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Adapting to Adoptions
New Parents Need Time Off, No Matter How the Stork Delivers

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.

Booz Allen Hamilton began to offer its adoption benefits in 2004. The company offers $5,000 per adopted child and 10 days of parental leave. It also provides up to 24 weeks of unpaid leave. (Booz offers biological parents 10 days of paid parental leave and six to eight weeks of short-term paid disability for mothers who gave birth.)

Smaller companies may not have policies in place but many recognize the importance of adoptions and will make exceptions. Sometimes they have to make them on the fly.

Gaye Lins told her boss as soon as she and her husband knew they wanted to adopt. "My boss knew it was coming at any point, so I basically had to call him and say, 'I have a baby and I'm going to Russia.' "

Her boss told her the company would work around it. On top of the vacation time she had banked, the company gave her maternity leave. She had a total of about two paid months of leave to bond with her son, Roman.

"It was Russia, and we had no idea when we'd be traveling," said Lins, who is the associate managing editor at Warren Communications News, a small company in the District.

Unlike parents of biological children, who don't have to tell their bosses they might have a child someday, adoptive parents often have to provide proof of employment to adoption agencies at least a year before they will receive a child, so they might have to let their bosses know a child is coming. In addition, new parents might be asked to pick up their child with little notice and can have to go on leave (if it's provided) with little or no notice.

Ruta Skucas made her adoption plans public early. Her adoption agency needed letters from her employer confirming her work status. In the meantime, she became pregnant. After her biological son was born in December 2002, she took five months off, three of which were paid. Soon after, she was told a child was waiting for her in Lithuania. She and her husband brought him home in November 2003. She took six weeks of unpaid leave.

"You mortgage your house to do this in the first place, and then you're looking at unpaid leave," she said.

Her adopted son is now almost 6 years old, her firstborn is 4, and she bore another son, who is 16 months old.

No matter the struggle, parents say it is more than worth it.

"I have the two best, most adorable, most intelligent, most beautiful daughters in the whole world," said Moreau. She plans to spend today with those adorable, intelligent, beautiful daughters picking strawberries and flying kites.

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