Many of us have a desire to open our lives to children in need of love and safety. It’s fun to dream of throwing open your front door to welcome an adorable foster child into the home. But becoming a Resource Parent is actually an intensive process that requires background checks, training, references, a home inspection, and what seems like an endless stack of paperwork. There are a lot of hoops to jump through before a child ends up on your doorstep. For many applicants, the most intimidating aspect of becoming a Resource Parent is the dreaded home study-- a comprehensive, written evaluation of the applicant’s strengths and issues. I know firsthand the scrutiny of inviting a stranger into my home to write about my life. Before I started writing home studies as a Social Worker, I was a foster parent! I’ve undergone five (FIVE!) home studies as a foster and adoptive parent in Indiana and California.
I’m admittedly an open book when it comes to sharing about myself, and I felt more curious than cautious about the home study process. However, many applicants are nervous about how they will look through a home study practitioner's lens. The irony is that my home study experiences were disappointingly one dimensional! I felt that they didn’t get to the heart of who I was as a potential parent, and there was little strategizing about the children I could parent best. I was never offered a chance to read my home studies to review the clinician’s insights or recommendations.
I plunged into foster parenting with the best intentions with some very difficult kids-- yet not a single home study practitioner gave me the reality check I needed. Once I became a home study practitioner myself, I vowed to use the home study not just as an evaluation, but as a tool to educate and prepare the parents--to awaken them to the possibilities and pitfalls of being Resource Parents. My duty to potential Resource Families and to the foster children they will serve is to encourage applicants’ self-discovery so they are more prepared for the joys and challenges ahead.
At a recent Adoption Training for our Resource Families in the approval process, I was thrilled when a participant shared his insight about the home study, having completed it before in another state. This tough military dad admitted that he cried during his home study interview when recounting his experience of being bullied as a child. At first, he questioned the necessity of the interview. Why did the clinician need to dig up a painful experience? Not only did the hard questions raise his compassion for foster youth who face bullying, he came away with a new understanding that his sensitivity about bullying could be easily triggered by foster youth behavior. How will he respond if his foster child is being bullied? How will he respond if his foster child is the bully? He encouraged the other applicants at the training to view the home study process as a practice in self-awareness.
As a home study practitioner, I retrace an applicant’s life journey to see how their experiences, trauma, beliefs and resiliency has shaped them and their families along the way. I’m not looking for perfection. I’m looking for how the family handles adversity. Can the family adapt in a healthy way? Are the parents prepared for the epic job ahead? Sometimes I help potential Resource Parents acknowledge their vulnerabilities by requesting that they seek counseling, improve their financial standing, or wait until a specific family issue is resolved before finishing the home study. Also, the home study allows us to better match families with children. At FCNI, we complete the home study in partnership with the family, to honor the integrity of their family system and ensure that we make the right placement recommendations. I sit down and review the written report with each family as a teaching opportunity.
Not only does the home study help determine if applicants are able to parent foster youth, but it raises their awareness and understanding so they can really thrive as Resource Parents. A good home study protects and benefits both foster youth and their Resource Parents. Being a foster parent is probably one of the foremost experiences a person or family will have in exposing their strengths and weaknesses. The home study is a first step in the journey of self-awareness and personal growth--as a parent and as a human being.