Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Your Home Study Survival Guide: A [Mini] Tutorial

Home studies have got to be the most time-consuming, invasive, and nerve-wracking part of the adoption process for prospective adoptive families. As a social worker who routinely writes home studies for local families and as an adoption consultant who coaches people through them from the other side, I can understand all the feelings that go along with the rigorous home study process.

Will our home be up to par?

What will a professional think about the way we parent or plan to parent?

What about my past?

Common Myths
Our house needs to be perfect.
Your social worker isn't expecting perfection and expects to walk into a home that looks lived in.  I promise your social worker will not arrive in a little white outfit for a white glove test.  

We need to be wealthy.
Although adoption is costly, you don't have to be rich to be home study approved. More important than your bank account will be your budget, your debt, and how you spend your money.  

We need to own our own home.
Families who rent their homes can easily be approved for adoption.

Our past needs to be spotless.
I can't think of one home study I've written where the family didn't have something hard to discuss with me (past abuse, mental health issues, even a criminal background.) My favorite? A father who confessed a felony when he was 18 when he was dared to jump onstage with Aerosmith and was promptly arrested...

What is a home study?
The home study is an evaluation of a prospective adoptive family required by state and federal regulations completed by a licensed social worker. A good social worker and agency will also use this time to help educate your family on the adoption process, parenting an adopted child, and answering any questions that might come up. Ultimately, your home study is used to apply to adoption agencies and grants, for your attorney to file with the court, and for a judge to review before finalizing your adoption.

In general, the following information is included in an adoptive homestudy:

  • Personal and family background-including upbringing, parents and siblings, and important life events
  • Significant people in the lives of the adoptive family
  • Marriage and family relationships
  • Motivation to adopt
  • Expectations for the child and the adoption
  • Feelings about infertility (if applicable) 
  • Parenting and integration of the child into the family
  • Family environment
  • Physical and health history of the adoptive family
  • Education, employment and finances (including insurance coverage and childcare plans if needed)
  • References and criminal background clearances
  • Summary and social worker's recommendation

What to expect
The home study process typically involves three stages. The first stage is the adoptive family completing paperwork. The second stage requires at least one home visit as well as individual visits with each adult member of the family. And finally, the social worker completing a report that includes an assessment of your family and recommendation for adoption. The process usually takes anywhere from two to four months based on how quickly you can complete your paperwork and how busy the agency is at the time.

How to prepare
Be ready to answer very personal questions about your life, your childhood, your marriage, and your struggles. This will include everything from the way you were disciplined as a child, mental health issues, marital conflict, struggles with infertility, and financial challenges. A social worker isn't looking for a family free from struggles and issues, but is looking at how you manage stress and difficulty in your lives. Have you worked through hard issues? Do you have a strong support system? Are you quick to acknowledge weakness and seek help? The more honest you are about how you've dealt with hard times in your lives, the more the social worker can gain a clear perspective.

How to get through it
Expect to be spending a lot of time filling out and gathering paperwork. Your agency will typically require background checks, marriage and birth certificates, tax records and bank statements, job and insurance verifications, and physicals for all household members. I recommend families take several nights or a weekend to plow through this process. Grab some good snacks, put on some good music, and get to work! During the home visit and interviews, be yourself. Your social worker wants to get to know you and your family dynamics. Being honest and forthright will only serve you well.  

Although this isn't a glamorous part of the process to building your family, it's a huge first step. Completing a home study is hard work, costly, and tedious. But on the other side, completely worth it.  

Want more tips on preparing your home for the home visit? Click here.

Looking for the next step after your home study? Check out this adoption road map or contact me.

Want more adoption [mini] tutorials? Click here for more resources!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Insert Cliche About Running [Here]

Running is the greatest metaphor for life, because you get out of it what you put into it. Oprah Winfrey

I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His Pleasure. Eric Liddell, Chariots of Fire

And of course there's the Bible...

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 1 Corinthians 9:23-25

But these are actually my favorites:

Lately I've not been feeling super comfortable in my own skin. My jeans have been a little snug and I know I haven't been making the healthiest choices. (This a really nice way to sum up how I've been feeling for a long time...) Don't get me wrong. I'm feeling more and more comfortable in who God has made me to be and trusting him to be enough (rather finding my security in the right jean size or mirror image.) But I do want to be healthier.

But as I understand it, this takes work - the being healthier thing. And historically I hate to work out. I mean, I seriously abhor the gym, the videos, and the classes. And running? No way. It's not fun, it makes you sweat, and it hurts like the dickens. I've never been super sporty. I played basketball and volleyball until JV when things got a little too intense for me.  The extent of sports in high school? Pom Squad. (Before you snicker, it was awesome. Our Men in Black routine with black suits and shades was amazing. But pre-YouTube days so you'll never be able to fully appreciate it...)

All of this to say, I started running a few weeks ago. 

I use that term loosely. It's actually more of a mix of walking and jogging. Slooooowly.

