Family values

Lita Linzer Schwartz, PhD '64, and Florence Kaslow, PhD '69, have good reason to be excited. Their new book, Welcome Home! An International and Nontraditional Adoption Reader, takes an unusual approach and has sparked great interest among its intended audience, from those considering adoption to mental health professionals, lawyers involved in adoption, and politicians who can affect child welfare policies.

Welcome Home! is a collection of essays by adoptive parents, grandparents and siblings that Schwartz and Kaslow compiled and edited. They sought authors willing to share candidly their reasons for and experiences with international, multicultural or other nontraditional adoptions. After they first announced their idea to family and friends, the list of potential contributors grew by word of mouth. "People were wonderful about making connections," Schwartz says. One article came from the friend of Schwartz's former colleague, while another came from the acquaintance of her nephew.

"I felt that the story needed to be told not from the point of view of people who place the children-that's been told in many ways-but from the point of view of people who have adopted and who were willing to share their trials, tribulations, and joys," Kaslow says. Her worldwide travels as a lecturer inspired the book. "Everywhere I went, I was seeing both the children who needed to be adopted and also people who wanted children," she says. "I wanted to pull together both my interest in what's going on around the world in families and the adoption stories." Many Americans choose to adopt internationally because adoptable domestic children frequently have severe health problems such as the HIV virus or are cocaine babies. "A lot of people don't want to take that risk," Kaslow says. "They're not equipped for it. They want a child as normal as possible. Also, because domestic adoptions are often open adoptions, they do not wish to take the chance of losing the child later, which they perceive might happen."

In Welcome Home! one important piece of advice for an adopting parent is to request a videotape of the potential child so that a pediatrician can do "armchair consulting" and rule out any obvious health problems. Another caveat common in the essays is to "know who you're dealing with," Schwartz says. Thoroughly research adoption agencies, lawyers, and any other individual or organization that might be intermediaries in your adoption.

China emerges as a popular country from which to adopt. As one contributor writes, "The process is heavily regulated by the Chinese government and, as such, is one of the most predictable international adoption programs available today." The other essays discuss adoptions from Cambodia, Greece, and the Ukraine. Two contributors are Swedish who adopted children from countries such as Iran, Poland and Thailand.

Kaslow and Schwartz met about 40 years ago at a mutual friends' house to play bridge. At the time Schwartz was working toward her PhD in education at Bryn Mawr while raising three young children. "Bryn Mawr was the only place that let you come for a doctorate program one day a week," she says. "I was able to spend the day at Bryn Mawr-that was known as Mother's Day Off. I felt like I was taking half the library home. I would work at crazy hours of the night after the kids were in bed or while they were taking naps and eventually while they were in school." Kaslow, who also had young children, was then encouraged to enroll in Bryn Mawr's School for Social Work and Social Research. She later took postdoctoral work as a psychologist and became Board certified in family, clinical and forensic psychology.

Since their first meeting, their careers have taken different turns. Schwartz is Distinguished Professor Emerita from Penn State's Ogontz campus (now Abington), where she taught general, abnormal, and cross-cultural psychology; child development; special education; the psychology of personality and women; and psychology and the law. For many of these courses Schwartz wrote textbooks and altogether has authored more than 20 books. Although now "allegedly retired," she recently conducted workshops on adoption for Penn State and the Philadelphia Society of Clinical Psychologists, and she still consults on child custody issues in divorce and adoption cases. Photography is a passionate pursuit as well, with grandchildren, hot air balloons and landscapes among her favorite subjects.

Kaslow grew her private practice into a guest lecturing career, having visited more than 50 countries to present on topics ranging from violence in the family-spousal, child or sexual abuse-to psychological trauma. Recently in Germany to help military couples with marital separations, she found herself instead addressing the trauma of war. "Much of the staff in the hospitals and clinics there are traumatized by the number of seriously injured soldiers coming back from Afghanistan and Iraq," she says. Kaslow has written two books on military families in peace and war and was the founding president of the International Family Therapy Association. She has been president of two divisions of the American Psychological Association (APA): family psychology and media psychology. She is a visiting professor of medical psychology in psychiatry at Duke U Medical Center and a visiting professor of psychology at Florida Institute of Technology.

In addition to actively participating in the APA, writing is a passion for both Kaslow and Schwartz. Besides Welcome Home! they have produced two books with a clinical, theoretical focus: Dynamics of Divorce: A life cycle perspective (1987) and Painful Partings (1997). For Dynamics of Divorce, Kaslow developed a seven-stage model of divorce, which adds the topic of religion to the standard six-stage model. Painful Partings includes a protocol for child custody evaluations.

Both authors found working on Welcome Home! a moving experience. The contributors, says Schwartz, "are so honest, they are sharing so much, and I was beginning to feel like they were all extended family, because I had so much correspondence with them. Sometimes I would read a chapter as it was submitted to me over e-mail and virtually just be moved to tears. When I received my first copy of Welcome Home!, I think I went 10 feet up in the air and didn't come back down again for three and a half days. I was so excited I didn't know where to run first to show somebody."

What Kaslow especially likes about Welcome Home! is the altruism that shines through. "People really can be very humanitarian," she says. "With all that we say about our society not being family-oriented, I have never thought that is true. I think there are some people who aren't family-oriented. But when you look at what people will go through to have a child, you get a strong sense of the importance of family."

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