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Benefits for Adoptive Parents

When Jim and Jill Folstrom flew from their home in Indianapolis last November to pick up the baby they were adopting in Texas, their employer, Eli Lilly and Co., reimbursed $10,000 of their expenses  -- about half the adoption's cost. They also each received a week of paid leave, and Jill received four weeks of unpaid time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The Folstroms are just two of a growing number of employees reaping adoption support from their employers. A 1997 survey of 1,020 large companies by Hewitt Associates, a Boston-based consulting firm, found that about one in four reimburses workers for at least some adoption expenses, more than twice what was reported in Hewitt's 1991 survey.

Why? Corporate America has begun to recognize that while company-sponsored health insurance covers much of pregnancy and childbirth, employees who adopt must pay steep amounts out of pocket. Between agency and legal fees and travel expenses, adoption usually costs twice as much as giving birth, according to the National Adoption Center, in Philadelphia.

Since 1990, Wendy's International, Inc., has offered adoption benefits "designed to mirror those we provide for a pregnancy," says Karen Hamilton, a benefits administration supervisor at the fast-food chain based in Dublin, OH. Wendy's  -- whose founder and chairman, Dave Thomas, was adopted  -- reimburses parents up to $4,000 per adoption ($6,000 for special-needs cases) and offers six weeks of paid leave once they have their child.

Benefits at some companies extend beyond money. MBNA America Bank, a credit card lender in Wilmington, DE, offers seminars for employees who are considering adoption and free assistance from an adoption referral service.

What do employers get in return? A leg up on recruiting and keeping good workers. One father interviewed by the Center for Work & Family, at Boston College, was given a last-minute adoption leave when a baby suddenly became available and his self-employed wife was in the midst of contracts she couldn't put on hold. He told the center that without that support he couldn't have done it and that he would never leave his company now.

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