Now in its sixth year, the 100 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces List is compiled by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption to honor employers who offer the best adoption benefits in America.

Many might know Dave Thomas as the founder of Wendy's restaurants, and still others might know his story of adoption at age five. But many still aren't aware of the Foundation, which, even more than a decade after his death, works to forward his vision of finding a safe and loving home for every child.

It's a cause both personally and professionally important to Rita Soronen, the Foundation's president and CEO, a long-time veteran in the child welfare industries and former child abuse prevention specialist. She sees her role as one that helps elevate families that step forward to adopt.

Over her 10 years with the Foundation, the companies on the list have advanced their offerings tremendously - in 2007, a top employee offering was about $10,000 and two weeks of paid leave. Today, those numbers rise as high as $25,000 and 18 weeks of paid leave. Since the DTFA began tracking data for the list in 2006, more than 200 employers have reported establishing an adoption benefits policy, with as many or more enhancing their existing offerings.

 

'Easy-to-provide' benefit

Companies are ranked first on the maximum financial reimbursement provided for employees who adopt, then on the maximum number of weeks of paid leave for adoption. Winners are ranked by employer size, industry, amount of financial incentive and number of paid weeks leave.

Survey participants note several reasons for establishing an adoption benefits policy: It's affordable, easy to administer and popular with all employees - even those who do not adopt.

"All children deserve good parents," cites clothing manufacturer Patagonia (No. 84).

The cost-benefit analysis for employers is a good one as well. Employers who applied for the list reported that less than half of 1% of eligible employees use the benefit each year.

Of course, the feel-good factor is paramount. "It's a no-brainer," says Leslie Niekerk, benefit specialist at Millennium: The Takeda Oncology Company in Cambridge, Mass. (No. 38). The benefit is "easy to provide and goes a long way."

Keeping a leg up on the competition is another reason employers offer adoption benefits.

"We have a culture of caring," says Jeff VanPelt, media relations specialist at Manchester, NH.-based Cellular Specialties. "We also understand that to get and retain quality employees, having competitive benefits is very important." The company offers a $2,000 financial incentive and is tied for second place in the telecommunications industry.

 

Adoption trends

Despite a down economy, 32 of the employers on the DTFA list added or enhanced adoption benefits this year. It's a number that's matched by industry data - a new survey from Aon Hewitt states that while only 12% of employers offered financial benefits for adoption in 1990, now 56% do, up from 49% just one year before.

"That's huge, because conversation at the business level is typically not 'how can we add another benefit [and] how can we spend more money?'" Soronen says.

Roaring up the list this year is Ferring Pharmaceuticals, which makes its debut in both the adoption survey and the DTFA list, offering up to $25,000 in financial assistance and five weeks of paid leave to its 495 U.S. employees.

"At Ferring, we are committed to helping people build families — not only the patients using our products, but also our employees who turn to adoption to realize this dream," says chief operating officer Aaron Graff.

More than six-in-10 employers say the policy helps them be family-friendly and inclusive. An equal amount said that offering adoption benefits is simply the right thing to do.

Organizations of every size and industry offer adoption benefits. South Mountain Company (No. 1 for small employers, No. 30 overall), with only 28 employees, offers up to $10,000 in financial reimbursements and up to four weeks of paid leave for employees who adopt, which rivals the benefits offered by much larger corporations.

"Supporting families is a priority of our company," says Derrill Bazzy, South Mountain's head of human resources. "Adoption is recognized by us as a very positive way to build a family, and one that should be treated the same way as for 'biological' families."

 

2012 adoption stats

Employers on the list offer an average of $6,800 and four weeks of paid leave. Some, like New York City's Sullivan & Cromwell LLP (No. 51 overall), go above and beyond, offering up to 18 weeks of paid leave as well as up to $7,500 in financial assistance.

"Just as we value the diversity of our lawyers and staff, we also recognize and appreciate the many unique ways a family can be created," says Kelly Smith, the manager of Sullivan & Cromwell's diversity programs. Since 2003, the firm has provided equal paid leave to lawyers who become primary caregivers of adopted children as they do to women lawyers following childbirth.

Among employers on the list, financial reimbursement varies from $500 to $25,300. Unpaid leave for adoption, beyond the Family and Medical Leave Act, ranges from one week to three years.

Atlanta-based Alston & Bird LLP, No. 18 on the list, offers $10,000 in financial benefits and 12 weeks paid leave.

Work-life coordinator Nicole Dever says that the benefit is important not only to the company, but to her personally. "My brother was adopted from the foster care system in 1987. My husband and I plan to do the same in the future."

Most employers allow employees to enjoy adoption benefits immediately upon hire, or within the first year of employment, and 65% offer the benefit to both full- and part-time employees.

Most employers reimburse for specific adoption expenses, such as home studies, application fees, legal services, court proceedings, parental counseling, transportation, lodging and immigration. While financial adoption benefits generally apply equally to all employees who are eligible, employers sometimes graduate paid leave based on years of service and stipulate that if both parents are employees, they must share the leave.

 

Beyond benefits

Many employers go beyond benefits to support the cause of adoption. Some encourage adoption, educate potential adoptive parents, offer support and networks to employees who adopt, and incorporate adoption into services provided by their employee assistance program.

The biggest issue Soronen says employers raise with her is cost, but that fear is changing.

Her advice is to look into what it takes to actually implement a program - the DTFA offers free tool kits, a toll-free information line and templates to help employers get started.

Other tips for championing adoption include putting adoption nonprofits in payroll deduction programs or participating in cause-related marketing programs.

 

Happy endings

Kim Bryant, director of hospital coding insurance at Marietta, Ga.-based WellStar Health System (No. 35), says it was love at first sight when she and her husband, Lamont, met their son, Asher, now eight months old. He was 18 days old when they met, and they brought him home when he was 26 days old.

Asher's joyful homecoming ended the Bryant's two-year quest for a family."We started down the path in 2009 by taking advantage of WellStar's infertility benefits," explains Bryant, adding that her company's adoption assistance was "a huge relief. Adoption expenses can be very costly."

She continues to revel in the wonder of motherhood. "Asher is the light of our lives. I can't put into words how we feel - our hearts are full of love for him and his birth family."

McLean Robbins is a freelance writer, former Associate Editor at EBN and former Managing Editor at EBA. She can be reached at mclean@mcleanrobbins.com.

 


FOR MORE INFO

If your organization offers adoption benefits, visit adoptionfriendlyworkplace. org to apply for the next 100 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces List. The website offers free tool kits for employers to establish an adoption benefits program, including a sample proposal, sample policy, sample financial reimbursement form and fact sheet.

Employers can visit davethomasfoundation.org to learn about how they can be recognized on next year's list.

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