What should employer adoption assistance include?

Adoption is an incredibly rewarding — and challenging — experience. Adoption assistance benefits are a powerful way employers can financially, logistically, and emotionally support employees along these complex journeys. Other benefits, such as paid leave for adoption and flexible scheduling, are also key considerations to include. While these options are focused on the adoption process in the U.S., many of these considerations are also important for global employees seeking adoption support. Regardless of where your employees are located, building a better benefits package for prospective adoptive parents starts with a strong understanding of the process — let’s get into it. 

1. Understand the adoption process

Similar to many fertility-related treatments, the details of the adoption process are relatively unknown to most people. As an employer, manager, or HR leader, an important first step may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the journey so you can better understand what your employee is going through — otherwise, it can be difficult to empathize with their situation. Let’s walk through a few key things to know about the adoption process:

There are several routes for adoption 

Under the American legal system, there are multiple paths for adoption, and each comes with a unique set of regulations and challenges.

• Private Adoption

The process of adopting between countries has very different requirements compared with domestic adoptions. Similarly, working with an adoption agency is distinct from working directly with an attorney. All of these options fall under private adoptions. There’s also a difference between private adoption and adopting through foster care. 

• Foster-to-Adopt

Foster parents can serve as a temporary placement for a child until they return to their birth family, and if that can’t happen, they may adopt the child. There are also options to adopt directly from foster care

Understanding that each person’s adoption journey is nuanced is a significant first step toward being supportive.

The adoption process can take years 

One of the hardest things about adoption is that the timeline is unpredictable and can span anywhere from several months to several years. Sometimes, parents are even “matched” with a child or birth parent at the final stage, only to have the adoption fall through at the last minute. These delays can be heartbreaking and frustrating for parents, so it’s important to acknowledge these challenges.

It may require taking time away from work

Employers should be aware that the adoption process may require employees to miss anywhere from days to weeks of work. There are a ton of responsibilities that come with adoption, such as home inspections, birth parent visits, court dates, and travel. Understanding these time commitments and showing your employees that you support their decision can make it easier for them — otherwise, they may feel hesitant to share their adoption plans with their employer given the volatile timeline.

2. Practice sensitivity

Starting a family is a topic that employers should always approach with sensitivity in the workplace. However, that doesn’t mean avoiding the subject altogether. Instead, there are many things you can do to make sure your employees don’t feel isolated during their adoption process. Here are a few guidelines to help you get started:

Be mindful of language

Words matter. They have the power to make people feel understood and supported, or lonely and marginalized. If you’re not sure how to talk about the adoption process with your employees, there are tons of resources that can help. At Carrot, we put together the “Defining the Modern Language of Fertility Care” guide to help you communicate in an accurate and inclusive way when it comes to these topics, including adoption.

Don’t make assumptions about someone’s adoption journey

Every person has a different reason for choosing adoption. For some, it had always been their preference to become a parent via adoption. For others, the decision to adopt comes either during or after an infertility experience. Regardless of the reason, employers and colleagues should be considerate about not making assumptions about the employee’s experience — instead, take the time to learn and understand everyone’s unique journey.

3. Take another look at your company’s benefits offerings

One of the best ways to support employees going through the adoption process is to re-evaluate your benefits. Not only is adoption a financially burdensome experience, but it can also be incredibly stressful and confusing to navigate. Offering assistance in some of these areas may help make your employee’s journey much more enjoyable. Here are a few relevant benefits to consider in the future:

Employer adoption assistance

Of course, the most relevant benefit employers can offer is adoption assistance. These benefits typically include some combination of financial assistance and information and referral services. In 2020, 17% of employers offered some adoption assistance compared with 12% in 2019. As a result, these employers have found that the employee goodwill derived from offering this benefit is significant because they view their company as supportive of adoptive families. This perception strengthens the company culture among both users and nonusers of the benefit. Starting a family can also be extremely costly. Adopting a child from foster care is typically covered by the county or state, but the process can incur additional fees, up to $5,000. Domestic private adoptions typically cost between $30,000 and $50,000, and intercountry adoptions can cost between $30,000 and $60,000. 

Paid leave for adoptive parents

Adoptive parents are much less likely to get paid leave because they don’t qualify for short-term disability, which is how most employees take paid leave. This coverage gap can be challenging. Having that time off is crucial for the emotional and psychological health of both the child and the parent, not to mention necessary for a smooth transition. While adoptive parents can technically take unpaid leave through FMLA, you may want to consider having another paid leave program in place that will allow employees to take time off without having to dip into their own vacation time. Twenty-seven percent of employers offer paid adoption leave.

Flexible scheduling for all parents

The adoption journey is long and time-consuming. Employees may require time away from work for meetings with attorneys or birth parents, home visits, traveling, and other appointments and consultations. A flexible work schedule creates a safe and productive environment for all employees and reduces the stress of taking time off for family-forming-related issues. Read about more ways you can create a supportive workplace for aspiring parents in our guide.

4. Provide guidance along the way

In addition to providing financial support, adoption assistance benefits can also help guide employees through the complex adoption process. Benefits that include care navigation can help employees find options that are inclusive, legitimate, and supportive. Consider finding adoption assistance benefits that include: 

LGBTQ+-inclusive options

More and more agencies are offering LGBTQ+ individuals and couples support, but finding a safe and welcoming agency is still a barrier for many people. At Carrot, we vet all of our eligible agencies for LGBTQ+ inclusivity.

Legal support for adoption

Adoption involves legal fees, navigating the court system, and working with attorneys — and risks along the way. For example, if a potential adoptive parent chooses an unlicensed agency, they become more susceptible to financial, legal, and emotional risk. Adoption scams happen, and having a trusted guide for support can help keep employees safe. Carrot partners with LGBTQ+-inclusive attorneys and law firms specializing in family law to ensure employees have access to vetted resources.

Emotional support 

The adoption process can also be mentally and emotionally draining. For some, adoption may already stem from a loss or failed fertility treatments. Other feelings of guilt, isolation, or rejection may arise during the long process as well. Encourage and allow employees to take care of their mental health during this time by offering counseling services under your health insurance and employee assistance programs (EAPs). Carrot also provides emotional support for members through chats with mental health experts. 

The adoption process can be an exciting but also stressful time for your employees. The more you can do to support them during this time — starting with some of the points we discussed in this post — the better their experience will be. At Carrot, we offer this type of support for every process, from egg freezing to adoption to gestational carrier journeys and more. If you’re interested in learning more about Carrot and how we can create customized adoption benefits for your company, let us know.

If you don't have fertility benefits at your company, we're happy to reach out to your HR team on your behalf.
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