March 15, 2005

C.U. Helps Employees Adopt

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Cornell University employees will now find it just a little bit easier to adopt children, thanks to the new Adoption Assistance Program, an initiative meant to further Cornell’s support of employees in balancing work and personal life. Through this new program, active since Jan. 1, Cornell reimburses benefit-eligible employees up to $5,000 per adoption.

The idea for the Adoption Assistance Program came about ten years ago when Diane Hillmann, director of library services and operations with the National Science Digital Library at Cornell, formed a committee to look into adoption assistance and to ultimately submit a report to the University.

“I wanted to bring together people who had adopted in lots of different ways … it was clear that there were lots of different needs, and I wanted to make sure all were represented,” Hillmann said.

About a year after the committee’s formation, Cornell’s Task Force for Working Families submitted the report, which included 38 different recommendations for Cornell.

“We did a great deal of research,” said Lynette Chappell-Williams, director of workforce diversity, equity and life at Cornell.

Chappell-Williams also said that adoption assistance is a relatively new idea for employers in the United States.

“I think it shows how forward thinking this group was to include adoption … we tend to be ahead of other universities in addressing work/life family issues,” she said.

Rod Howe, associate director for Cornell’s Community and Rural Development Institute, adopted two children before the Adoption Assistance Program began, says he sees the program as “providing one more stepping stone [for couples thinking about adoption] to move in that direction.”

“I think it’s a terrific and wonderful benefit,” Howe said. He explained that the new program “provides even some emotional support” in just knowing that one’s employer supports adoption.

Both Chappell-Williams and Hillmann said that the program does two things for the University.

“It shows another demonstration to our commitment for family needs,” said Chapell-Williams.

Also, the program “provides an actual monetary relief,” Hillmann said, however, she stressed that this is only the beginning of a long battle.

“I think there’s still a frontier out there which would be great to see Cornell addressing,” said Hillmann, referring to the adopted children who have ongoing needs. “[The Adoption Assistance Program] is a very good start, but it’s really not the whole enchilada,” she added.

Hillmann explained that the new program provides benefits for the proportion of adoptions that have a lot of up-front costs, which occur when people choose to do international or agency adoptions. Hillmann said that the people who adopt this way usually have the ability to afford this type of adoption to begin with.

“People at the lower end of the economic ladder aren’t with this group,” Hillmann said.

So the problem, according to Hillmann, is that the new program does not affect this population at all. The adoptions by lower income people most likely occur through the public system, where children are in foster care and the up-front costs are so low that the benefits of the new program will have little effect.

She went on to say that most of the time the people who adopt children through the public system are people who are the foster parents already, or people who don’t have much money.

“There is nothing in this program to assist these folks,” she said. These children often come into the public system with significant needs and are difficult to raise because they often need long-term medical and mental health care. The idea is that the up-front cost is not necessarily there for public system adoptions, and there are many long-term costs that the new program fails to address.

Hillmann said that the original report tried to deal with this problem on the basis of time, not money. She gave the example of an adopted child with behavioral problems.

“You may not want a kid in daycare if he has behavioral problems,” she said. Therefore, an adoptive parent might want time off from work instead, in order to help her adopted child. However, “what do you do about the other parents [of biological children] who don’t have time off?” Hillmann asked. For public adoptions, “it’s harder to find out what the needs are and how to address them,” so this is an issue that needs to be worked on, Hillmann said.

“I don’t feel negatively about [the new program]. There will be people who will benefit, but it is important to remember that this is only the beginning. If a place like Cornell can’t figure out how to support these parents, then who can?” she asked.

Although this may only be the beginning of a long-term project, people have already begun to use the Adoption Assistance Program.

“We already received an appointment and at least ten phone calls,” said Chappell-Williams.

Archived article by Rachel Nayman
Sun Contributor