Organizing Your Home Study Paperwork

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You’ve set up the foundations of your home study binder (you haven’t? Check out my process here!) and now you’re ready to start organizing your paperwork.

Here is what you need:

– The Following Expandable Folders from your Home Study Binder

-To Do

-To Copy

-To Send

-Original Documents

– Binder clips

– Sticky notes

– Pen

– 3 Hole Punch

First things first, make copies of EVERYTHING…yep, everything. Make copies of your application before you send it in, we had to reference ours several times. When the agency gives you the giant packet of home study paperwork make copies of all the forms you have to fill out BEFORE you fill them out. This may seem crazy, but these blank forms can’t often be found online and if you mess up or something changes during the adoption process (job, house, etc.), you are going to be stuck waiting for the agency to send you another set of papers. This might be hard to hear, but the agency’s top priority will not be to get you another set of forms. Non-profits are usually run by a small staff, each staff member working his/her ass off for these children, expectant parents, and adoptive parents. Most staff members are working with multiple families and doing multiple jobs and things like mailing out another set of paperwork tend to get pushed to the bottom of the list. The more time you spend with these men and women the more you will recognize how hard they work and how much they care, but at first (as an adoptive parent) you might feel like your needs are being pushed to the side. It’s ok to feel this way, and I once again would suggest finding a therapist or counselor you can talk to. It’s best to face these feelings with another unbiased person behind the scenes so you don’t start harboring resentments towards your agency. I found for myself that I just wanted someone to fight for me- for my rights to become a parent. I wanted someone to have my back and validate this injustice (infertility) I was going through. Your agency wants to help you, and wants to have your back, but their primary job is to fight for the rights of the child(ren) and to counsel and guide expectant parents in crisis. My suggestion? Join a support group, attend waiting parent meetings, GET A THERAPIST! I’m serious! God gifted me with a therapist who was united with her two children through the adoption process. Just having someone to voice my frustrations and hurts to helped me so much. She didn’t feed my feelings of injustice or anger; she validated my feelings and helped me to see the reality of the situation: this agency was doing everything they could to ensure the safety of my child.

Okay, back to the paperwork. Your agency may or may not give you a “Home Study Checklist.” Our agency gave us a Checklist but within the first couple of days of working on paperwork, I realized that this simple checklist was not going to cut it for me. The home study is more than just: do this and check it off the list and my paper soon turned into a colorful display of dates and statuses. The reality of the checklist tends to be more like this:

Fill out this sheet of paper and sign it

Set it aside so your partner can sign it

Make a copy of the specific paperwork for your files

Bring the paperwork to the appropriate vendor, doctor, agency, etc. to fulfill whatever requirement needs to be fulfilled.

Wait for the vendor, doctor, agency, etc. to return the paperwork to you

Scan the returned paperwork and email it over to the adoption agency

Set the original paperwork aside to mail it to the adoption agency

Every now and then this process will be peppered with notarized signatures, payments, lost mail, and animal sacrifices; so you can see how you might have a mental breakdown without some sort of organization set into place.

The second thing I did was create my own Checklist. This checklist not only included the list of requirements, but also had columns to help me keep track of the status of each line item. Here is an example:

Form Parent 1 Parent 2 Other Signatures Notes Mailed/Completed Date
Matching Agreement N/A Copied, scanned, emailed 3/17/17 Mailed 3/21/17
General Medical Forms Dr. Appt. on 4/1/17

Depending on your agency and state you may have different requirements to fulfill, I have attached my checklist for your reference, but this is in no way the list you should use. Feel free to add and remove line items to fit your own agency’s requirements. Homestudy Checklist

The checklist was a great way to get an “At a Glance” view of where I needed to put my energy. It was also a great way to look and see that sometimes the adoption process is just a waiting game: waiting for your partner to fill out his/her forms, waiting for a doctor’s appointment, waiting for your security checks to come back, waiting for lab work to come back, etc. In those times of waiting you may feel like you need to do be doing something, but your checklist may tell you otherwise. You can’t control it all; you’ve done your part so take a break! Have some fun and just enjoy the waiting. (Easier said than done right?)

