Friday, April 3, 2015

7 reasons people fail their homestudy


    The homestudy posts (Part 1 and Part 2) have definitely been the most popular articles on the blog, so I thought I would add one more: What can cause you to fail a homestudy (sometimes worded as "being denied" a homestudy approval)? Here is a quick checklist of questions to ask yourself:
  1. Are my partner and I physically and mentally healthy enough to raise a child?
  2. Are we financially stable?
  3. Do we have a safe and sanitary home, with a bedroom that could be used for a child?
  4. Are our records clear from any major (or recent) legal issues? 
  5. Have we been honest on all of our paperwork?
  6. Are we willing to cooperate with any suggestions that our social worker may make? 
  7. Are we both committed to adoption, and have we coped with the grief of not being able to have biological children (if that is the situation that has led to adoption)? 
  Most likely, your homestudy will be approved if you can answer "yes" to all of these questions. Read on for more details about these considerations.

Health Concerns:
    If you or your partner have a health problem that is life threatening, impacts your ability to parent, or will significantly shorten your lifespan, a social worker could possibly use this to deny your homestudy approval. There is also the consideration of mental health. A diagnosis of depression or an anxiety disorder won't automatically rule you out, but if there is a psychological disorder that significantly impairs your quality of life, you could have some difficulty getting your approval. If you have been diagnosed with a psychological disorder/illness, plan on getting a statement from any psychologists, psychiatrists, or therapists you have worked with than can attest to your current functionality and ability to parent.
   Any medications that you take will also be evaluated. Again, I'm sorry that I can't find the exact link to post, but I had read someone's story on either another blog or on a message board that the potential adoptive mother had severe migraines and was prescribed a medication that often has sedative or disorienting side-effects. She was required to provide a statement from her doctor, stating that she did not experience side-effects that would be severe enough to impair her ability to care for a child when she took them. If you are on a medication that could impair you (maybe you sometimes need pain medication that makes you fall asleep, for example), it would probably be a good idea to have a plan worked out for a friend or family member who you could call to watch the child when you need to take that medicine, and be able to relay this plan to your social worker.

Financial Difficulties:
   If you have started your paperwork, you know that you have to provide an incredibly detailed, thorough summary of your current financial situation. If this summary paints the picture that you are having a hard time making ends meet and would not have the ability to provide for a child financially, your homestudy approval could be in jeopardy. You don't have to be wealthy, but you do need to be able to prove that you can support yourself and a future child. One number that I have seen thrown around is that you should be at a minimum of 125% of the poverty level.

Unsafe, Unsuitable, or Unstable Home Environment:
    Usually if there is something in your home that could be dangerous, your social worker will tell you the problem and make an appointment to come back in so many weeks after you fix it. I knew someone who had this happen-- they lived in a state where any medication or chemical (cleaners, for example) had to be in a locked cabinet, so their social worker told them to get a lock installed and she would come back the next month. They installed the lock, the social worker came back and checked it, and they got their approval. Other times, though, the problem may not be so easy to fix. I was just reading a thread on the adoption.com message boards a few days ago where someone was telling her experience of having her homestudy denied because she lived in a remote, rural area down a dirt road that appeared impassible when it rained. Among other things, there was a concern that she may not be able to get her vehicle out in case of an emergency.
  You also need room for the child to sleep-- their own bedroom. A bedroom is a room with doors, a window and a closet, with a minimum square footage that will vary from state to state. If you live in a one bedroom or studio apartment, this could pose a problem. The room does not already have to be set up as a nursery, you just have to show that you will have a room that can be used.  For example, the room that we will use is currently set up as a guest room. We showed it to our social worker and explained that we would redo it, and that was sufficient.
   The other concern could be if your living situation is unstable. Have you moved once a year every year for the past decade? Are different people moving in and out of your house every few months? Have you and your partner recently separated and then reconciled, or had multiple separations in the past?  If there is something about your lifestyle and living situation that could be labeled "unstable" in a way that is unhealthy, you may have some difficulty with your home inspection.

