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Families by Law: An Adoption Reader

Edited by Naomi Cahn and Joan Heifetz HollingerTaylor Trade Publishing; $22.95

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Here's an adoption anthology with a twist-a legal one. Families by Law is a collection of essays and book excerpts that explores adoption, family connections, and identity while tracking changes in the adoption process that came about through the evolution of the legal system. These days, children may have two parents, stepparents, one parent, or two parents of the same gender. These essays chronicle the transformations of family structure and the legal and social attitudes that have come with them.

Editors Naomi Cahn and Joan Heifetz Hollinger, both family-law professors, have made sure to cover diverse topics-from foster care, to attachment, to racial and ethnic identity in transracial adoption, to legal issues in gay and lesbian adoptions. While the book was conceived primarily for students and practitioners, it's an accessible read for anyone who wants to learn more about adoption's social complexities.

Indeed, some fascinating social commentary emerges from these pages. For instance, in an excerpt from her book, Like Our Very Own, women's studies professor Julie Berebitsky argues that attitudes toward adoption in the mid-nineteenth century were actually more progressive than those in the mid-twentieth century. Another compelling segment, from Adoption and the Parental Screening System, offers a critical examination of the parent-child matching process and its bias toward families who fit preconceived notions of what families should look like.

In addition, several contributors question why current family-law statutes favor those who are able to procreate without looking more deeply at an individual's ability to parent. Some authors recommend that the legal system focus instead on finding stable, loving homes for children who need them. One suggests that biological parents look at attachment techniques used by adoptive families to help raise well-adjusted children.

One more fascinating account in this book: Attorney Gilbert Holmes discusses "informal adoption," a little-known practice that has long been prevalent in the African-American community. Tracing this practice back to the days of slavery, Holmes recounts his own experience with extended family. His grandparents had numerous foster children, whom Holmes grew up with and still considers family today. He believes that informal adoption, which has evolved in various communities, shows that children benefit from a variety of family relationships within and beyond the nuclear family.

Reviewed by Joanne Cronrath Bamberger, an attorney, freelance writer, and adoptive mother in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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