Third thing: I made sticky notes entitled with the following statuses:

To Fill Out

To Sign

To Be Signed by Others

To Notarize

To Pay

To Scan

To Email

To Copy

To Mail

To Hole Punch

To File

Then I attached a binder clip to each sticky note and most of them set up camp in my “To Do” expandable folder located in my binder. This made it easy for me to shuffle through my papers when I had 5 minutes of free time here and there to make copies or scan forms or whatever. As I would complete a task I would move that specific form to its next status clip. In that way I could have several different papers in several different statuses and not get confused about what paperwork I had already emailed or scanned, etc. It took time to set up the system but it allowed me to work in small 5-10 minute increments throughout the day without having to go through all my paperwork over and over again to figure out what I still needed to do. Plus, each time I moved a form to a new status it felt like I was accomplishing something. Instead of seeing a form as still incomplete because I didn’t have a signature or because I needed to make copies, I saw the form as “filled out” and moved to the “To Sign”  status binder clip. If nothing else, it helped me feel like I was actually making progress.

I used a separate expandable folder for my “To Mail” items, simply because I could just take the folder if I was running out the door to do errands. I didn’t like the idea of all my paperwork sitting in my car, so if my “to mail” items were separate I could grab them and go straight to FedEx and my “to mail” folder would then be empty.

I also had a separate expandable folder for my “To Copy” items, whether or not you do this is up to you. This was due to the fact that I had TONS of papers to copy and they started to take up most of the space in my “To Do” folder. Again, this is the system that worked best for me. This is not the only way to do it; I just want to give you a place to start.

The Fourth Step is to start organizing! I can’t really help you with this piece, but if you have any questions feel free to send me a message or comment. I will say this though: Any originals that I didn’t have to mail out, I made a copy of and put the original in the “Original Documents” expandable folder. All the copies of my documents (even the mailed ones) I then hole-punched and filed behind the “Home Study Documents” tab in the binder. I chose to file my documents in the same order that they were listed on my checklist so they were easier to find.

Well, I think that’s it for now! Next time I will be going over how to organize your expenses and donations. Hurrah!

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Assembling Your Home Study Binder

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The dreaded home study- this is the adoption version of birthing: tons of paperwork, hours of labor, and a lot of waiting. Many prospective adoptive parents fear the home study because of its daunting nature and mountains of paperwork, but it really doesn’t have to be that scary. I was blessed to be a housewife during our home study process which really allowed me time to organize and reorganize our home study binder until I found a system that worked for me. And I believe God called me to help others who may not have the same luxury of time I was blessed with.

With that being said, this is not the only way or even the best way for YOUR home study binder. This was the best way, so far, that I have found for myself. But I understand that many of you work and may not have extra time built in to your schedule to organize and reorganize a home study binder to fit your needs. I know for myself, when life got super busy and I was still searching for a way to best organize my binder, the paperwork stacked up super fast. Before I knew it I had a binder full of loose papers and I had no idea which documents I already copied and which ones I scanned and emailed before sending out all the originals to the agency. The confusion is enough to make you have a breakdown, IF you don’t have the time to or energy to “deal” with the mess of papers.

First things first, if you are on the verge of a breakdown or at the very least a tantrum, THAT’S OK!!! Go ahead and feel it. It’s ok to be pissed that you have to do this in order to have a baby. It’s ok to be angry with God, He can handle it. It’s ok to cry and mourn over this process. I believe the greatest blessing of the home study process is the very stressful nature of it all. I believe the fact that you will be interviewed about your past, questioned about your parenting, and expected to sign forms stating you promise to vaccinate your child (I agreed, but I still felt like the choice had been taken from me), is all a beautifully challenging way to get us adoptive parents to mourn our inability to conceive our own children. A lot of this process seems unfair because most parents don’t have to go through these hoops in order to have children. And as much as I hated all of that in the moment, it forced me to recognize how hurt I was by the unfairness of it all. It forced me to confront the issues of unfairness with the head of it all: God. The agency was doing their best to help me become a parent, these measures were to cover their butt in case I turned out to be crazy, and most importantly to find a suitable and loving family for these babies that they vowed to protect and speak for. As much as it felt like it, the agency was not causing my feelings of unfairness and hurt, no, I had to take this up with the source of all life: God. So if you find yourself in this place, GREAT! You are well on your way to becoming the parent your child needs! Because this mourning process will help open your heart FULLY to the wonderful child God has planned for you and your family. Every piece of paperwork is a labor pain that is so worth it, I promise.  Start working through the emotional crap (I ended up finding a counselor to help), and I will help you organize your home study binder, so you can work through the shit and still have a beautiful binder with everything you need. YAY!

Today, we will simply be putting together the binder. No paperwork just yet, but at the end of today you will have a place to put your paperwork. This binder will be able to store all of your home study paperwork before you are matched with your child and all of your placement documents and progress reports after you matched, so everything for your child will be in one organized place! This is super helpful, especially if you move houses less than a week after you have been matched (Like us).

