More Than Checking a Box July 10th, 2012
One week from today a social worker will come to our house. She will arrive just as the kids are finishing supper. She will stay for a couple of hours, I think. She will watch us wrangle our kids into bed (with Nanny on hand to help). Then she will sit with us and talk to us. She will try to get to know us. And she will try to understand what kind of parents we are.
The purpose for this social worker’s visit? Our adoption home study.
For those not familiar with the adoption process, the home study is a critical component. After you’ve submitted proof of your entire existence in writing (tax returns, birth and marriage certificates, child abuse screenings, criminal background checks, employment verifications, blood work, physical exam results, and a 20+ page questionnaire) the next step is for someone to actually meet you in person, visit your home, and make sure that what they find in real life jives with what you’ve submitted on paper (or, electronically, for the most part).
Not surprisingly, I have mixed emotions about the home study. Of course, generally speaking, I think it’s a good idea. It’s a good idea for someone to verify in person that we don’t have firearms sitting around, or food rotting on the counters, or 75 cats, or loose electrical wiring, or anything else comparably horrifying. But beyond that, what does it really accomplish? How much can anyone really get to know us over the course of two visits? (A second visit will happen at the end of this month.)
The easy answer is, she can’t. She can’t know, really know, whether I am a good parent. She can’t know if my kids feel loved and valued. She can’t know if my marriage is healthy. She can’t know if I serve balanced meals, or discipline appropriately, or set fair boundaries. She can’t know how I react to stress. She can’t know if I am thoughtful and intellectually curious. She can’t know whether I am joyful or sullen or uptight or lazy. … And the saddest part of all is that, by and large, those things don’t matter.
The child we will end up adopting will have spent his entire life prior to joining our family in a foster home. I know there are some really wonderful foster parents out there, but it is often a failed experiment in child rearing. The hard truth of the matter is that we would have to be pretty subpar as parents not to beat the environment the child has been in since birth. And so, it is the job of the social worker not so much to determine if we are absolutely wonderful parents, but if we can provide the basic nuts and bolts of a happy and stable life.
But shouldn’t it be more? Shouldn’t it be more than the checking of a box that says, “Fit parents.” I think that every shade of grey should matter. I think that nuances should be explored and personalities understood. I think that our adoption agency should be commited to finding the perfect child for our family, and the perfect family for every child. Merely being better than foster care is a pretty easy litmus test to pass.
Perhaps I’m underestimating it a bit. Perhaps I will find that our social worker is truly invested in the process of matching a child with our family. Perhaps the written documentation of our home study visits will be more detailed than the mere statement of fact that we are able to provide for an adopted child. Nevertheless, in the research I’ve done to prepare most adoptive parents’ responses I’ve found on the topic of the home study are in the vein of, “It was a big letdown. They just want to make sure the home is safe. They don’t really need to get to know you.” The only exception to that refrain was one respondent from Canada whose social worker spent close to 20 hours with her over the course of many visits. (There is so much that Canada gets right!)
With that in mind, there is much about our life and family that I wish our social worker would want to know. But I fear that once she’s confirmed the presence of a fire extinguisher, refrigerator, and a non-leaking roof she’ll have seen enough. I hope I’m wrong.