Vol. 18, No. 2 • May 2014

A reader asks . . .
What are agencies looking for when they conduct home assessments?

What are social workers looking for in my home during a Preplacement Assessment or Mutual Home Assessment?

Great question! First, let's talk about the difference between Preplacement and Mutual Home Assessments.

A Mutual Home Assessment (MHA) is the narrative portion of a foster home licensing application. The purpose of the MHA is fourfold. It helps us to:

  1. Determine whether the home meets concrete licensing standards
  2. Assure applicants have made an informed decision to become foster parents
  3. Identify areas for continued development within the family using the 12 skills (as discussed in TIPS-MAPP), and
  4. Learn enough about the family to make effective placement decisions.

A Preplacement Assessment (PPA) is the formal written assessment required in North Carolina to be approved as an adoptive family. The PPA determines the family's suitability to adopt while also providing detailed information to make appropriate matching and placement decisions.

While these two assessments have many similarities, there are also some differences in the details and the outcomes. We encourage you to discuss those differences with your licensing or adoption agency.

What We're Looking for
When initiating the process of becoming a licensed foster parent or an approved adoptive family, typically you will have multiple face-to-face contacts and interviews with your social worker, both in and outside of the home. The social worker will speak to every individual in the household, perhaps in a group setting or individually; often they will also interact with your furry family members (that is, your household pets). The social worker will tour the inside of your home as well as the property outside. They will be looking for any safety hazards, the presence of preventative safety measures, the physical space, and the overall atmosphere of your home.

Throughout the assessment process, the social worker will ask you to gather documentation for each individual living in the home. This will include but is not limited to information about medical history, current health, finances, criminal background, education and employment history, and vaccinations for your furry friends.

The assessment process for both an MHA and a PPA involves a significant amount of physical and emotional investment for a family and can sometimes feel invasive. If you ever have questions regarding the information being requested of your family, please ask your social worker to explain the reasoning behind the request. This will not only answer your questions, but allow for open communication and increased partnership with your agency.

The ultimate goal of an MHA or PPA is for you and the social worker to assess the impact of placing a child in your home, for both that child as well as your family. To make that assessment, social workers must be able to capture in writing a realistic representation of your family dynamics, structure, and function.

They are not looking for perfection in your parenting abilities, family, or home. However, they are looking for families who can safely nurture children in the child welfare system and meet those children's specific safety and well-being needs.

Response by the NC Division of Social Services. If you have a question about foster care or adoption in North Carolina you'd like answered in "A Reader Asks," send it to us using the contact information found here.

~ Family and Children's Resource Program, UNC-CH School of Social Work ~