Criminal History:
    If you have a criminal history that involves any type of child abuse (or other crimes against children), sex crime, or domestic violence, you will probably not be approved in the homestudy process. As per The Adoption and Safe Families Act and Title IV-E anyone with a prior conviction of felony child abuse or neglect, felony spousal abuse, or any other violent crime is prohibited from adopting a child; this applies in all states. It is important to know that this does not just apply to you and your partner, but to anyone who lives in your home. If you have a family member who lives with you and has been convicted of one of these crimes, they will need to find someone else to live with if you want to have your homestudy approved. Serious drug offenses (not "I got caught with pot in college") could also be a threat, but drug offenses are evaluated differently depending on where you live. Different states do vary in terms of what types of criminal records will cause you to fail a homestudy-- I actually read a post on a message board of a couple who was considering moving because the husband had an offense that disqualified them in their state, but this offense would not be disqualifying in a neighboring state due to the type of offense and the number of years since it occurred. Another example is that in some states, a felony drug conviction within the last 5 years is an automatic disqualification, but longer than 5 years the issue becomes more subjective based on the social worker's evaluation of your overall lifestyle and situation. Most states will not deny a homestudy approval for minor offenses that are several years old. Our state is one of the more strict ones: if you have anything on a background check that would cause you to be denied a Level 1 Fingerprint Clearance, you will automatically be denied a homestudy approval.  This is why I had to go through such a hoopla for my fingerprints-- they are a big part of the process where we live.
   If you or your partner do have a criminal history, a great start would be to read this summary: http://www.childwelfare.gov/pubPDFs/background.pdf. It goes through the different state and talks about how they evaluate your background checks and criminal history for adoption/ and foster care.

Dishonesty:
   Have you lied anywhere on your paperwork? When your social worker (or the court system) follows up on the information in your homestudy, you don't want anything to pop up that makes it appear like you are trying to hide something. If you say you have never been arrested but your background check shows a criminal history, or you say you have never been in counseling/therapy but your medical records show visits to a therapist, this can be a red flag in your homestudy. I read one account of a couple who had gone to couples' counseling at one point, but didn't mention it anywhere in their written answers on their homestudy questionnaire that asked about marital quality or any previous marital problems. Even though having gone to counseling wouldn't normally be something that would cause you to fail a homestudy, the social worker was suspicious since she found out about it from one of their references (who mentioned it in a positive way, not trying to sabotage them) and felt like they had been trying to hide it. They were told that their approval was in jeopardy until she found out more about the situation since they hadn't been honest (her interpretation of the situation) about something so significant. Be upfront about everything, and find a way to turn something in your past that could be a concern into a positive (what you learned from it, how it could help you be more sympathetic to a biomom who is going through a difficult season in her life, etc). "Failure to disclose" is a reason for a social worker to deny a homestudy approval, so just be honest.


Being Difficult and Uncooperative:
   This should go without saying, but don't lose your temper if your social worker makes suggestions that you don't agree with. I have read accounts of people who were attempting to appeal a denial, and were finally told that even if they resolved the problems that led to the denial they would not be approved because they had shown that they were difficult to get along with and uncooperative. Another social worker mentioned denying a couple because one of them got into a heated argument with her during one of their in-home meetings. Her concern was if that type of anger would be so freely expressed in that type of situation, how much more would it be in their day-to-day family life? The process can get frustrating, but always remember that you need the people making these decisions to see that you are a reasonable person who will have the patience, resiliency, and positivity to make it through the trials of the adoption process with a good attitude. If you lose your patience and respond in anger when there is a hiccup in your homestudy, what does that say about your ability to handle the ups and downs of the adoption process with all of its delays, difficulties, challenges, setbacks, and frustrations?

Lack of Commitment & Unresolved Grief:
   The final thing that I have seen used as a reason for failing the homestudy is probably the most difficult to objectively evaluate: commitment and grief. Did you talk your partner into adopting because of how badly you want a child? Keep in mind that the homestudy involves individual interviews-- if your social worker gets the impression from your partner that he or she is motivated to adopt because it will make you happy, they may see that as a lack of commitment to the adoption. Each partner should be able to express his or her motivation towards adoption in a way that shows a desire to parent and a commitment to adoption. Don't practice a script where each of you will say the same thing, just be genuine.
   Perhaps the most difficult element for those who have spent years struggling with infertility can be the discussion about how they have coped with their grief. I read one account where a couple was denied a homestudy approval because the wife was deemed "emotionally unready" to adopt due to ongoing grief about her infertility. While the knowledge that adoption is an option for growing your family can help you move through your grief, deciding to adopt must be a separate process from coping with infertility. Your social worker will ask questions to make sure that you aren't just seeing adoption as "Option C;" you need to make sure that you are conveying that although you may have been led to adoption due to infertility, you have concluded that this step is a good fit for your family beyond the context of coping with the inability to have a biological child.

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