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American Express shares why it offers up to $35,000 in adoption benefits to employees

Employers can help workers try to grow their families.
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· 4 min read

Children are loud, expensive, exhausting, germ-filled balls of energy.

They’re also giant bundles of love and fun that many people want to welcome into their lives. And companies can make the process a little easier for parents who choose to adopt.

Building a family through adoption. There were more than 113,000 children in the foster system eligible for adoption in the US in 2021, and 53,500 children adopted, according to the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute. People choose adoption for a variety of reasons—from fertility problems to wanting children as a single-parent or same-sex couple—and it can cost up to $2,500 for a foster care adoption or up to $60,000 for a private or international adoption, according to Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. The one to two million would-be adoptive parents in the US face hurdles during this intensive process, including legal proceedings and costly fees.

That’s where employers can help. In 2023, 34% of employers provided paid adoption leave (up 6% from 2022), and 25% offered paid foster child leave (a 3% rise), according to the SHRM Employee Benefits Survey. Rita Soronen, president and CEO of the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, which recently released its annual Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces list, said that as awareness of the different ways families are formed has increased, employers have become more likely to provide accommodating benefits.

In the 2023 report, the foundation found “both an increase in the number of organizations that participated and our first-time providers of benefits,” Soronen said, as well as a 23.5% increase in financial reimbursement for adoption compared to 2022, bringing the average amount covered to $14,831, plus nine weeks of paid leave.

“Employers are realizing that…it’s the right thing to do,” Soronen said. “If you’re providing benefits to family formation through birth, it’s a sense of equity to provide benefits to families that are formed through adoption.”

Good benefits. American Express is just one of the 100 employers on the 2023 list. “We recognize that colleagues expand their families in different ways, so adoption was very important to include as part of our parental leave,” Tammy Yee, VP of global well-being and benefits at American Express, told HR Brew, of the company’s decision to expand its parental benefits package in January 2017.

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The expanded benefits package includes 20 weeks of paid leave for all new parents, and an adoption or surrogacy reimbursement of up to $35,000 that employees can use twice during their tenure. “That’s going to include costs for things like agency legal placement fees, required medical expenses for the child’s birth, [and] mother required travel expenses,” Yee said.

Because adoption can be complicated and taxing, both financially and emotionally, American Express employees also have access to a family concierge that can help them navigate the process. “It can include questions related to cost, travel, placement, the home study,” Yee explained. “It’s a lot to navigate for anyone.” As part of the company’s benefits package, all employees also have access to family counseling services, which can be important to people going through the adoption process.

Yee said American Express regularly evaluates its benefits through surveys and focus groups to ensure they’re comprehensive and meeting the needs of employees and their families.

American Express also includes information on its family planning benefits in its recruitment and onboarding materials. According to Yee, “We have heard from our recruiting team and the team that does orientation, that parental leave, and these whole suite of benefits are extremely important.”

Happy results. Yee said the best part of her job is hearing happy stories of successful adoptions, like when one employee, who’s a single parent, was able to adopt a child on their own after a 14-month search for a birthmother. “They were able to adopt without the financial burden and stress that often comes with the adoption process…on top of that, having the 20-week parental leave was so helpful so that they could bond with their newly adopted child.”

Come to think of it, the little balls of energy might be worth it, after all.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.