No matter what kind of adoption you choose in Canada, you’ll need a home study in order to get it started. For adoptive parents in most provinces, a home study is the first step in the process — an assessment of your skills and talents as a potential parent. Although you can start your adoption search prior to getting your study approved, your adoption won’t be finalized until your home study is completed.
Most prospective adoptive parents find the study invasive and stressful. And that’s putting it mildly. Why, they ask, do we have to put our lives under a microscope and prove our worthiness as parents when everyone else does whatever they like, without the slightest bit of scrutiny?
And they’re right — to a point. On the surface, the home study does seem a little unfair. But once you realize that its other purpose is to educate and prepare you for all of the responsibilities and obligations that lie ahead, you’ll come to appreciate it more.
The home study is conducted by a provincially-approved adoption practitioner, often a social worker. S/he can be found independently in provinces such as Ontario or, as is more often the case, through a licensed adoption agency.
His/her main job is to get you thinking about adoption and the unique challenges of raising an adopted child in ways that you may not have thought about before. The format of a home study revolves around a series of interviews lasting anywhere from an hour to two or three. The exact details of a study will vary, depending on the type of adoption sought, the requirements and your adoption practitioner’s personal preferences. For instance, the process for a privately-arranged adoption will be very different from a publicly-arranged one. Similarly, a couple adopting from China will be asked different questions than a couple adopting from, say, Russia.
Typically, your first few sessions will take place at your adoption practitioner’s office or home, and the last one or two will be held at your home. Depending on what kind of adoption you’re pursuing, your availability and the time it takes to complete all the paperwork, the process usually takes between three months to a year to complete and may need to be updated if circumstances change.
Your adoption practitioner is not authorized to approve a placement. His/her role is to make a recommendation as to your suitability for adoption. Only a director of the provincial ministry in charge of adoption can give the green light to a placement based on the best interests of a child.
Besides preparing you for the challenges that await you down the road, your home study is designed to provide a prospective birth mother (or father) with information about you and your partner to help her with her decision.
Costs vary. However, the average is around $2,500-$3,000. In provinces such as Ontario, applicants are also required to take a parenting course called PRIDE (Parent Resources for Information, Development and Education) which costs about $1,500 per couple. There is usually no fee for a home study for a public adoption.
At first glance, the requirements for a home study can seem quite extensive and daunting. Among other things, you’ll be expected to provide:
- An autobiographical statement, either verbal or written
- A medical report from your doctor or any specialist you’ve seen in the last five years
- Police clearance (local, RCMP, and from any country in which you’ve lived as an adult for six months or more)
- Clearance from the Children’s Aid Society
- At least five letters of reference
Rather than get intimidated, keep in mind that the home study is designed to help you get your head around the many different issues you’ll be facing in the months — and years — ahead. Among other things, your adoption practitioner will want to know that you’ve addressed your feelings about infertility. S/he’ll also want to make sure that you view your decision to adopt as a positive step forward and that you and your partner are on the same page.
When meeting your adoption practitioner, remember that s/he’s in the business of building families, not tearing them apart. Some of the questions s/he’ll ask may put you on the spot or seem unnecessarily intrusive. But remember, s/he’s not out to “get” you. S/he’s not the enemy. S/he knows what you’re going through and she simply wants to help you prepare yourself — emotionally, mentally, physically and financially — for the different kinds of situations you may run into. If it’s any consolation, most applicants get through their assessment without major difficulty.
This is essentially the story of your life — past, present and future. It includes details about your relationship with your partner (if you have one), your family and work history, as well as your thoughts about parenting and adoption. Be straightforward and truthful. Don’t be concerned about impressing your adoption practitioner. Remember, s/he’s on your side. For most couples, this part of the home study is little more than a formality. Unless you’ve done something drastically wrong in your life, there’s very little here that could jeopardize your chances to adopt.
Actually, make that “interviews” since there’s more than one. Along with your autobiographical statement, your interviews will make up the bulk of your home study. The most important thing to bear in mind here is to relax and be yourself. Be prepared to discuss personal issues regarding your marriage, family, income, health and parenting. And please, please don’t worry about being perfect. The fact that you don’t get along with one of your parents or a sibling won’t be considered a strike against you. And it certainly doesn’t mean that you’re not “family oriented,” which is one of the things you’ll want to stress.
Don’t panic if you’re unable to find the “right” answer to every question. Be straightforward and candid and, when the occasion calls for it, display a sense of humour. This, along with patience and flexibility, will come in handy later when you’re adopting. Discussing your infertility may be painful for you, but it’s important to demonstrate that you’re coping with it. As for your finances, how much you make isn’t as important as how you manage it. As long as you have the means to support a child, the amount of money you make — or whether you drive a Ford or a Ferrari — doesn’t really matter.
As for your session in your home, don’t get hung up if things are a little on the messy side. And whatever you do, don’t spend the day dusting and vacuuming! Remember, your parenting skills are what’s on display here, not the way you keep house. Besides, a little disarray here and there can go a long way. It shows that you’re not the type of person who will go to pieces the first time your child spits up on the couch or knocks over your favourite vase. By the way, if there are any skeletons in your closet this is the time to discuss them. Putting off this subject until later may delay the process and could cause you and your partner unnecessary grief and stress.
The Medical Report
This is to be completed by your doctor. The questions — about your medical history — are pretty standard. Unless you’ve got a life-threatening disease, there’s nothing to be concerned here. Raising a child is physically and emotionally demanding, but you already knew that.
The Police Clearance
This involves a trip to your local police station and getting fingerprinted by the RCMP. If you’ve lived outside the country for any length of time during your adult life, it also means getting a clearance from that country as well. Being fingerprinted will no doubt be a new experience for you, and it can seem a little stressful at first. But think of it as just one more hoop you have to go through — an anecdote you can tell your friends about later. The only thing that could sink your application is a conviction of child abuse, in which case you shouldn’t be allowed to adopt in the first place. Don’t worry about minor traffic violations and the like. In general, as long your transgressions aren’t major — and a drunk driving conviction would be considered major — or don’t reflect negatively on your ability to raise a child, you have little to fear. Just make sure that you get this part of process started as early as you can, particularly if you’ve got a situation on the go, since it can take a long time.
Most people get four references, but you have the option of getting more if you wish. One should be from a family member, two should be from friends, and one should be from work. As always, make sure that each reference has something nice to say about you. You may feel awkward asking someone from work to comment on your plans to adopt or your parenting skills, but what you really need is just a character reference. In regards to your friends, try to get a parent. Parents know what to include and what to highlight. Once again, this requirement is pretty straightforward and shouldn’t create any major difficulties or delays.
Ten Common Mistakes Adoptive Parents Make When Completing their Home Study
- They think they have to be perfect to get approved.
- They don’t prepare enough or they prepare too much.
- The focus on “passing” and not on the educative elements.
- They don’t realize that different kinds of adoption require different kinds of home studies.
- They rely too heavily on their adoption practitioner to get them through the process.
- They let their adoption practitioner and others dictate their schedule.
- They’re afraid of asking questions.
- They don’t realize that it’s only the first step in the adoption process.
- They think that, once they complete it, they’ll know everything there is to know about adoption.
- They don’t realize that after six months, it has to be updated before a placement can be made.