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Nov 27, 2017

November is National Adoption Month in the U.S.

The choice to become a parent is one of the biggest decisions most people will ever face.

Beyond the fact that you’re committing to a lifetime of loving, caring for and teaching a new human, there are the more concrete demands of raising a kid.

Most new or soon-to-be parents are aware the financial costs are huge — the cost of raising a child to the age of 18 has been pegged at about $233,600, according to a recent government report — but many don’t understand the amount of time that’s required of parents. In the first year of life, if not beyond, children dominate their parents’ time. It’s not a nine-to-five gig; it’s an all-the-time gig. In many ways, parenting is all-consuming.

That’s why the government allows parents to claim a child tax credit of up to $1,000 per child for children under the age of 17. It’s also why the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) requires employers to provide at least 12 weeks of (unpaid) leave annually for mothers of newborn children, with some stipulations.

This is one of the lowest levels of leave in the industrialized world, in terms of both time granted away from work to care for a newborn, and in financial assistance (note the word “unpaid”).

The United States is a global laggard when it comes to parental leave laws. But as I’ve noted in a previous post, a small number of U.S. companies are stepping up to support their employees who are new parents. My focus was on my own experience, and not every parent’s situation mirrors mine.

Adopting Parents Also Struggle

Approximately 135,000 children are adopted every year in the United States, according to the Adoption Network Law Center. In total, there are about 1.5 million adopted children in the U.S. today.

Raising an adopted child can be just as taxing as raising a biological child, if not more so, psychologically, physically and — of course — financially.

According to an article in Money:

“Adopting an infant domestically or abroad can add up to as much as $30,000 once travel, lawyer’s fees, and home-stays are accounted for. To help with some of those costs, the government offers financial help to adoptive families. There is a federal tax credit which allows families to claim a one-time tax credit per child (it was $13,460 in 2016), and some states offer additional tax incentives. Additionally, families who adopt a child from foster care may qualify for monthly subsidies to help pay for child care costs.”

When it comes to employer assistance, however, the article notes:

“Workplace benefits for adoptive families are far from the norm. Paid parental leave is still incredibly uncommon in the U.S., and even less so for adoptive parents: McDonald’s, for example, offers maternity leave at half-pay, but does not extend this to adoptive parents (or fathers). ‘Employers implicitly favor one form of family formation over the other,’ says (Adam Pertman, President and CEO of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency). ‘They don’t have any easier job than the people who get six months or a year off to raise their new born.’”

Trend is Toward Supporting Adoption

But similar to how organizations are starting to offer better benefits to biological parents, there’s a developing trend for adoptive parents to receive support from their employer, both financial and in terms of leave.

American Adoptions’s blog says, “In the last two decades, the percentage of U.S. companies offering adoption benefits has grown from roughly 10 percent to nearly 50 percent.”

The U.S. Department for Health and Human Services (DHHS) notes that, typically, adoption benefits mirror benefits available to new biological parents, and fall into three general categories: Information resources,  financial assistance and parental leave policies. explains, “Some employers provide a lump sum payment for an adoption, usually between $1,000 and $15,000. Other employers pay certain fees related to an adoption. Still others partially reimburse employees for expenses. Typical reimbursement plans cover 80 percent of certain itemized expenses up to an established ceiling (about $4,000 on average).”

Given all the costs of adoption, these employer-provided benefits are simply fantastic.

Benefits to Employers

Employers are under no obligation to do more than FMLA requires, and yes, it’s expensive to do more. But the potential rewards for helping an employee who has chosen to adopt a child are enormous.

Rita Soronen, CEO of the David Thomas Foundation for Adoption, says it’s a shame more employers don’t provide more benefits. As she told Money, “Not only are they relatively inexpensive to offer (very few employees will actually adopt), but they signal that the company has its workers’ (and their families’) best interests at heart.

“It provides a sense of parity, a sense of good will, and frankly employers have said if they have a choice between two companies, they’re likely to see (adoption benefits)adoption as a positive comment on the culture of the workplace.”

Pertman agrees, telling American Adoptions, “(P)roviding adoption benefits not only displays social responsibility and an ability to respond to changing conditions but also makes for more satisfied workers.” Pertman also says that adoption benefits can be a relatively cheap investment since only about 0.1 % of employees with available adoption benefits use them.

This year, National Adoption Day was Saturday, November 18. Last year on that day, roughly 4,700 children were adopted by their “forever families.” As more U.S. organizations embrace supporting their employees as they raise their families — however they’re made up —perhaps we’ll see that number has increased.