As your employees start or grow their families, some are likely considering welcoming a new child through adoption. It's becoming a more common way for families to expand: in the U.S. alone, over 135,000 children are adopted every year, and four in 10 Americans have considered adopting a child at some point in their lives.

While adopting children can be joyful and exciting, the process is often long, complex, and expensive. Potential parents often have to wait for one to two years before being matched with a child, and the process can cost over $45,000 when all is said and done. 

To better support employees as they navigate the process of adoption, companies are offering a suite of specialized benefits. These benefits support parents of adoption with information, financial assistance, leave policies, and more to make the process more manageable and less stressful.

Here's what HR leaders need to know about offering adoption benefits at work. 

Why should companies offer adoption benefits?

There are a variety of advantages to offering adoption support to your employees. First, employees now want their employers to help them as they pursue adoption. A recent Maven report found that one in four employees wanted support during this time. Without support on their family building journeys, employees may feel disengaged or unable to stay productive. The same Maven study found that 60% of employees have left or considered leaving a job because of inadequate family-orientated benefits. 

Outside of employee loyalty, adoption benefits help companies achieve their DEI goals. While any employee may pursue adoption, it's especially common among members of the LGBTQIA+ community. 10% of children raised by same-sex couples are adopted, compared to 2% of children raised by different-sex couples. Single parents by choice also adopt at higher rates—28% of all parents adopting from the U.S. foster care system are single.

By not offering such benefits, companies exclude these groups from receiving the same support as couples who pursue parenthood through pregnancy. As a result, employees may feel like their company doesn't care about them or support their needs, leading to higher rates of attrition. 

What types of employer-provided adoption benefits exist?

While some adoption benefits can mirror benefits offered to birth parents (like paid parental leave), others are specific to the adoption process and its nuances.

  • Informational support: Adoption can be complicated—giving employees access to experts, mental health support, and clinically-vetted content to help them navigate the process can make a big difference. 
  • Financial assistance: Expenses can add up quickly, and companies can relieve some of the financial burden by covering some–or all—of the costs. 
  • Paid parental leave: While U.S. law requires that employers offer parents 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave upon birth or adoption of a child, many companies opt to offer paid parental leave to adoptive parents as well. 

How common are adoption benefits?

Despite the desire for more support, adoption benefits still aren't very common. Maven's recent report found that only 25% of companies offered robust adoption or surrogacy benefits to employees. Other reports show that companies also lag behind in offering specific adoption benefits: only 10% offer some form of financial assistance, and 36% provide some form of paid leave for parents going through adoption. 

Companies that provide adoption benefits can distinguish themselves from competitors and frame themselves as family-friendly workplaces for prospective talent. A Great Place to Work report found that the Best Workplaces for Parents are significantly more likely to offer adoption benefits, with over two-thirds offering this support. In contrast, only 25% of companies without the Best Workplaces for Parents designation offered help with adoption.

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How to implement adoption benefits at work

Adoption can be complicated, so best-in-class benefits need to cover a range of employee needs.

Here are seven key areas to focus on when building out adoption benefits. 

Expert support & clinically-vetted content

Navigating adoption without some form of support can be incredibly difficult, and many employees are looking for guidance and support throughout the process.

Companies are beginning to provide access to digital women's and family health platforms with experts like adoption coaches or mental health specialists who can guide adoptive family through their journey and the stress that accompanies it. Access to a library of trusted resources, like virtual classes and articles detailing how foster care and adoption works, can also help parents along their journey.

Financial reimbursement

To offset the cost of adoption, some companies offer financial help to adoptive families. Through either a one-time lump-sum payment or full or partial financial reimbursement, employers can help cover agency fees, court costs, legal fees, foreign adoption fees, medical costs, and more. 

Maven Wallet and the Maven Card are easy ways for employers and employees to track and reimburse adoption expenses while minimizing out-of-pocket costs from employees. 

Adoption benefit taxes and adoption assistance

In some cases, employers can also help ease the tax burden of adoption. According to the IRS, employer-provided adoption assistance is excluded from some federal taxes as long as the assistance is provided through a qualified adoption assistance program.

