Cook Children’s Named a Top 100 Adoption-Friendly Workplace
A road worth traveling: Three employees share their stories of adoption
Cook Children’s Health Care System has been named to this year’s 100 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces list curated by the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption. This is the first year for Cook Children’s to make the list and comes after a recent enhancement to the health system’s adoption assistance program.
The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption utilizes survey results collected from employers across the country to identify organizations striving to make adoption a supported option for every working parent, according to the Foundation. Participants are scored and named to the list based on three criteria—financial reimbursement, paid leave and the number of employees eligible for the benefit.
“Cook Children’s adoption assistance program is a cornerstone of the benefits we offer to our employees,” said Keith Holtz, chief administrative officer at Cook Children’s Health Care System. “It is deeply rooted in our belief that every child’s life is sacred and we are honored to be recognized as one of the best adoption-friendly workplaces.”
The road to adoption can be one marked with peaks and valleys, not the least of which is the financial strain associated with application fees, medical expenses and travel costs. But, as many adoptive parents will tell you, it’s a road worth traveling.
“Adoption is a journey filled with foreign paths, fear, disappointments and doubts,” said Megan Mansfield, Au.D., a pediatric audiologist at Cook Children’s and an adoptive mother of two. “But watching my two girls, one dark and the other fair, bent over in belly-rocking giggles at the simple bliss of splashing together in a bathtub full of bubbles, I say with ardent assurance that the road they came by holds no regrets.”
Mansfield said receiving the adoption reimbursement from Cook Children’s brought her to tears.
“Adoption is just one of those processes that seems to have endless outgoing costs with very little financial support from outside sources,” she said. “It pains me to think how many families cannot experience the incredible blessing of adoption not because of the lack of love, desire or support but because of lack of funds. This adoption benefit is rare and it was an immense blessing to our family.”
In 2019, Cook Children’s significantly increased reimbursement limits to employees completing adoptions from $5,000 to the full 2020 IRS limit of $14,300, signaling its commitment to supporting employees welcoming a new life into their homes and hearts. Reimbursements are tax free and cover adoption-associated expenses such as legal and agency fees and home checks. In addition, Cook Children’s added two weeks of paid leave for court dates and any travel necessary for completing the adoption—a benefit separate from and in addition to the health system’s FMLA policy.
“A lot of organizations cap their reimbursement well below the IRS limit,” said Derek Zingg, director of benefits at Cook Children’s. “We wanted to allow the full IRS limit knowing that, for many adoptions, the reimbursement makes only a small dent in the overall cost. But if we can help an employee expand their family and help a child find a home, the benefit is a rewarding one.”
The change in policy was a gift to Claire Cartmel, M.S. Ed., assistant principal at Cook Children’s Jane Justin School. When the Cartmel family’s first attempt to adopt fell through, they were devastated, feeling the pain both emotionally and financially.
“Unfortunately, when a match fails, you lose a decent amount of money that has already been paid for adoption expenses,” Cartmel said. “In our case, we lost a little over $10,000.”
The Cartmels were quickly re-matched. So quickly, in fact, that they welcomed their daughter into the world just four days after the news of their initial failed match. Thanks to the Cook Children’s adoption reimbursement program, the lost fees were recovered, too.
“While our quick re-match was a huge blessing, it came with fear surrounding our bottom line,” Cartmel said. “Once we received the benefit from Cook, we were shocked to see it just about covered the expenses we lost and helped us keep our adoption expenses in a more comfortable range for us.”
Deann Kenaley, RN, BSN, CPN, grew her family through adoption, but not in the way she and her husband had initially planned. In 2015, the Kenaleys began the process of adopting an infant through the Gladney Center for Adoption. In an unexpected twist, the Kenaley’s received a call from child protective services in August 2016 asking them to foster their nephews.
“This changed everything for us,” said Kenaley, a pediatric nurse at Cook Children’s. “We were in line to have an infant, not 4-year-old and 6-year-old boys. But we soon became foster certified and were willing to do anything we needed to do for these two boys to come live with us.”
On November 16, 2017, the Kenaley’s nephews officially became their sons. By the following March the family was ready to open their home and hearts again. It would require many more months of waiting and a great deal of expense.
“The adoption benefit was very helpful for us,” Kenaley said. “We had to put some extra expenses on a credit card and were able to pay it off with that added benefit. So we now have no debt due to our adoption, where many families aren’t as fortunate.”
On January 13, 2020, the Kenaleys brought home their infant daughter.
“Although it was the longest journey ever, it was well worth it,” Kenaley said. “Within five years we became parents to three wonderful children.”
Cook Children’s is honored to be recognized as an adoption-friendly workplace and proud of the role its adoption assistance program plays in helping employees grow their families.