Advocating for Change: Adoption Benefits in the Workplace

Adoption Benefits

Many work places offer adoption benefits to support employees who choose to grow their families through adoption. These benefits vary greatly from company to company. We are so proud of a recent client who was able to advocate for her family, ultimately changing the adoption benefit at her company. Her story demonstrates that change is possible, whether it is advocating for the installation of an adoption benefit at your place of work, or working to increase the amount of an existing benefit.

What prompted your decision to advocate for increased adoption benefits?

“My husband and I decided to start our family by adopting our son as an infant in 2013.  At that time, we began to look into our company’s policies concerning adoption.  We discovered the Adoption Assistance Program reimbursed expenses at $2,500 per child ($5,000 if special needs).  While it was nice to receive funds after the finalization, the amount was disappointing considering the cost of private infant adoption.  I decided to research the 100 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces in the U.S. and learned that my employer was not one of them.  In 2015 my employer expanded their Reproductive Resource Services and offered a lifetime maximum of $25,000 for infertility treatment and prescription medication.  I am not implying that this is a negative thing; I am only referencing that number to highlight the difference in adoption benefits.  It was difficult as an employee to understand why one type of family building was so heavily funded/supported while the other was not.”

How did you get started/ where would you recommend others who want to advocate for adoption benefits to begin?

“I began by requesting an Adoption-Friendly Workplace Employer Toolkit from the Dave Thomas Foundation website.  I used the kit to create a proposal for my company.  The most difficult part was finding the right people to talk to – the ones that make benefit decisions.  I work for a very large employer, so it took a lot of research and talking to others to find out who was the key person to focus my efforts.  I used every opportunity I had to draw attention to the deficit in benefits.  Most colleagues were surprised and offered to help get the word out.  I also joined a Working Mothers Support Group at my company, which was a great forum to gain a collective voice.”

Were there any materials/resources you found useful when talking with your company?

“Comparisons to other companies were quite eye-opening.  I requested that my company enhance their adoption assistance policy to better reflect its commitment to its employees across the board by offering the same lifetime maximum as designated for Reproductive Services.  This adoption benefit is low cost – as typically only 1 percent of eligible employees use it each year (as reported by the Dave Thomas Foundation).  It increases employee loyalty, retention, goodwill, and productivity.  The benefit offers a competitive advantage in recruiting new employees.  It also recognizes the need to support both biological and adoptive parents and make adoption more affordable.  I attached a reference sheet from the Dave Thomas Foundation so that the reader could see evidence of companies that were supporting their adoptive families to my proposal.”

How long did the process take?

“Since my company is so large and making the change would affect so many employees, it took 3 years from the time I found the right people to new benefits going into effect.  After the key stakeholders met with me and read through my proposal, I talked with managers and other adoptive parents to inform them of my efforts/intentions.  The more people you have asking for the change, the better.  Keep in mind that staying positive is key.  Try not to downplay what your company currently does (or doesn’t do), but emphasize the impact they could have by updating their benefits.  Most employees are unaware of policies and many companies are just uneducated about the adoption process.  Take this time to create a positive view of adoption.  My employer ended up tripling their benefits ($7,500 for an adoption and $15,000 for an adoption of a child with special needs).”

Any advice you’d like to offer to those wishing to advocate for adoption benefits?

“Be willing to tell your story.  While the details of our adoptions are private and for our children only, I take every opportunity to convey the complexities and the impact adoption has had on us.  I attached a photo of our family to communications with others.  Give people insight into adoption today – it is different than what our grandparents experienced.  Just a reminder again to keep it as positive as possible – it is the children that will benefit from these changes and they need to be our motivation.  If you believe, as I did, that financial barriers were blocking colleagues from adopting, then make your voice heard. My Employer’s Guiding Principles of Diversity say “Our policies, procedures, and processes support the needs of our diverse workplace.”  This principle gave me the incentive to bring to light the lack of support.  Read your company’s policies and look to see if they are upholding them.”

Any miscellaneous thoughts you’d like to share?

“I would discourage the use of social media to advance your proposal right away.  Companies are big entities and it often takes time for them to react and plan.  You do not want to be viewed as criticizing the people who ultimately deliver your paycheck.  Prepare yourself for the wait and do not lose hope if it doesn’t happen as quickly as you would expect.  If your company does not have it in their budget to pay for the extra support, be creative and think of other avenues – maybe a few weeks of extra vacation or parental leave, or a part-time offer for a few months after the adoption.

Children and families stand to benefit the most from companies that support adoptive parents.  When people are willing to step in and bridge the gap, the large cost of adoption should not break the bank.  We can all be the change – ask for more.”

If you have impacted the adoption benefit at your place of employment, we would love to hear about your experience!

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