 

What You Will Need:

  • One 4in Binder (believe me, the bigger the better, even my 4 in binder is about to bust at the seams)
  • One set of 8 Tab Dividers
  • At least eight Velcro expandable binder pockets (I have 8 and wish I had 2 more)
  • One 3 hole punch (not those sissy plastic things you put in your binder, I broke 3 of those before sucking it up and buying a nice hole punch)
  • Easy Access to a Printer
  • Tape

Instructions:

1.Go into the kitchen and rustle up your drink of choice, beer, coffee, wine, whatevs, I don’t judge, but I prefer drinks I wouldn’t be allowed to have if I was pregnant; it makes me feel special or something.

2. Download the following pdf for your title-labels-dividers and print them out. Of course you are always welcome to make your own.

3. Let’s get these title pages out of the way first. The large print “Adoption Paperwork” will go on the front of your binder and the smaller version, needs to be trimmed to fit on the binding.

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4. Insert your 8 Tab Dividers into the binder. Use the hole punch to punch holes in the 8 Divider Title Sheets and place each title sheet behind its own divider in the following order: “General Info & Notes”, “Application”, “Instruction Sheets”, “Home Study Documents”, “Renewal Documents”, “Home Study Drafts”, “Placement Documents”, and “Progress Reports” img_9772

5. Take a moment to cut out the labels for the divider tabs and insert them into the corresponding divider tab (or just write them on the tabs, it’s up to you!). img_9775

6. Now, cut out the medium sized square labels along the gray lines. Each one of these labels will be taped on an expandable binder pocket. I taped mine behind the pocket flap to keep it looking nice. Actually, to be completely honest I made these labels for this blog post so that your binder would look nice. Mine was just these same titles scribbled on sticky notes. I put it behind the flap so dust wouldn’t get in there and make my sticky note stop sticking. img_9779

7. Some of the locations of these expandable binder pockets are obvious, but some not so much. These expandable binder pockets were the MOST useful items when it came to my home study binder. They easily held packets of paper, loose receipts, business cards, donation checks, etc, without any fear of them falling out of the binder. If I didn’t have time to hole punch some papers, I just slipped them into the “To Do” binder pocket with a sticky not label “to punch” (sometimes I put a picture of a pregnant lady in there with that label on it just for fun. Just kidding…but you know…that feeling is legit.)slapping-pregnant-ladies

At the moment, most of your expandable binder pockets will go behind the “Home Study Documents” tab because you will be using them to organize paperwork that is still be processed and is incomplete, but we will go into more detail with that in a different post. Right now, let’s just focus on getting this binder put together and ready for the eventual paperwork. Place the “To Do”, “To Copy”, “To Send”, and “Original Documents” pockets behind the “Home Study Documents” tab. The “Placement Documents” pocket will go behind the “Placement Documents” divider and the “Progress Reports” pocket will go behind the “Progress Reports” divider. You should have two more pockets: “Donations” and “Receipts & Expenses”. These two pockets I have moved around so many times. It changes based on where we are in the process. When we were accepting donations I had the “Donations” pocket in the very front of the binder. Then every time a check came in I could quickly get it into a safe place until I had time to deposit it and write a thank you note. Now that we have our son and don’t need donations, I keep the pocket in the back of the binder where it stays out of my way. The “Receipt & Expenses” Pocket I like to keep in the back of the binder, simply because I hate looking at it. Really, it can go anywhere as long as you know where it is because this pocket will be your frenemy during every single portion of this process, especially when you go to file your taxes (yup, sorry I brought up taxes, but this will be so helpful I promise!)IMG_9782.JPG

8. (Optional Pockets) I would have liked to have an expandable pocket for my photo book ideas and quotes and a pocket on hand in case I needed an extra for some reason. I don’t know why I never bought 2 more pockets…I guess I felt we were already strapped for money with the adoption, but honestly I could have just gotten them.

9. (Optional) Print out some encouraging quotes or bible verses to place in the front and back covers and the front and back pockets. Or just tape them anywhere you will see them. This helped me a lot. I read these bible verses over and over and over and over again, and slowly I started to believe them and feel the truth in them.

10. Close your binder, take 3 deep breaths, and congratulate yourself on a job well done. Your binder might not be full of papers yet, but it is ready and so are you!img_9783

I hope this has been helpful so far. If you have any questions do not hesitate to comment below. I will do my best to answer them in a timely manner. Also, keep an eye out for the next Home Study Binder post: Organizing You Home Study Paperwork. Also, please share this with anyone who you think might benefit. Happy Home Studying!