In addition to all your background checks and a family study, a foster care caseworker will come to your home for a Home Evaluation. While this probably varies greatly from state to state and even agency to agency, here’s a good idea of some things to expect. Some of them are obvious, but some of them really surprised me the first time!
- They will flush your toilet. Not kidding. They watched the water go down and come back up in our potty! (They have to make sure the plumbing works.)
- They will run your sink to make sure the water gets hot. Have any handy conversation starters for when you’re in the bathroom while a stranger holds her hand under your running sink? I didn’t.
- Read carefully about your state and county’s firearms/weapons policies (and their storage if applicable). For us, a firearm and ammunition must be stored separately and locked separately.
- They will look at your cleaning products and medicine storage. Make sure everything is up high where little hands can’t reach, that all containers are clearly labeled, and that all potentially dangerous substances are locked up.
- You will need a date-stamped fire extinguisher accessible near every source of fire or flame. (We are required to show separate ones for our fireplace and gas stove even though they are nearby.)
- They will test all the smoke detectors… as in press the button down on every one to make them scream. Lesson learned: don’t schedule a home evaluation when you have a little one sleeping! You need one on each floor of your home, including the attic and/or basement.
- Our agency requires two posted (and visible) “no smoking” signs on the main living floor of our home. I got pretty ones so they blended a little better with the décor and my living room didn’t suddenly feel like a Pub.
- Our agency requires a posted fire escape plan on the main floor. Keep in mind, my house is small enough that there isn’t an angle I found from which I couldn’t see either the front or back door. Still, I had to get out my crayons and graph paper to outline my house to draw colorful arrows that pointed to the exits. Safety first.
- Emergency phone numbers have to be posted, visibly. (We have the side of our fridge reserved for foster-care-related signage, because it adds up!) We have to showcase 911, poison control, police/fire, and gas emergency. My mom is also on that paper because Grandma is always the #1 contact for our everyday “emergencies”!
- They will check your bedrooms. All of them. (There’s no where to hide the wash you didn’t finish; just embrace it.) Each child needs a bed, so they have to visibly count.
- If you’re looking to host young children, they will check for outlet safety and make sure your extension cords or long lamp cords are stored securely. (In our case, we changed all our outlets to child safety outlets were acceptable rather than messing with the push-in plastic pieces.)
- They asked questions about our pets, our neighbors, and our stairs. They also checked the backyard for basic hazards (like holes and ungated swimming pools, not like uneven pavers).
While the Home Evaluation seems like a simple “check” on the long list of items toward becoming an approved family, I was in for some definite surprises. I hope this helps as you prepare and consider this great calling!