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Know Your Adoption Benefits

Know Your Adoption Benefits

For years, American companies have offered benefits like paid leave and medical-care reimbursement to employees having a baby. Many employers feel it's the right thing to do -- and it's the law.

But not every employee has a child through birth. Some adopt. Now, spurred by increasing numbers of international adoptions, greater acceptance of adoption by single parents and gays/lesbians, and the efforts of the late Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy's and himself an adoptee, more companies are offering benefits to adoptive parents.

What Are Adoption Benefits?

Adoption benefits include paid or unpaid time off during the adoption process and financial reimbursement for expenses. Costs vary, depending on whether adoption involves an American infant, an older American child in foster care (many of whom have disabilities or siblings) or an adoptee from overseas.

The average stipend companies offer is $5,000, according to Gloria Hochman, director of communications for the National Adoption Center, though some employers pay up to $10,000. Reimbursement covers expenses like home studies, legal and agency fees, and travel. Total adoption costs can run from a few thousand dollars to tens of thousands.

Many employers also offer adoption assistance to employees, such as counseling and referral services. Some companies provide flexible scheduling. Hochman calls that an important option, because adoptive parents are generally anxious about the process.

Larger corporations have bigger benefit budgets, Hochman says. Smaller companies and nonprofits are more apt to provide leave. Some combine financial reimbursement with other benefits. Of Working Mother magazine's top 100 companies in 2008, 93 percent offered benefits to adoptive parents.

Who Offers Adoption Benefits?

Rita Soronen, executive director of the Adoption Friendly Workplace initiative, the signature program of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, sees "growing interest and a move to action" in workplace adoption benefits. A Hewitt Associates workplace study showed that in 2008, 51 percent of nearly 1,000 major corporations offered financial benefits to adopting employees. This represents a major increase from 1990, when only 12 percent did.

According to Hochman, 650 American companies offer some type of adoptive benefits. Many are large corporations, such as IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Chubb.

Soronen notes that companies that provide adoption benefits are spread evenly across the US and include all industries and sectors. However, she warns, those benefits are not widely used. Why? According to The Adoption History Project, only 125,000 children are adopted annually -- down from 175,000 in 1970, Soronen explains.

And not all companies offer adoption benefits, Soronsen adds, because "it's not on their radar. They don't think of it until an employee raises the issue, and it takes a savvy employee to know if her company or a competitor offers it. Some companies don't think it's worth the effort to put them in place, because it's such a special niche. Some companies think they can't afford it, and some just don't want to offer them."

Why Adoption Benefits?

Yet, Soronen says, adoption benefits make a company popular -- and are cost-effective. "Businesses that offer them like them, because they don't really cost a lot -- the number of employees who use them are so low -- but they pay a lot of dividends in goodwill and loyalty," she says.

And these dividends are important, Soronen says, because the adoption process can be stressful, confusing, preoccupying and expensive. Children can become available quickly, particularly in international adoptions. An employee considering adoption must act decisively, sometimes in the middle of a big project or assignment. Bureaucratic snags may keep a parent overseas longer than anticipated. Adoptive parents may also need bonding time with their children. And employees who adopt older children may require time off to deal with psychological or medical issues.

Hochman says few companies differentiate between married, single and gay/lesbian parents. "Basically, the companies that offer adoption benefits do it because they want happy employees," she says. "They're not going to withhold benefits for arbitrary reasons."

Adds Soronen, "This is about recognizing that families are created in a variety of ways. And companies today want to support them all."

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