I've been using the classic Couch to 5K app. Mind you, I currently have no crazy goals to run a 5K. MY goal is to run 5 minutes straight without feeling like my calves and lungs will explode. So far, so good. At the 5 minute mark nothing in or on my body has yet to explode. And the idea of running a 5K, or a half marathon is still insane to me.  I have friends who ENJOY running races on their weekends. I even have client who has done something crazy like run several marathons and a triathlon this last month. Crazy. Town.

Let me be clear: I still hate running. I've been running in a cemetery near our home. (Yes, it gave me the creeps too when I started but now I love the quiet and serene space.) It's been a good place for me to pray. Although, admittedly often my prayers are "Jesus, help me" over and over and over. I hate how I feel WHILE I'm running. But I love how I feel afterwards. Like I've accomplished something. Although I'm still alternating running and walking, I'm covering a solid couple of miles several times a week.

There's a certain accountability that comes with blogging. Maybe it's in my head, but if I blog that I plan to skydive next week or purchase a pig as a pet, I bet some of you would follow up with me.  Where's the pic of jumping out of the plane?  How's the pig working out?  

So, I'm putting it out there.  I'm running. I'm jogging. 

My goals: feel better about myself, take care of my body, and look good in running shorts. So far I'm batting 2 out of 3 and I'm on week four. 

Not bad for a girl who swore off running in gym class back in middle school.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

School's Out for the Summer

It's been a busy week around here. Our time has been spent completing school projects, attending awards ceremonies, and this momma mourning her babies growing up. Isabelle and Jackson will be in 1st and second grade in the fall - how is that possible?! Below is a pic of their first and last day of school. (Cue tears for me...)
We're so incredibly blessed by the kids school. Little did we know two years ago when we painstakingly chose Whitefield that it would end up feeling like our family. Some of the kids closest friends and ours are there. Every Monday morning I gather with other Whitefield mamas for a bible study at Panera where we drink coffee, laugh, and dive into the Word together. Every Friday morning I meet with other parents to pray together. We pray over every student and faculty by name. Not to mention our kids are getting an amazing education based on a Classical model, have amazing teachers loving on them daily, and are taught a Christian worldview.

No wonder I got a little teary the last day of school, crazy proud of my kids but also sad to leave the doors of Whitefield for a few months.

At the end of the week Jamy had a conference to attend in Wichita. We decided to make it a family event and beginning of summer celebration. When the kids got out of their last day of school Thursday, we had the car all packed up and told them we were off to dinner. (They just had no idea that dinner was several hours away and we wouldn't be back home till the following night.)

We scored a hotel with a great pool and the kids swam for hours. We even checked out a local children's museum while Jamy was at the conference and the kids had fun learning about castles, tornadoes, and airplanes. We even went to the Nifty Nut House (which I now understand is a staple of Wichita culture).

Let the summer adventures begin...

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Soccer Balls, Haiti, and Jack

A few months ago Jackson very resolutely came up to Jamy and stated, "I want to help the orphaners." 

After a lesson in accurate terms for children without mommies and daddies, Jamy put our six year old on the phone with our friend Trace at the Global Orphan Project. We know several of the guys who work there and admire the organizations' partnering with local churches both locally and globally to care for orphans. Trace told Jackson that some of the team was headed over to Haiti in a few weeks and that Jack could send a soccer ball, explaining that the kids there in one of their communities love to play futbol. 

That was all Jackson needed to hear to get the fire going in him. As soon as he got off the phone, he grabbed his piggy bank and asked if he could earn more money like he had over the Christmas season to buy a soccer ball for the kids in Haiti. But soon he wasn't content with just one ball.  And that's when we got his kindergarten class involved.

We sent a note to his classmates explaining the Global Orphan Project and Jackson's vision to purchase soccer balls to send to Haiti. We set up a little soccer ball bank on Mrs. Theiss' desk where kids faithfully brought in their hard earned change for a few weeks. They each wrote letters and drew pictures for other kids, living lives so different from them but who would understand drawings of rainbows and friends.

I loved watching Jack's excitement as we went shopping for the soccer balls. We ended up also purchasing sidewalk chalk and frisbees; colors carefully chosen by Jack who assured me that boys and girls love blue and green. When Jackson proudly handed over a bag full of change to pay and told the cashier who the toys were for, she teared up a little bit and patiently waited as Jack counted out every last penny.

This week, our friend IV from GO Project came and shared with Jackson's kindergarten class about his trip to Haiti. He showed them a map of where Haiti was, told them about the vision of the Global Orphan Project, and answered dozens of questions from little kinders about everything from if Haitians chew gum to what he meant when he said the big word organization (God bless him).  

He told them about the community in Hinche, Haiti where 32 children without mommies and daddies have people who take care of them and make sure they hear about Jesus. He shared how they have school outside on the dirt, dry their laundry in the sun, and love to play futbol- sometimes with balls made with crumpled paper and tape.  

And then he showed the pictures of the children.  

The kids smiled.

The kids cheered.

The kids got a glimpse into a life so different than their own. And they got a small glimpse of what living outside of themselves looks like.  

I'm praying this has done something to Jackson's heart.  That he remembers what it feels like to give sacrificially. And that this fire in him will keep burning to care deeply about others.

