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By Alicia Adamczyk
November 19, 2016

There’s a common perception that adopting a child is cost-prohibitive for many lower- and middle-class families. But according to two adoption experts, that isn’t necessarily true.

The truth is the costs vary widely. Adopting an infant domestically or abroad can add up to as much as $30,000 once travel, lawyer’s fees, and home-stays are accounted for. On the other hand, adopting a child from foster care costs much less (virtually nothing, save travel fees).

To help with some of those costs, the government offers financial help to adoptive families. There is a nonrefundable federal tax credit which allows families to claim a one-time tax credit per child (it was $13,400 in 2015), and some states offer additional tax incentives. Additionally, families who adopt a child from foster care may qualify for monthly subsidies to help pay for child care costs. Rita Soronen, CEO of the David Thomas Foundation for Adoption, says about 92% of children in foster care qualify for an adoption subsidy.

There are also organizations that offer grants to families who wish to adopt a child, as well as tuition assistance programs to help pay for college.

A report from United Cerebral Palsy and Children’s Rights finds that as many as one-third of children in foster care have disabilities, “ranging from minor developmental delays to significant mental and physical disabilities.” Adam Pertman, President and CEO of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency and author of the book Adoption Nation, says that families must therefore be prepared for potentially increased child care costs.

“The costs are not just upfront, if you’re adopting a child with special needs, there are on-going costs,” he says, pointing to the potential need for specialized care.

But parents facing potentially high costs could find additional assistance in the workplace. Some employers provide financial benefits to families that adopt, such as a lump sum payment or reimbursement for adoption-related expenses. IBM, for example, pays up to $5,000 for related expenses, while E&Y will pay up to $25,000. According to American Adoptions, this assistance typically covers public or private agency fees, court costs and legal fees, and may also cover medical costs and counseling fees.

Workplace benefits for adoptive families are far from the norm, however. Paid parental leave is still incredibly uncommon in the U.S., and even less so for adoptive parents: McDonald’s, for example, offers maternity leave at half-pay, but does not extend this to adoptive parents (or fathers). “Employers implicitly favor one form of family formation over the other,” says Pertman. “They don’t have any easier job than the people who get six months or a year off to raise their new born.”

Currently, workers are allowed to take sick days from work to adopt a child. And agencies may allow advanced sick leave, which gives employees 30 sick days to use related to adoption.

According to Soronen, it’s a shame more employers don’t provide more benefits. Not only are they relatively inexpensive to offer (very few employees will actually adopt), but they signal that the company has its workers’ (and their families’) best interests at heart.

“It provides a sense of parity, a sense of good will, and frankly employers have said if they have a choice between two companies, they’re likely too see [adoption benefits] as a positive comment on the culture of the workplace,” says Soronen.

The silver lining is that increasingly more organizations are offering adoption benefits to their employees. An annual survey of 1,500 major U.S. employers found that just 12% offered a financial adoption benefit in 1990, compared to nearly 50% of companies today (the David Thomas Foundation ranks the most adoption-friendly work places each year).

Which means that more kids are finding a loving home.

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