Contributed by Rebekah Hall, M.S.W., Director of Youth & Family Services
You have finally reached the place where you have made the decision. You’re going to adopt. That decision in itself is huge! Now, no matter if you are pursuing an international adoption, domestic infant adoption, adoption through the foster care system, or private adoption there is one thing that all of these have in common; the HOME STUDY. I am sure that in your decision making process you spent some time on google researching the home study. You have probably read and heard all different things about the home study. The home study can be disconcerting for many people. It can be scary, exciting, overwhelming, and a bit mysterious all wrapped into one big package. In order to alleviate some of your fears or anxiety here are ten facts about the home study (please note that this is based on the home study process in Virginia) to help you as you begin your journey.
- Every state is different
When I meet with families and start discussing the home study process I often see confused looks on their faces as what I am describing may be quite different from what they have read on the internet. The first thing you need to know about the home study is that every state is different. So, while it is important to do research and those google searches can provide some wonderful insight into what a home study could look like please remember that some of the things you are reading may be applying to another state’s standards and not Virginia standards.
- It is a process
Having a home study completed is a process. It is not something that happens overnight. I typically advise families that the time period from when they submit their application and their home study being approved is typically somewhere between 3 and 5 months depending on how quickly they are able to turn their home study paperwork in.
- There are interviews
Yes, there are interviews, three to be exact. In Virginia I meet with families a minimum of three times. A joint meeting, individual interviews, and the home visit. If there are others residing in the family’s home (children, extended family, a close family friend, etc.) I meet with them as well. I realize that many families are very nervous about the interviews; that they might say the “wrong thing”. There is no need to be nervous. This is a time to get to know families. We talk about their childhood, school history, work history, marriage, relationship with friends and family, reason for adoption, thoughts on parenting and discipline, etc. This is really a time for me as the worker to get to know the families I am working with. And the reality is that it is a time for families to talk about themselves and that is a subject that you should know plenty about!
- There is paperwork (a lot of it!)
Yes, there is a lot of paperwork. However, as a worker I try to break it up at intervals throughout the process so families don’t get overwhelmed. Home study paperwork includes things like background checks, references, questionnaires, medical reports, and lots of documents to read through and sign. My advice; take it one document at a time and you’ll get through it.
- Be ready to be educated
Education is a large component of the home study. I want families to be prepared for adoption. In fact, Virginia has various training competencies that must be met in order for a home study to be approved.
- It is a time to ask questions
While the home study process is definitely a time where I am getting to know you as a family it is also a time for you to ask questions. I personally love it when families come to meetings with questions. This is all part of the “getting to know each other “ process. So, don’t be afraid to ask your questions and trust me, there are no stupid questions in adoption. You need to be fully prepared and it is my role as a worker to help make sure that all your questions are answered!
- What the home visit really looks like
The dreaded home visit (at least that is what I think families feel). It should not be feared or dreaded. It is a time for me to see what you as a family are like. I enjoy walking through your home and seeing what you are all about. I love to see pictures on the wall, how you decorate your home, even your DVD collection (because I have quite the DVD obsession myself). Are there specific things I am looking for? Of course! However, that list of home requirements is provided to you early on in the process so you have plenty of time to prepare. I am not going to be looking in your kitchen drawers or refrigerator. I will not be wearing my white glove to make sure that there is not a spec of dust. I am there to see how you live and that your home is a safe environment for a child. So, if you forgot to make your bed that morning no worries, that’s life!
- It is a decision making time
It is the time for you to make decisions like the type of child you are open to (race, age, gender, etc.). It is the time for you to decide what type of ongoing contact you envision with the birth parents. It is the time to finally have those hard conversations if you have not already and come to some decisions.
- Yes, changes can be made later
But you know what? If down the line you decide that you want to expand the age range of the child you are open to or you decide you might be open to some special needs we can amend the home study to change that so don’t worry, what you say on day one is not what you are held to throughout the entire process – you can make changes later.
- What is the final product?
At the end of all the paperwork, interviews and education is a report. This is a 12-15 page report that combines all the information you have provided and was discussed into a final report that approves you for adoption.
So, while the home study is a major part of your adoption journey please don’t let it stress you out or overwhelm you. Embrace this time as a time to learn and ask questions and help prepare you for this amazing journey you are getting ready to enter into!
