National Adoption Awareness Month - Tips for an (Even More) Adoption-Positive Workplace
In honor of National Adoption Awareness month we often focus on celebrating the clients served by child welfare organizations, the families formed through adoption, and for good reason! These families inspire staff to be fearless professionals; but this year we’d like to invite organizations to commemorate the month by looking inward at their culture and policies in respect to adoption.
Do you consider your workplace to be adoption- friendly? Let’s define the term!
An adoption-friendly workplace offers adoption benefits to staff such as information resources (i.e. referrals to licensed adoption agencies or support groups), financial assistance (i.e. financial reimbursement of adoption related fees for employees) and parental leave policies (i.e. unpaid/paid leave for employees such as the Family and Medical Leave Act). These are just some examples, but you can learn more about employer-provided adoption benefits and the typical criteria for qualifying for the benefits through the Child Welfare Information Gateway Factsheet for Families.
Why offer adoption benefits to your employees?
Well, it makes your organization more competitive, increases staff retention and loyalty and encourages adoption by providing emotional and financial support. Also, it’s a low-cost work-life addition for employers since statistically these benefits are used by less than 1% of eligible employees.
A valuable resource for organizations interested in becoming more adoption-friendly is a digital toolkit created by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. The toolkit includes sample proposals for human resources, information about the Adoption Tax Credit, and examples on how other organizations have become adoption-friendly.
While these concrete resources are imperative, it is also important to keep in mind that adoption benefits also include creating a culture at your organization that addresses the emotional needs of staff and their families.
Here are some tips for facilitating this process in your workplace:
Tip #1: Audit your human resource and benefits documents
Is the language in your organization's human resource and benefits documentation inclusive of adoptive families and adoption-positive? You may find information that is cut and pasted from the benefits or insurance broker or not inclusive or sensitive to adoptive families. For example, how does the information about your health insurance identify children who were adopted or who are placed and awaiting adoption? Are they referred to as "natural" children or "temporary" family members? You can review the connotation of the language surrounding adoption in resources such as the Accurate Adoption Language tip sheet from the National Council for Adoption. You can go one step further—offer to assist your insurance brokers and benefit providers with amending their language and materials to be more inclusive or sensitive to adoptive families.
There are estimates that up to 35,000 adults in the U.S. are adopted internationally and immigrated to the U.S. legally and have lived their whole lives in this country, but because of a variety of circumstances beyond of their control, do not have U.S. citizenship. There is currently no simple or straightforward path to citizenship for these adoptees and they are at risk of deportation. It can therefore be challenging for them to obtain or maintain consistent employment. Reflect on how these circumstances may limit the options for some adoptees and consider how your agency’s hiring practices may be able to positively impact this situation. You can read the Adoptee Citizenship Act to learn more about the proposed legislation to provide adoptees with a pathway to permanent citizenship.
Tip #2: Be thoughtful when planning staff events
How does your organization welcome staff who might also be foster families at events? Does your organization have an annual family picnic or a holiday party? Is your messaging or policy encouraging of families including children they are currently fostering or adopting? For many adoptive and foster families and foster and adopted children, family events can be stressful or potentially ridden with questions from well-intentioned coworkers. Sending a clear message to staff that all types of families are welcome is important both for foster families and the rest of your staff.
Tip #3: Encourage cultural competency
While most organizations have cultural competency trainings and resources, they often focus on traditional core competency topics like age, gender, race, disability, and sexual orientation. Review whether your trainings include reference to differently-formed families, such as families formed through surrogacy and adoption and those who are currently fostering. Also keep in mind that adoption, similar to when giving birth to a child, is not always hugs and snuggles. Any additional support, flexibility, and understanding coworkers can provide to families are efforts well spent and appreciated.
Tip #4: How to navigate traditional parenting milestones
Staff often want to celebrate when their colleagues add to their families and some organizations may have policies or traditions like baby showers for new parents. Be sure not to forget families formed through adoption.
Keep in mind that for families formed through adoption there may be additional layers of complexity. Adoptive families frequently experience a number of losses and challenges before during and after an adoption (failed adoptions, lengthy adoption processes, infertility, and children with complex medical and developmental needs). The new child may also be significantly older than a newborn or perhaps, the new parents do not feel comfortable sharing details about the adoption process or prospective child. Be sure to ask the soon-to-be adoptive parent how or if they would like to be recognized or celebrate with staff.
Tip #5: Don’t forget birth parents and adopted adults
Often when we talk about adoption, we are talking about adoptive parents and children. Remember birth parents are the key component to any adoption story, and they live and breathe among us, even at the workplace! Birth mothers need to feel supported by their supervisors and human resources to share as much as they feel is appropriate with colleagues, including not sharing anything. Reflect on how your FMLA benefits for birth mothers compare to benefits for women who are parenting children. As we all know, giving birth is not an easy feat and birth mothers will experience a similar and potentially complex recovery. As such, they should be provided with the space and opportunity to heal, both physically and emotionally.
Also, kids who were adopted grow up to be adults who were adopted. Keep in mind that every person’s adoption story and the language they use to tell that story may be different and should be respected. Similar to birth parents and adoptive parents, they should be supported to share as much or as little about their adoption experience and never be make the “poster-child” for adoption-related issues.
We hope this article will encourage you to start a dialogue at your organization about how you can become or continue to be advocates for an adoption-positive environment.