University program makes adoption easier and less expensive
Above, Lena and Dennis Yang adopted Lindsey, who is now 16 months old, with the help of Stanford’s Adoption Assistance Program.
BY JON ANN LINDSEY
Adoptive parents call it "the paper chase"—the piles of documents and countless forms that pave their long road to parenthood.
It's tedious and time consuming, as Lena Yang can attest. Holding her energetic 16-month-old daughter, Lindsey, in her lap, she recalls gathering medical, financial and employment records, arranging home studies, dealing with adoption agencies and, because hers was an international adoption, U.S. and Chinese consulates.
"There are so many layers of paperwork and rigmarole," said Yang, a senior financial analyst in the School of Medicine. "You basically have to get your entire life notarized."
Akhil Gupta and Purnima Mankekar, both associate professors of cultural and social anthropology and parents of 3-year-old Deeya, know exactly what she means.
"The amount of paperwork you have to do is like writing a dissertation," Gupta said.
Yang and her husband were so immersed in the process last year that she almost dismissed a suggestion by her boss that she look into the university's Adoption Assistance Program.
Stanford is one of a growing number of employers that offer financial assistance for adoptions, and its reimbursement—up to $10,000 per adoption, with a maximum lifetime benefit of $20,000 per family—is one of the highest in the country. The WorkLife Office manages the program.
"I honestly thought I was too busy to talk to them,'' Yang recalled with a laugh. She was glad she did as soon as she met Resource Administrator Carol Skladany, who not only explained the financial guidelines but also gave her child-care information and offered her a library of resource books that she could borrow and return via inter-office mail.
"She handed me a packet that would take a new mom months to research and put together," Yang said. "I was just shocked."
Skladany, whose cubicle bulletin board is covered with photos of the dozens of children adopted by Stanford employees since the program was started in 2001, called managing the reimbursements "the best part of my job."
Of 41 successful adoptions under the program, all but three have been international—mostly from China, Guatemala and India, Skladany said. International adoptions typically cost in excess of $20,000.
For Gupta and Mankekar, the reimbursement played a big part in their decision to adopt a child from India. "It allowed us to recover a significant amount of the cost," Gupta said. "It was very, very helpful."
The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which monitors benefits as part of its Adoption Friendly Workplace program, has found only four employers in the country that reimburse more than $10,000.
Stanford "is in the top 5 percent of all organizations that we survey," and may be the only university at that level, said Rita Soronen, executive director of the foundation. "Clearly Stanford is making a commitment and has set itself as an industry standard."
The Ohio-based foundation, created by the founder of Wendy's restaurants, has information on 915 employers in its database. Besides Stanford, 24 other companies in its survey said they reimbursed $10,000 for adoption expenses. Of those with higher reimbursements, one offered $10,160 and another $10,390; the largest amounts, offered by one company each, were $15,000 and $20,000. A more typical benefit level of $5,000 was offered by 237 employers. The foundation doesn't disclose the names of employers it tracks.
Nationally, only 9 percent of companies offer adoption assistance, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. But that number is on the rise: According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 20 percent of the companies in its survey of nearly 400 members offered it in 2005, up from 16 percent in 2003.
Although the number of people who use the benefit is not large, it can have a big payoff in employee recruiting and retention. Stanford has paid out more than $400,000 toward 43 adoptions, including two that fell through. All benefits-eligible faculty and staff working at least 50 percent time and with an assignment of at least 6 months are qualified to apply for reimbursement under the Adoption Assistance Program. More details about the program are available at http://worklife.stanford.edu/adopt_assist.html.
"It speaks volumes about where an employer places their values," Soronen said. "It doesn't cause people to adopt; it simply provides support for those who do."
Yang agreed. She and her husband, Dennis, a Stanford alumnus, appreciated not only the financial help but also the flexibility of her supervisors and colleagues when she knew that she could be called to China at any time to pick up her daughter.
"It made me more committed to Stanford," she said.
And as much as anything, she and Gupta both say the simplicity of the Adoption Assistance Program was a welcome contrast to the intricacies of the paper chase.
"There's not any paperwork involved as such," Gupta said. "You just collect your receipts."
"In terms of reimbursement, it really doesn't get much easier," Yang said. "It's almost like an executive service for regular staff."
Jon Ann Lindsey is a writer in the Office of University Communications.