Kelly Slater has worked for polling and research firm Gallup since 2005. The company provides adoption benefits, something Slater took advantage of when his family adopted three children in 2009.

Gallup's benefits administrator, Milagros Lopez, says the company offers the adoption benefits simply because it's the right thing to do. The company has had its adoption benefits in place since 1996 and, since then, 15 employees have used the benefits. The program is managed in-house, and the costs associated with adopting a child are similar to the health benefits available when an employee gives birth and makes a claim under Gallup's self-insured medical plan. The adoption benefit is immediately available at hire, but the employee must be enrolled in the medical plan, and with documentation supplied, Gallup reimburses expenses through the employee's paycheck.

Gallup ranks No. 81 on the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption's 2013 top 100 "Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces List," which ranks organizations first on the maximum financial reimbursement provided for employees who adopt, then on the maximum number of weeks of paid leave for adoption. Companies on this year's list averaged more than $7,000 in financial adoption assistance, an all-time high.


Welcome benefit

The cost of adopting a child from a public agency in the U.S. can reach $2,500 per child, with costs for a home study, legal and attorney's fees, and travel expenses, according to the Department for Health and Human Services. The money Gallup provided for the Slater family was a welcomed benefit.

According to government data, approximately 101,000 children in the U.S. were waiting to be adopted at the end of 2012.

Adoptions have certainly become more visible over the past couple of decades, with people adopting internationally, and attitudes toward adoption have changed. The State Department reports 242,602 international adoptions between 1999 nd 2012.

Lafreda Doctor, associate experience vice president of First Reliance Bank in Florence, South Carolina, says his company implemented an adoption benefit in 2006 after the bank's CEO adopted a child from China.


Recruiting advantage

Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, says that though adoption benefits are not universal, they do give employers a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees. As with years past, larger employers offered the most competitive adoption benefits. However, the top two in the small employer category - Cambridge Family and Children's Service and South Mountain Company - were among the top companies of any size. Companies with headquarters in large urban areas such as Boston, New York, Chicago and Atlanta, dominated the rankings, with the state of New York most represented.

Aon Hewitt's annual 2012 survey shows a gradual increase in major U.S. employers offering a financial adoption benefit - from 12% in 1990 to 52% in 2012 - and employers are also offering better benefits. Since the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption started tracking the benefits in 2007, it's seen an increase in the offerings. When it compiled the first list in 2007, the average financial assistance was $4,700; this year, it's $7,000.


Education matters

Soronen says the rise in employers offering better benefits comes down to education. "When introduced to it, we find most are interested in it as an equity or family-friendly offering," she says, adding that adoption benefits are an attractive addition to a work-life benefits package because they have very little impact on the bottom line and are easy to administer - utilization rates are low and paperwork is minimal.

Employers on the DTFA list offer financial reimbursement ranging from $500 to $25,300, and one to 18 weeks of paid leave. Unpaid leave for adoption, beyond the Family and Medical Leave Act, ranges from one week to three years. Similarly, the 1,000 major employers surveyed by Aon Hewitt offer an average maximum financial benefit of $6,247 per year.

Four out of 10 employers offer the adoption benefit immediately upon hire, 20% offer it within the first year of employment, and 40% after one year. Sixty-four percent, meanwhile, offer the benefit to both full- and part-time employees. Employers on the list reported that less than half of 1% of eligible employees use the benefit each year, a number that has remained constant since 2007.


'Shows that we care'

First Reliance Bank, which has 110 employees located in Florence, South Carolina, ranked No.4 in the small-employer category and No. 87 overall. The maximum financial benefit per child is $5,000, but the bank offers six weeks of paid leave at two-thirds' salary and sells T-shirts with a custom logo for an adoption awareness program, with proceeds going toward local adoption agencies. To promote adoption awareness, the company also purchased several hundred coupons for free milkshakes at Wendy's, which it handed out to children for Halloween last year.

Though the company hasn't yet had an employee take advantage of the adoption benefits, Doctor says the program gives them a competitive advantage over larger banks in the area.

"Often in the recruitment process, because we're a small community bank, we recruit from larger banks and the retail industry, and we often have people worry we won't have comparable benefits to bigger banks, but once we share the package, they're usually pleasantly surprised," Doctor says.

Even if employees don't use it, she says, "to them it shows that we care enough about them and their finances that we offer such a benefit [and] that if this is something you want to do, we'll help you offset [the costs]."

Susan LaMonica, director of human resources at RBS Americas and RBS Citizens Financial Group, Inc., which has 25,000 employees globally, says that since 2002, the financial services firm has helped 198 employees adopt, and 41 employees have used the benefit more than once. It ranks No.3 in small to large firms, and No. 3 in the large-employer category, offering $22,150 per adoption.

But in addition to that benefit, RBS Citizens Financial Group offers reimbursement for up to $100,000 for medical expenses and up to $100,000 for prescription expenses for in-vitro fertilization, and some families may go that route before looking at adoption. RBS manages the benefit in-house with employees submitting itemized bills, proof of payment and a reimbursement form.

"We know from our colleagues that adopting a child can be expensive and cost prohibitive. By offering assistance, we can help to make the dream of parenthood a reality for colleagues who want to adopt a child, especially those who may not have the financial means to do so," LaMonica says.

Lisa V. Gillespie is a writer in Washington, DC.


Top 25Based on the maximum reimbursement provided to employees who adopt and the maximum weeks of paid adoption leave, here are the top 25 adoption-friendly workplaces in the U.S., as awarded by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption:

1. The Wendy's Company

2. Ferring Pharmaceuticals

3. Citizens Financial Group/RBS Americas

4. HanesBrands

5. Barilla America, Inc.

6. UBM (LLC, Medica, Canon, Inc.)

7. LSI Corporation

8. Liquidnet Holdings, Inc.

9. Cambridge Family and Children's Service

10. Boston Scientific

11. Bloomberg

12. Putnam Investments, LLC

13. Vanguard Group

14. Kao USA Inc.

15. Deutsche Bank

16. JPMorgan Chase & Co

17. Alston & Bird LLP

18. Turner Broadcasting Sustem, Inc.

19. Time Inc.

20. BNP Paribas North America

21. Robins & Morton

22. Avon Prodcuts, Inc.

23. Casey Family Programs

24. Traylor Bros., Inc.

25. Franklin International

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