Contributed by Rebekah Hall, MSW, Director of Youth and Family Services
It seems these days that every month is “National” something or other. I think it is a wonderful way to shed light on different topics ranging from Black History to Child Abuse Prevention or Domestic Violence. What you may not know is that November is National Adoption Month. National Adoption Month can mean different things to different people. For me, National Adoption Month is personal. It is personal because it is the world in which I work and it is personal because I am a child who was adopted.
National Adoption Month is more then just a month to bring awareness to adoption; it is also a time to reflect on what adoption means to me. Adoption looks different for everyone. Every adoptee has a different story and no story is the same. My adoption story began when I was just a few days old and the wife of my parent’s attorney brought me home to them from the hospital. You see, thirty-some years ago adoption was still pretty secretive. My parents didn’t know the name of the hospital where I was born. In fact, until a couple of years ago I didn’t even know the name of the hospital where I was born. However, while my era of adoption was covered in mystery and secrecy, that was not my experience. My experience was one of openness and honesty. Adoption was something that my parents talked to me about from an early age. While they didn’t (and still don’t) have many details about my birth parents I have always known I was adopted. It was never something that was hidden. Instead it was something that was embraced and celebrated. My grandma often recalls a time when I was 5 years old, sitting in the backseat of her car, sharing my adoption story with my cousin. She almost had to pull the car over she was so surprised.
Adoption for me has always been something that made me feel special and unique. I was adopted. I didn’t become my parent’s child in a traditional sense (at least in my mind). Now, I realize that there are many people who are adopted out there but, to me, being adopted is still something that makes me feel special and unique. I realize that there are adoptees out there that have very different feelings about their adoption. As I said, each and every one of our stories is different and that is okay. I can only share my story. I can only share how grateful I am that my birth mother chose life. How grateful I am that she chose to make the courageous and selfless decision of placing me for adoption. How thankful I am to have parents who love me unconditionally and for an extended family who doesn’t see me as the “adopted relative” but just their relative and part of the family.
Today as I sit here at my desk working on writing home studies and post placement supervisory reports I can’t help but smile. As I work on approving families to adopt and supervising children who are in the process of being adopted I can’t help but smile. I smile because their story is my story. My parents were the ones sitting on the other side of some desk waiting to be told they were approved to adopt. I was that child who was being supervised while my parents waited for my adoption to be finalized. I smile because if I had not been adopted would be I doing the work that I am doing now? Who knows! What I do know is that I would not trade any moment of seeing families brought together every day through adoption. You never forget the look in a family’s eye when they see their child for the first time. I see that look and know that it was the look that my parents had in their eyes the first time they saw me.
Interested in learning more about adoption? Visit our adoption website at www.adoptionandpregnancycenter.org
Don’t worry this is not a trick question like the one associated with the now infamous dress. When asked that question perhaps your thoughts turn to the colors of leaves, pumpkins, or apples; yellow, orange, and red. Another person may think of orange and black for Halloween. For many people the color pink for Breast Cancer Awareness comes to mind. These are all great and correct answers! The color most people don’t think of, or may not be aware of, for October is the color purple for Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Now the question is what is Domestic Violence? When most people think of Domestic Violence they think of hitting, punching, and bruising; physical abuse. Again, these are all correct answers! In fact, domestic violence accounts for 15% of all violent crimes. However, this month is all about increasing awareness of not just the obvious physical abuse associated with Domestic Violence (also known as Intimate Partner Violence) but the other types of abuse; emotional, financial, sexual, reproductive, and digital.
Emotional abuse can range from name calling, continually criticizing, insulting, or humiliating you to actively isolating you from friends and family. One highly effective form of emotional abuse is known as “gaslighting” which is an attempt to cause the individual being abused to question their memories, feelings, and sanity. This is accomplished by the abuser denying or pretending to forget about things that have occurred, countering the victim’s memory of events by stating that the victim never remembers things accurately, dismissing what the victim says or diverting attention away from it, minimizing the victim’s needs or feelings, or completely refusing to listen to the victim at all.