Expenses that fall under the employer provided adoption assistance program include reasonable and necessary fees, court costs and attorney fees, travel expenses including lodging and meals, and “other expenses that are directly related to and for the principal purpose of the legal adoption of an eligible child.” There are income and dollar limits on these benefits, which are listed in detail on the IRS site.

Paid parental leave policies for adoptive parents

Unpaid leave is required under FMLA and begins when the adoption is legally finalized. As a result, it doesn't include the time that individuals spend traveling, or meeting their child or their birth mother. 

Recognizing that unpaid leave is often insufficient, companies are starting to offer paid leave for employees who adopt. This leave includes paid time off for necessary travel and bonding with the adopted child.

To ensure equitable benefits, the length of paid leave for adoption should match the paid leave offered to biological parents, and not vary based on the gender or parentage status of the adoptive parent. 

Eligibility requirements for adoption benefits

Eligibility for adoption benefits usually depends on employment status—for example, your company may decide that full-time employees are eligible while contractors or part-time employees are not. 

Employers may also choose to limit the types of adoption that are eligible for benefits. Some may not offer the same financial assistance when a stepparent legally adopts a stepchild, as the process is usually quicker and less expensive than adoption outside of the family.

However, same-sex couples who apply for second-parent adoption generally are deemed eligible for benefits, since there are often more legal obstacles to navigate in that circumstance. Companies may also choose to provide longer leave or more financial reimbursement for families who choose to adopt children with special needs. 

Support through an employee assistance program (EAP)

Companies that have employee assistance programs, either through their health plan or a third-party vendor, are likely able to offer employees adoption assistance as a part of the EAP. Many EAPs can offer adoption support services, including referrals to adoption agencies, information about the process, and financial consultations.

Employees can also receive legal counsel about the process through their EAP, helping them easier navigate its complexities. However, employees often don't engage with EAPs, so companies should consider expanding their benefits beyond what is offered in the EAP. 

Adoption-friendly atmosphere

Adoption benefits can go a long way in making parents feel seen and welcomed at work, but support should extend beyond the benefits ecosystem. HR leaders should work to educate managers and employees about the needs of adoptive families, and the company culture should celebrate it. 

Leaders can create an adoption-friendly atmosphere by:

  • Leading workshops or bringing in speakers and adoption agencies to educate employees about foster care and adoption
  • Building a flexible work schedule that meets the needs of employees considering adoption
  • Creating a list of vetted adoption networks or support groups for your employees
  • Celebrating employees when they welcome a child home through adoption.  

Understanding how the adoption process affects employees

While the adoption journey can look different for every employee, HR leaders should understand the general process to ensure their benefits support individuals' varied needs. 

Routes to adoption

In the U.S., there are three main routes to adoption: through the foster care system, domestic adoptions through a local adoption agency or independently, or international adoption. Some employees may also seek stepchild adoptions or second-parent adoptions, as discussed above. 

Each of these routes has its own legal and financial implications. Regardless of their route, employees generally have to invest significant amounts of time and money into the process. They may seek a more flexible schedule at work to accommodate travel or court dates, and they may be more prone to stress or burnout. 

Timeframe to adopt a child

According to the National Adoption Foundation, the length of time it takes to adopt varies by type. Adopting foster children takes an average of six to 18 months, while newborn adoptions can take from two to seven years. International adoptions can take the longest, with some parents waiting six or more years to welcome home their child. 

Because the process of adoption is often lengthy, employers should expect to accommodate their employees' needs in the long term. It's also important for managers to understand adoption timeframes, so they can be sympathetic to employees' ongoing need for support, time off, and potential reimbursement.

The result of these efforts? Employees will feel seen and supported at work, increasing loyalty and reducing turnover.  

How Maven helps your company provide adoption support 

As the leading digital family health solution, Maven partners with companies to support employees' varied family health needs—including adoption.

Our comprehensive platform provides members with unlimited virtual access to adoption experts, clinically-vetted content, classes, expense management and reimbursement, and more.

To learn more about how Maven can support your employees as they start and raise their families, schedule a demo today.

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