Adoption Benefits in the Workplace

In 1992 my husband and I were blessed to have been able to adopt a child. Neither of our employers offered any adoption-related benefits, either in the form of paid time off or a cash benefit. Luckily for us, our daughter was born in January, so I had access to my full three weeks of vacation for that year. At the time, I inquired of my employer (Nixon, Hargrave, Devans & Doyle LLP) whether there were any benefits available to me from the firm as we went through the adoption process, either in terms of a cash adoption benefit or paid time off. The answer at the time was “no.”

Although I was not entitled to an official maternity leave because I did not actually go through childbirth, I am a mother nonetheless, and needed to have time to spend with our new child. Faced with the possibility of having to return to work when the baby was only three weeks old was distressing. Further, we received no financial reimbursement for hospitalization and other costs of delivery, which we were responsible for paying.

When I have spoken to prospective adoptive families in the past, at a workshop entitled “Adoption 101,” one of the most frequently asked questions, is “How much is an adoption going to cost?” Though I didn’t realize it at the time we went through it, lack of adoption benefits can increase the cost of an adoption, especially for those who are forced to take time off without pay to spend with their child. Had there been an adoption benefit from my employer at the time of our child’s birth, this benefit would have allowed me time off to spend with her, without having to worry about lost wage from work in addition to the actual adoption-related expenses.

In 1996, I began to plan for the future, knowing that we would adopt again. I felt I owed it to myself and my family to explore every option that would help ease the transition, both emotionally and financially, of adopting another child. To that end, I researched and wrote a proposal to my employer that they implement an adoption benefit for all employees who form their family through adoption. It was a simple process. I will outline the steps I took in the hopes that this may encourage some of you to do the same at your workplace.

My goals for the proposal were: to bring adoptive families in closer parity with the benefits received by biological families, to explain the low cost of implementing an adoption benefit in the workplace, to explain the “good will/good looks” policy, and finally, to show that an adoption benefit allows my employer to address an important social issue–that of children waiting to be adopted.

The first step is to talk with someone in Human Resources. Find out why they do not offer adoption benefits. As stated in a Wendy’s publication (referenced below), many companies do not offer adoption benefits because no employee has ever asked them to-hey, this may be easier than you think! Find out also, if you can, how many employees have adopted children over a given time period. Find out how your company operates: What is the decision-making process at your company? Who should the proposal be addressed to? When is the most opportune time to send it (i.e., so that it may be considered in the next budgeting process)? Get copies of all related benefits (i.e., maternity, parenting leave, etc.) so you can use actual numbers. Finally, enlist support of other employees who are adopting or who have adopted.

The next step is to do your homework. What kind of benefits do you want? Do you want paid time off-or at least some flexibility in that regard? Ask Human Resources about the Family and Medical Leave Act. While that is not specifically an adoption benefit, perhaps you can couple it with other paid time off to suit your needs. Would you prefer a cash benefit? Would you, or other employees, benefit from a resource and referral service?

Be prepared to present real numbers in your proposal. Don’t worry, the numbers will look wonderful-not only to adoptive families, but to employers as well. I proposed a cash benefit for my firm, as my employer already offers a very generous vacation package, and has since implemented a two-week paid parenting leave. I looked at the average cash benefit from the Working Mother report (referenced below), which at the time was $2,500, and bumped it up to $3,000.

I also decided that it would be easier for the firm to budget how much this adoption benefit could potentially cost them by using a fixed rate, as opposed to paid time off which would vary depending on the salary of the person utilizing the benefit. I took the total number of employees, assumed that the firm would parallel the national average of less than 1% of employees who would ever use the benefit, and determined how much it would cost them over a number of years. Although the firm had not specifically tracked the number of adoptions in recent years, I knew about most of them, so I took those numbers and figured out how much it would have cost the firm to offer adoption benefits to those families.

Next, find out what other comparable businesses are doing. I work for a law firm, so I inquired at other law firms about their adoption benefits. I asked them who the benefits applied to (attorneys, staff, etc.) and specifically what benefits they offered. Get the names and titles of people you talk to. Find out how long their adoption benefit has been in place, and how many people have utilized it. Find out what other companies in your community are doing. I inquired at several local corporations and asked them the same questions that I asked the law firms.

Give your own personal experience (or that of others). My personal experience was the first paragraph of this article, although in the actual proposal, it was the last thing I discussed. If you haven’t already adopted, you can give examples. Perhaps you are adopting from a specific country, and you know the agency fee is “x” and you anticipate being out of the country for “x” weeks to pick up your child. This will give them an idea of what you’re going through.

End your proposal with a synopsis of what this benefit will do for them. For example, restate the fact that nationally, less than 1% of all employees ever take advantage of adoption benefits, which means it won’t cost them much. An implementation of an adoption benefit acknowledges the importance of helping families adopt children. And finally, remind them how good they’ll look by offering such a family-friendly benefit.

You should also include some education about adoption in your proposal. Some people may not be familiar with the terms you use. For example, I defined “special needs” adoption, I outlined what adoption-related costs can include, I gave the average of what adoption-related costs were at the time (estimated by the National Council for Adoption). I also gave a brief outline of “The State of Adoption Today,” and explained that adoption experts estimate that there are 100,000+ children in this country waiting to be adopted, and how corporate benefits can help people overcome the financial obstacle that may prevent them from becoming parents. I discussed the steps the government has taken regarding the implementation of the Adoption Expense Tax Credit, noting that they have recognized that adoptive families need financial help to get some of the waiting children into permanent homes.

Resource and referral services provide employees with a “hotline” to answer questions, and aid employees in researching adoption options. I personally did not consider this to be very important because Rochester has a very active adoption community, and we are blessed with many resources, such as Adoption Resource Network, Inc.

I think the most helpful resource for you to use will be the “Employer’s Guide to Adoption Benefits,” which is the last one listed below. Unfortunately, I didn’t become aware of this until after my proposal had been implemented, but it may help you tremendously. One of the suggestions that I found very interesting, that frankly never occurred to me, was to find out what the average maternity benefit is, and use that figure to gauge how much to request the adoption benefit be. One main reason for the adoption benefit is to bring parity between biological and adoptive parents, recognizing that we are both truly parents, regardless of how our families were formed, who need to have that time with our children. The material stated that the average cost of an adoption is $12,000, while the average birth is $6,430.

It also struck me as I was reading through the material that the average cost for an adoption has increased, even since I did my proposal in 1996, which was based on information from 1994-1995. I had used the average amount of $9,000, while these new figures peg it at $12,000, (and can cost as much as $30,000), an increase of $3,000! Note that these numbers are for domestic adoptions, not international, which tend to run higher. I spoke with a family who adopted a child from Columbia and were expected to stay in the country for five weeks to comply with their adoption laws.

Specific sources I used were:

* Other law firms.
* Local companies.
* Wendy’s survey (The State of Corporate Adoption Benefits 1/94).
* Working Mother magazine’s “100 Best Companies for Working Mothers.” I specifically listed in an attachment the companies on the list that have adoption policies offering a paid leave component, listing the range of leave time and the average benefit. I did the same for the companies that offer a cash benefit component.
* Dave Thomas Foundation’s Adoption Friendly Workplace resources.

Since the implementation of the adoption benefit in my firm in 1996, two people have utilized it-one for an international adoption, and one for a private, domestic adoption. Just recently my family was also fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of my firm’s adoption benefit-with the arrival of our second daughter. It is my hope that after reading this, some of you take the plunge and submit a proposal to your company. Good luck!

Source: Terri Pease, Adoption Resource Network, Rochester,NY. Reprinted permission of the author.

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