I'll pray that for his mama's heart as well.

Photos from Haiti courtesy of IV Whitman  

Monday, May 13, 2013

Congratulations Megan

Megan began with Christian Adoption Consultants in January. But she hesitated even calling. Megan is a single woman who longed to provide a child with a family. And there's not many agencies open to single parents.  

But I believe in single parent adoption. Scripture doesn't specify that only married couples should care for the orphan. Stepping into a child's life isn't reserved for the husband and wife who are married.  A single man or woman can answer God's clear call as well. Babies need homes. Babies need families who can love and care and nurture and support. After chatting with Megan for a bit, I knew she had these resources and the heart of a mother.

When Megan called, I shared this blog post with her, and said I would be eager to help her on her adoption journey. CAC is connected to agencies that are happy to work with single parents. She wasn't hopeful that the process would be quick, but she was determined.

Megan completed her home study in record time. She sped through the paperwork with a resolve I've never seen. Then, just days after her home study was completed in February, she was shown to a birth mother. After several weeks of this sweet birth mother viewing profiles, she chose Megan to raise her little guy.  

Megan got a sweet gift on Mother's Day this year.  She brought her son home from the hospital. 

Happy Mother's Day Megan! The day that has been long hoped for and dreamed of is finally here...

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Congratulations Ryan and Angel

Mother's Day will be a special one for Angel. Although not her first with two little guys at home. But this week, they welcomed their little girl into the world. All 6 pounds, 11 ounces of her! Ryan and Angel began working with me in late September last year, were home study ready in February, and matched in April, all to prepare for this sweet lady.

But Mother's Day will be special to another woman in their life as well. Two nights before her daughter was born, their birth mother sent this note to her social worker about Ryan and Angel, the parents she had chosen to raise her sweet baby:

I just don't know what to expect in meeting them and I'm nervous. Tell them I'm thankful for them. They are willing to love, adore and raise my baby as their own. They are giving my daughter something that I can't. Tell them they are giving her the chance at life the way it should be with a mom and a dad, a loving stable life with knowledge of Christ and a fair chance of success and survival. Let them know I love them for being brave enough to take her in their home and give her a family.

There will be two new mamas this Mother's Day. Both giving this baby a chance at life. Both giving her a fair shot at an amazing lifetime of memories. And both of them incredibly brave to choose adoption.

Happy Mother's both of you.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Why I Have the Best Job in the World

I had someone ask me yesterday how I got started in adoption. I smiled as I thought of the journey I've taken to this point.  

I started out fresh out of my undergrad in a family preservation program working with families with kids on the brink of needing to be removed from their homes due to abuse or neglect. It was intensive; working with a family almost every day for a month on everything from substance abuse issues, domestic violence, parenting, and homelessness. During that job I testified in court dozens of times and knocked on doors with my fingers ready to dial 911. Then I went on to work with pregnant and parenting teen girls in a residential facility. I spent my days meeting with them, counseling them, and teaching them life skills, healthy relationships, and parenting techniques.  I loved walking closely with the girls and their babies. From there I moved to working in a clinic primarily for low-income women and facilitated prenatal groups teaching breastfeeding, parenting, and healthy life choices. It was here I developed a real passion for breastfeeding and became a Certified Lactation Consultant.

And then we moved to Kansas City.

After a quick stint at a local foster care agency, I was drafted to help start Hannah's Dream Adoptions. And it was here I found my love and passion for adoption. For years I had been working with families and birth mamas, but adoption seemed to be the perfect niche. Working with birth parents choosing life. Working with adoptive families with a heart for the orphan. And bringing the two together and watching them mirror the Gospel.  

Before we closed the doors to Hannah's Dream, Christian Adoption Consultants asked me to come on board. I knew from the start it would be a perfect fit. They share my heart for adoption and for families. They have a passion to see families grow.

It's also a perfect fit for my family. My office is typically my dining room or a local Panera or Starbucks, allowing me to be available to the families I serve as well as my own. Between phone conferences and emails I can throw a load of laundry in or meet a girlfriend for lunch. I can easily work in the evening if I've spent the day on one of the kids' field trips. My work day ends when I pick up Isabelle and Jackson from school but I can take a call in the middle of the night to help a family hop on a plane when they hear their birth mama is in labor. The flexibility as a mom myself is invaluable.

I've spent most of this week in awe. I work with an amazing team of consultants who truly love what they do and live it out in their own lives (as many are adoptive parents themselves). And my clients are amazing. I see up close how families dream and wait and plan and save and work and pray to bring their little one home. I cry with them over losses and pray with them for birth mamas and babies. We laugh together at the crazy timing and goodness of God.  

We're planning a family reunion of sorts this summer for my clients. I have families in the area and traveling out of state to gather at our place to share stories, snuggle babies, and encourage each other on the journey. We all gathered here last fall and already it's been too long since some of us have seen each other.

I didn't expect this. I never anticipated being so passionate about a job. I never knew that clients (birth parents and adoptive families) would be my heroes and friends. I never really anticipated that God would bless me this much.

But I shouldn't have been surprised...
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