November in the United States is National Adoption Month, a collective campaign to raise awareness of the more-than 130,000 children across the country who are in foster care, hoping and waiting to be adopted. In conjunction, the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption – America’s only nonprofit public charity dedicated to finding homes for children in foster care – recently released its ninth annual list of the Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces in the U.S.
The nationwide rankings honor employers who offer the best adoption assistance benefits to their workforce and demonstrate a commitment to supporting adoptive families. The list also recognizes companies by business size and industry.
Rich Products Corporation again made the foundation’s list, ranking No. 5 this year in the industrial and manufacturing industry category. Rich’s previously was recognized in the annual rankings of adoption-friendly workplaces in 2007, 2008 and 2014. (To view the full 2015 list, visit adoptionfriendlyworkplace.org.)
The list is based on surveys completed by employers. The 2015 rankings were determined by an analysis of each participating company’s adoption benefits, including the maximum amount of paid leave and financial reimbursement available for families who adopt. At Rich’s, associates who adopt may receive 12 weeks of paid parental leave and up to $4,000 in financial assistance or reimbursement for expenses related to an adoption.
Since establishment of Rich’s formal adoption benefits program in 2003, company associates in the U.S. have utilized it at least 15 times to start or grow a family.
“Rich’s is very proud that we’ve helped some of our associates realize their dream of having children and building their own families,” says Joy Scharf, a Human Resources Representative at Rich’s World Headquarters in Buffalo, N.Y. “This has been a family-owned company for 70 years and part of its ongoing success is due to its solid family values – treating associates like family is even part of our ‘Rich Promise,’ so our adoption benefits program has some pretty strong, direct alignment with who we are.
“When considering different kinds of benefits to offer our associates – things like general healthcare insurance, on-site child care at headquarters, or flexible work schedule arrangements – the decision to add adoption assistance a few years ago naturally was an easy one,” Scharf explains. “You can see how the program has had a positive influence simply by the growing number of associates who have used it.”
Christine Ruffolo, a Senior Accountant who has been with Rich’s for a decade, and her husband, Tony, have two adopted sons, youngsters Trenton and Chad. “Rich’s really supported me and my family during both adoptions,” Christine recalls. “We took advantage of the company’s adoption assistance program, and my fantastic manager and colleagues stepped up to ensure my work was covered during my parental leave with each son. I felt as if my Rich’s family was right there with me to share my excitement during the entire process.”
Adoption assistance programs have been part of a gradually growing trend in corporate America. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption reports that, in an annual survey of 1,000 major U.S. employers, the number of companies offering financial adoption benefits has risen steadily, from only 12 percent in 1990 to 52 percent in 2013.
The rise sends the message that more and more companies have come to understand that, no matter how families are formed, new parents need time to bond with their children. It also signals an acknowledgment of the fact that associates who build families through adoption are likely to incur significant costs and participate in a lengthy, sometimes stressful process. Through adoption assistance initiatives like the one at Rich’s, the support provided for associates throughout the adoption process helps bolster productivity, good will and loyalty.
Maureen Hurley, the Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer of Rich Products Corporation, emphasizes Scharf’s observation that Rich’s approach to adoption support and benefits brings the organization’s family values to life. “It says to people that Rich’s is a dynamic place to work and that we believe the associates here are special,” Hurley states. “Family is such an essential part of everything Rich’s stands for, and the adoption benefits program is yet another way of showing how we view family as an important aspect of our culture and that we recognize and celebrate the fact that people also have lives outside the walls of Rich Products.”
Solving a Need
Like the Ruffolos, Hurley and husband John also personally know the excitement and fulfillment that adoption brings. The youngest of their three children, Millie, was adopted into the Hurley family in 1996. “We were inspired to adopt by a courageous friend in Buffalo who, after having three biological kids, adopted seven children from foster care,” confides Maureen. “There are so many children who really need permanent families, so many who are not being cared for properly and not getting the attention they deserve. And all these children come with their own stories. … We prayed a lot about it and then we entered into the process ourselves.”
The sometimes intense and often protracted adoption process – the Hurleys’ proceedings began when Millie was 8 months old and concluded after she’d turned 2 – is well worth the effort once the day arrives when a judge finally grants parental rights, Maureen Hurley says. “We were absolutely thrilled when that finally happened,” she grins. “There were times over the course of the proceedings when we weren’t sure we’d be the right family, but we forged ahead and were blessed by Millie’s arrival. She is a joy in our family.”
All three Hurley children are grown now. And all three – Caroline, 27, Brian, 24, and Millie, who turns 20 this November, have indicated they see adoption as a potential part of their own adult lives, Maureen reveals.
People at Rich’s like Christine Ruffolo and Maureen Hurley are quick to volunteer advice to others contemplating the adoption route, and the guidance and coaching they provide does make a difference. Says Ruffolo: “Even before our adoption procedure started, many associates at Rich’s who were already adoptive parents freely shared their advice and insights with me. I learned so much from those willing to share their experiences, and I am always open to doing the same for other prospective adoptive parents.”
“We give some practical tips, too, like always make copies of everything, because inevitably a form will be lost at some point,” jokes Hurley. “But, seriously, we now have a nice network of adoptive parents at Rich’s sharing their experiences with others who are interested in adopting or even are just curious about how it works. We’ve also hosted events to raise awareness about adoption and to get people thinking about how this might be a calling they hadn’t thought of before. The idea we’re planting is ‘just one more,’ as in, maybe you already have four kids, so why not make a positive impact and add just one more. Just think about how much it would help that one child out there.”
Every year across the U.S., more than 20,000 children in foster care turn 18 and “age out” of the system without families, the Dave Thomas Foundation reports.
Experts say the forward-thinking companies that place an emphasis on adoption assistance also are gaining the upper hand in the hiring marketplace. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption (which was created by the late Wendy’s founder Dave Thomas, who himself was adopted) notes that adoption benefits are becoming a standard for maintaining a competitive edge in recruiting top-notch employees.
“Employers who offer adoption benefits understand that the initial needs of adoptive families are no different than families formed biologically – it helps ensure all families are treated equally by companies,” says Rita Soronen, the foundation’s President and CEO. “We are elated to see even more companies in the last year implement adoption-friendly and foster care-friendly benefits.”
Hurley agrees the adoption benefits program makes a huge difference in personnel recruitment and retention at Rich’s. “It shows we’re walking the walk and talking the talk of being a family-owned company that understands why things like flexible benefits and work-family support are really critical needs for associates,” she asserts. “A lot of other companies still haven’t figured out how that’s a direct tie to associate engagement and loyalty. Our experience shows these benefits do have a role in attracting and retaining top talent.”