Financial abuse can involve denying you access to your paycheck or other funds, intentionally running up debt in your name and/or not paying bills in an effort to ruin your credit score, or preventing you from working. Being forced to engage in any type of sexual act or having a sexually transmitted disease knowing and intentionally passed to you are types of sexual abuse. Being forced to become pregnant or to become pregnant right after giving birth are examples of reproductive abuse. With the use of cell phones and social media, digital abuse is also something to look out for. This includes things such as demanding access to your social media accounts and/or your cell phone, and frequently texting or calling you making you fear what will happen if you do not answer.
Another aspect of domestic violence to look out for is the pattern correlated with abusive relationships known as the Cycle of Abuse. Typically there are three phases to the cycle: tension building, the incident, and the honeymoon phase. The tension phase is where the relationship becomes strained and communication starts to breakdown. During this phase this victim may feel as if they “are walking on egg shells”, fearful of what may anger the abuser. Next is the incident phase which is often where most of the abuse, physical or otherwise takes place. The honeymoon phase is usually when the abuser apologizes for the abuse and promises that it won’t happen again. Abuse often decreases during this phase but does not necessarily stop; the abuser can also blame the victim for the abuse or attempt to minimize it during this phase. After this phase comes the tension building, thus continuing the cycle.
Here is the last question: What can you do if you are in a domestic violence situation? The important thing to remember is to know that you are NOT to blame. There is nothing that you have done, or could do, that has caused you to be abused. The abuser is the only one responsible for their behavior.
- If you are in immediate danger, call 911!
- Have a safety plan for staying safe during an incident which can includes things such as avoiding rooms with weapons (like the kitchen), avoiding rooms or spaces with no exits (like a closet), keeping car keys and cell phone accessible at all times, and not wearing scarves or jewelry that can used for strangle you. *Keep in mind that safety plans should be created to fit your personal situation. They can, and should, be adapted to include children and possibly pets.
- Keep a small bag packed with essentials such as important personal documents (driver’s license, social security card, insurance cards, paperwork for children, any documentation of the abuse, copies of protection orders, etc), medications, money, keys, and change of clothes. Keep this bag hidden from your abuser or keep it with a trusted friend or relative if possible.
- You can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). They have advocates that can assist callers in over 170 different languages and all calls are anonymous and confidential. You can also chat online with an advocate through their website at thehotline.org. They can assist callers who are experiencing all types abuse so please be aware that it does not have to be physical for you to reach out for help.
- The Hotline can help you find a domestic violence shelter in your area or you can go to domesticshelters.org to search for one yourself. In addition to providing you a safe place to stay, they often offer a variety of services including counseling, safety planning, legal advocacy, employment, and housing assistance.
- For more information you can visit the website for The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: ncadv.org. You can also download a new app (free on iTunes and Google Play) called Sojourner Peace which provides domestic violence information and intervention services. The app has a disguised icon, requires a security code, and has a “hide app” button on each screen for safety. (**Please keep in mind if your abuser is digitally abusing you and has access to your phone this app may not be a safe option.)
Raising awareness about this topic is so important because 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will be the victim of some form of intimate partner violence in their lifetime. Adults are not the only ones affected by domestic violence; 1 in 15 children are exposed to it every year and 90% of these children witness violence firsthand. On average over 200,000 phone calls are made to domestic violence hotlines across the United States each year. Domestic Violence affects everyone regardless of race, gender, age, socioeconomic status, level of education, sexual orientation, religion, or nationality.
It is important to educate ourselves and others about the warning signs of Domestic Violence and the ways you, or someone you know, can get help getting away from an abusive relationship. This knowledge can help save your life or the life of someone you know. So along with all the other colors you may associate with October, make purple one of them.
Quite simply…his delivery. We live in a world where so many people are looking out for #1. In fact, we have invented a type of photograph that draws attention to yourself (selfie) and then we send that to others as a measure of how important we are. We sometimes measure ourselves by the number of Facebook friends, Twitter followers or likes. Nationally, we have accepted that it is politically okay to turn all of the attention on oneself and even worse that civil discourse can include name calling and insults.
Pope Francis does the opposite. He uses his popularity and reflects it like a mirror on the poor, the disabled, the needy, and those who need our help the most. His humility draws so many to our faith, to our work and to the needs of our world. When I think of the images of the Pope it is never of the Pope with world leaders; it is always of the Pope with children.
As we await his arrival and we prepare to be in his presence, what I like most about the Pope is what I like most about my wife, my children, and my friends…just thinking of them & him makes me smile.