Thursday, September 20, 2007

Reflections on our home study

Our home study is long over, but it is still fresh in my mind. I remember being nervous about it, especially before the first - ok, and second - of our three required meetings (our change of country later added another required meeting for a total of four). I still don't understand why, but like the Travel Packet there is an unnecessary air of mystery about the home study process. Our agency did a very nice job of trying to comfort us about the process, but we were still wary.

To begin with, I had an issue with the name. To me, "home study" sounded like something I would need to study for and be tested on. I was half right. In reality, the home study is a chance for a social worker to study and "test" you. That fact is enough to make most people a little nervous. You get even more nervous when you realize that your "test" performance could have more serious implications than a dent in your GPA. Your home study performance can impact your dream of having children. It sounds scary, but for us it turned out to be a very good experience in almost every way.

The home study involves three mandatory visits with a social worker, at least one of which must be in your home. We chose to have the second meeting at our home and I'm happy we did it that way. On our first visit, we met at our agency, so felt less nervous about our home being judged at the same time that we were meeting our social worker for the first time. We didn't know what questions we would face, and we braced ourselves accordingly. Once we got past the fact that our meeting was being recorded, the visit turned out to be quite pleasant and was, in fact, a bit more of a conversation than a quiz. We answered questions about our beliefs and about our plans for parenting. Some of the questions caught us off guard with topics we had never discussed or considered (e.g. how do you plan to punish your children?), but we found the chance to investigate these issues together to be a very nice experience of the kind that many parents never actually have in advance of becoming parents.

Our second meeting was at our home and we fussed (ok, I was mainly the one fussing) about having everything in the house lest we be judged to be less fit for parenthood by the sofa pillow not being placed at just the right angle. We even considered that our social worker would be coming to us directly from her day job, so prepared a lovely tray of fruit and cheese for her to snack on in case she was the type to get moody when hunger distracted her. As it turned out, she didn't touch the snacks (perhaps they were considered bribes of a sort?) and breezed through our house so quickly I almost felt I should ask her to dwell a bit and appreciate our efforts. For once, I kept my mouth shut.

Other than hoping our home would pass muster, we were also concerned about the mysterious format of this meeting: we were to be separated and each would undergo a one hour interview out of earshot of the other. Yikes! What could they possibly be up to with this method of interrogation?? Once again, we worried needlessly. This time, the questions were mostly questions that the two of us had already discussed many times - questions about what we loved most about each other and what our childhoods were like. When we asked the social worker why they separated us, she said sometimes couples feel like they can be more open with this format. Huh.

Our final (well, almost final) home study visit was also in our home (at our option). This time we weren't nervous and actually looked forward to the visit. Our social worker was an absolutely warm and charming woman that we truly enjoyed visiting with (although I have to admit our conversations were rather one-sided, by necessity). Our final visit was to talk about how we would handle the wait and to tie up any loose ends on details we might have missed in earlier conversations (there are some mandatory questions required by the state that must be covered during these visits to ensure we are not sex offenders, drug addicts or anything else of that ilk).

After this meeting, our social worker prepared a report describing us, our home, and our plans in great detail. It would make for an interesting read, but as far as I know, we will never see it. Once completed, the report became part of our dossier.

We thought we were finished with home study issues until we learned two things:

1) Our social worker had decided to move to the east coast and
2) We decided to switch countries.

The country switch meant that we needed one more visit for a "home study update" and since our social worker was no longer in the area, our update visit was with a new, equally warm and caring social worker. The update visit was at our agency and we discussed our reasons for switching countries.

When it was all over, we were very happy to have had the experience and felt closer to each other than ever for having gone through it together. I do wish I could get my hands on whatever was written about us, but I imagine it was relatively nice since we have received a referral and now, finally, a First Decree.

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