Despite widespread support, benefits for adoptive parents remain elusive. But some Central Ohio employers boast above-average offerings.

Family leave policies have undergone a major shift in recent years. Paid time off for new mothers has become more common, and some employers now extend benefits not only to fathers of newborns but adoptive parents as well.

According to a Pew Research Center study released in March, 82 percent of Americans support paid leave for mothers following the birth or adoption of a child, while 69 percent support the same for fathers.

Still, despite that sentiment, policies that cover adoptions are far from commonplace. There is progress being made, however. The Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption cites an annual Aon Hewitt survey of 1,500 U.S. companies that shows 48 percent offered financial benefits to adoptive parents in 2015, compared with 12 percent who did so in 1990.

The foundation was created by Thomas, the founder of Wendy's International and an adoptee, to help find permanent homes for children in foster care. The organization compiles an annual Top 100 Best Adoption-Friendly Workplaces list to recognize employers who offer these benefits. “We know that families become families in a diversity of ways,” said Rita Soronen, the organization's president and CEO.

The top spot on the foundation's 2017 list, which was released in September, belongs to American Express, which offers adoptive parents up to 20 weeks of paid leave and $35,000 in financial assistance. The only Central Ohio-based company to make the cut was OhioHealth, at No. 21. (Read the full list at davethomasfoundation.org.)

The list, in its 11th year, includes companies small and large from a variety of industries, Soronen said. “This year, one of the things that jumps out is that Facebook joined the list for the first time,” she said. “They have a platform that, if they choose, they can impact a lot of conversations” about adoption benefits.

Foundation officials have noticed greater competition among companies participating in the survey since Wendy's, a perennial leader, was awarded emeritus status in 2016 and removed from the rankings, Soronen said. For example, she said, OhioHealth ranked 21st this year after using the foundation's benchmarks to enhance its existing adoption benefits. The health-care system was recognized but not ranked in 2016.

OhioHealth associates can be reimbursed up to $13,460 each for up to two adoptions to help cover costs such as agency and legal fees, initial immunizations and transportation costs. Benefits include reimbursement for kinship adoption expenses, such as when a grandparent adopts a grandchild. “Helping our associates expand their family while helping a child find their forever home brings us great joy,” Chief Human Resources Officer Johnni Beckel said in a statement.

Three Central Ohio-based employers were recognized for providing financial reimbursement, paid time off or both, but didn't make the top 100 list: Alliance Data, Huntington National Bank and Ohio State University. Alliance Data and Huntington also were recognized for their foster care benefits.

Earlier this year, the city of Columbus implemented a new comprehensive paid family leave policy that includes adoption. “It's for moms or dads, two moms or two dads. It's very inclusive,” said City Councilwoman Elizabeth Brown.

Columbus is one of just three U.S. cities to provide comprehensive paid family leave, Brown said. When she had a baby in 2015, she said, she was surprised the city didn't have such a policy in place. Adjusting to and spending time with a new child—without worrying about lost income—is critical to the child's and family's health and well-being, she said. “It's not like a vacation for mom and dad to take.”

Previously, city employees could take unpaid time off through the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. Now, all full-time, FMLA-eligible workers can take up to six weeks of leave and be reimbursed at 70 percent of their pay. The policy applies to both births and adoptions, though no one had used the policy for the latter as of early October.

Employers that offer paid parental leave policies often see economic benefits as a result of reduced employee turnover and increased productivity. “We say the city is a great place to work,” Brown said. “But we need to be good stewards of that brag.”