Life at Work

Adapting to Adoptions

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 13, 2007

When Sheri Moreau adopted her first daughter from China in March 2004, she was able to cobble together eight weeks of paid and unpaid leave to travel to get her daughter and bond with her.

When she adopted her second daughter in 2006, Moreau was with a different company, working as a defense contractor in Fort Meade. She had four weeks of paid time off, one because of her company's adoption benefits.

Moreau said she felt as if she never had enough time, particularly with her second daughter. "My adjustment to my second daughter was much more difficult. She was 21 months when I got her," she said. "Our bonding and attachment has been a lot harder. I needed that one-on-one time with her."

But adoptive mothers often don't get the paid disability leave that birth mothers do. Because she is a single parent who had used $50,000 of her savings to adopt her children, Moreau could not afford more unpaid time off, she said.

There are many reasons leave should be "absolutely the same," said Jude Cassidy, a psychology professor at the University of Maryland. "For a mother with normal delivery, physical healing is only one part of the whole constellation of major change that has happened. Nobody's getting sleep. . . . It's hard to go function back at work," she said.

And if the child is adopted at an older age, "there's still a new person," Cassidy said. "The child just made a huge transition, and it would be nice if they could really have as much time as possible" with new parents.

A growing number of companies have caught on to this and are providing benefits to help these new families. Some offer reimbursement, paid days off or packages similar to maternity or paternity leave.

About 45 percent of 916 employers surveyed by Hewitt Associates for its 2006-2007 report said they provide employees with adoption assistance other than leave. In 2000, only 34 percent did.

Of the 412 employers providing adoption assistance in 2006, 408 reported placing a dollar limit on benefits provided. Adoption benefit maximums ranged from $500 to $10,630; the average was $4,016.

The move to provide adoption benefits started in the 1980s. It doesn't cost companies much because a small number of workers generally use it. Offering adoption benefits can help land a company on "best places to work" lists, working as a recruiting tool while also earning loyalty from employees.

Fannie Mae gives a maximum reimbursement of $10,000 per child and offers four weeks of paid leave.

Freddie Mac offers $8,300 -- the average cost to deliver a biological child -- and six weeks of paid maternity leave. It also offers up to three months off, the rest unpaid, which is the same for biological moms. Nearly 40 people have used the benefits in the past five years, seven of them in 2006.

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