Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

That's the title of this week's Radiolab podcast. Got that?

Adoptive Couple


Baby Girl

It's a court case. A case that's going to be decided soon by the Supreme Court, in fact, and it completely blows my mind. You can read background on the case here, but this is the summary.

A couple named Capobianco adopted a baby girl via an open adoption. The birth mother chose them, they developed a relationship with her, were present when she gave birth, and even cut the umbilical cord. The birth father signed away his rights, and the Capobianco's adopted the baby and named her Veronica.

When Veronica was two years old, the Court decided that Veronica should live with her birth father, Dusten Brown, because he is a member of the Cherokee Nation and a law called the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) says that Indian children should live with Indian parents whenever possible.

Now, the Capobiancos are going to argue at the Supreme Court that ICWA shouldn't apply in this case, and possibly that it's unconstitutional.

If you don't know anything about ICWA, you should really read the article I linked to above and listen to the podcast. There are a lot of details that are relevant to this case, namely that before ICWA, up to a third of Indian children were routinely taken from their parents and tribes and raised by white adoptive parents. Also, Veronica's birth father now claims that he never intended to sign away his rights to Veronica.

There are all kinds of possible implications of the Supreme Court case for American Indians. Big ones. But that's not what I'm writing about today, so I'm going to just acknowledge that the case is important for many reasons and move on. Here's what interests me:

If the Capobiancos are successful at the Supreme Court, their case will go back to a local court and the Judge there will need to decide what's best for Veronica now.

Veronica lived with her adoptive parents for two years, and by the time this case gets back to a local court (if it does) she will have been living with her birth father and stepmother for about the same length of time. It will be someone's responsibility to decide whether or not to uproot this little girl again.

I can't even.

I believe that the ICWA is a good thing, on balance. It's not okay to take children away from their parents unless their safety is in jeopardy. I can understand why it is in the Cherokee Tribe's interest that Cherokee children should be placed with a Cherokee family when adoption is necessary.

But this kid was placed by her birthmother with a family that she chose. They had an ongoing relationship with her and she had a relationship with Veronica. The fact that Brown is Cherokee didn't come up at all in the original adoption proceedings. The article I linked to says that Veronica was "reunited" with her birth father by the court. She wasn't. You can't be reunited with someone you've never met. She was taken from the only parents she had ever known by a stranger. Yes, this stranger shared 50% of her DNA, but so what? A two year old cannot understand that.

Dusten Brown was incredibly selfish in suing for custody of Veronica in the first place. Was he in agony when he found out that he had signed away his custody of Veronica? Possibly. He certainly sounds sincere on Radiolab. But it is not Veronica's responsibility to resolve her father's pain. She is an innocent child. She must have been terrified when Brown came and took her away from her parents. I can't even comprehend what that would be like for a two year old.

And now, she likely doesn't remember the Capobiancos, and they are fighting to take her away from Dusten Brown.

The selfishness of the adults in this case overwhelms me. We do not have a right, as parents, to our children. We have a responsibility to protect our children and to keep them safe from harm. That means finding a situation in which the child will experience as little trauma as possible, hopefully none.

Brown could have tried to arrange an open adoption agreement with the Capobiancos. He could possibly have negotiated a shared custody agreement of some kind--perhaps Veronica could have spent summers on the Reservation to learn about her Cherokee heritage. I don't know what might have been, had the adults in this situation been humane and thought of Veronica's best interests first. Why hasn't Veronica seen the Capobiancos in the past sixteen months? That question is not addressed in the Radiolab report. The obvious assumption is that Brown does not want them to see her. Why would he do that to a child he claims to love? First, take her away from her parents and then cut her off from them? What must Veronica have thought, and been too young to express? And why do we think biology trumps everything?

This whole case upsets me enormously. I can't see a good solution. I can't tell you what would be best for Veronica now. I just feel so sad for her.

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