them there. Talk about a bind!  I knew my neighbor across the street ran a licensed daycare and I called her immediately. She had an open spot available for my son. We got my mother-in-law to stay with us to help us during the transition for a couple of weeks. She agreed to stay with my daughter and became our emergency back up person and had to undergo fingerprinting and a background check to watch the children.  I don’t know how we did it, but we had everything in place before the weekend was over so we could return to work on Monday.

I bragged a little earlier how resilient my kiddies were…well they may have been resilient but my daughter was still a 1-year-old little girl who had no idea who we were. And my son was a 2 year and 2 month old boy who like to whine and cry when he felt things weren’t structured enough for him.  He was also a little clumsy and did a lot of tumbling and falling down.  He had come to us with a black eye (the source of the investigation) but after being with him for just a few moments, I was convinced he’s fallen off of some object or structure and had given it to himself!  He would run and let that head lead the way.  Combine that with a lack of balance and ladies and gentleman, we had a faller!

That Saturday was full of crying, whining, falling, tumbling, smiling, laughing, dancing, more crying, a lot more whining, smiling, and eating.  We were exhausted and way in over our heads. Or at least it felt that way in that moment.

My mother and father drove up from Richmond, VA to check on us. I remember opening the door, expecting my parents to come in, “parent” these foster children and save the day. Wearily, I greeted them with a deflated smile.  They came bearing gifts – a couple of outfits and a few toys.  My husband and I must have looked crazy because I remember my parents looking at us like, What have you two gotten yourselves into?! They tried to be as comforting as possible, given the circumstances.  My mom offered me the best words of wisdom after observing us for a while.  “You both look exhausted! And the kids are delirious,” she stated matter-of-factly.  I fought the urge to snap and say, “Tell me something I don’t know, Mom.” (I didn’t say anything though…I wasn’t crazy, lol). Then she provided the most common sense advice that I was entirely too tired and dazed to think of myself.  “You KNOW you can give them a nap, right?” she asked.

“Omg…a nap! A NAP!!!” I giggled excitedly.  YES! WE COULD GIVE THEM A NAP!!! It was like music to my ears. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?! That’s what they needed.  That’s what we all needed – a nap. I let out a little squeal of delight at the realization. “Yes, Erika. You need to put them on a schedule! That will restore some balance to your lives and give them the structure they need,” she explained.  That last sentence sent me to the moon.  THAT is how we will get through this.  A routine, a schedule and naps! NAPS! It was like she had given us the golden ticket.  My parents didn’t save the day in that visit, but her words quickly saved my sanity in that moment.

Later, I busied myself typing in Google searches that read, ‘how many hours should a 1-year-old sleep?’ and ‘how many hours should a 2-year-old sleep?” I went on Pinterest and searched for sleep schedules and recommended nap times.  The final piece of this puzzle was when we were talking to my mother-in-law and she dropped this gem that stayed with me. “You know you can put them down as early as 7:30pm, right? Especially when the fall comes and it gets dark earlier,” she recommended. I’m shocked I didn’t break out into a jig, right then and there. I had figured out how I would get through this. This routine would save us.  This routine would restore us.

This routine would get us through the next 3 weeks!