Thursday, July 18, 2013

Outraged for Veronica

Now two women came to King Solomon and stood before him. One of them said, “Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house, and I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us. During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast. The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”
 
The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.”
 
But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.
 
The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’” Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king. He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”
 
The woman whose son was alive was deeply moved out of love for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”
 
Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”
1 Kings 3:16-28 
 
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Today, as I sat in a store biding my time for my car to be fixed, I happened to find out about the most recent ruling on the "Baby Veronica" case. If you are a part of the adoption ethics world at all, you probably already know about the case. But here is the short(ish) version if you haven't heard it already:

Christy Maldonado became pregnant in the winter of 2009, while engaged to the child's father Dusten Brown. He immediately insisted that they should get married, but she resisted and eventually broke off their engagement. Throughout the course of the next few months, she withdrew contact and their relationship became estranged. At some point, prior to the baby's birth, she demanded that he either give up his rights or pay child support. In a TEXT, Brown stated that he would rather give up his rights.

Fast forward a few more months, "Baby Veronica" is born and placed with the Capobiancos, a couple that Maldonado has chosen to adopt her baby girl. Brown is not immediately notified, but because Brown is identified as a member of a Native American tribe, Maldonado's attorney attempts to notify the tribe of the impending adoption as required by ICWA. But his name is misspelled in the paperwork, therefore there was no record of him and the tribe was not made aware of the impending adoption.

When Veronica is four months old, Brown is served with paperwork to surrender his parental rights. Believing that he is signing them over to Maldonado, he agrees. The next day, he realizes his error and begins the appeal process.

(In my opinion, the case should have ended there and Veronica should have been immediately returned to her father.)

Unfortunately, he is slated to leave for Iraq the next week. A stay in the adoption is granted and the case could not be heard for a year due to Brown being out of country.

In 2011, when Veronica is slightly over a year old, the case is heard in court and the Cherokee Nation intervenes to deny the adoption. The court ruled in December of 2011 that the Capobiancos would not be granted the adoption and that Veronica should be returned to her father. The Capobiancos appealed to the state Supreme Court but in July 2012, that ruling was upheld and they were forced to release the 27 month old girl to Brown.

(Again, this should have been the end.)

But it didn't end there. The Capobiancos appealed to the US Supreme Court, citing that ICWA should not have applied to Brown. On June 25th, 2013, the SCOTUS ruled that ICWA did not apply in the case but did not issue any ruling or recommendation on Veronica's placement. That was sent back to the state Supreme Court.

The state Supreme Court could have ruled to send it back to Family Court, but instead decided to rule. Because ICWA was the foundation of the original ruling that caused the Capobiancos' adoption petition to be thrown out, the state Supreme Court decided to effectively turn back the clock and act as if that never happened. Thus, on July 17, 2013, it was determined that Veronica should be returned to the Capobiancos.

She has lived with her father for the past 18 months...she is now nearly four years old.

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Here is where I try to stay sane and reasonable, but will probably fail. I should start by admitting my biases. I believe that domestic infant adoption as a whole has some very serious flaws in its process. Especially the part of the process that allows states to have their own rules and procedures for how fathers assert their rights. I think it is downright unethical that ANYONE would try to adopt a child without doing everything in their power to ensure that neither biological parent wants to raise that baby. I think it is absolutely abhorrent that many lawyers and social workers will advise prospective adoptive parents to hold their breath and bide their time, hoping to run out the clock on the time that parents have to contest adoptions, instead of encouraging them to hunt down fathers and request their blessing on the adoption. I think the courts should ALWAYS have to prove that neither parent is fit, willing or able to care for a child before they terminate a parent's rights. Bottom line.

So here are my major beefs with this particular case:

1. The fact that almost every single article I have read about it refers to the Capobiancos as Veronica's "adoptive parents". THEY ARE NOT. The adoption was never granted. This is the same type of subliminally coercive language as calling a mother a "birth mother" prior to her rights being terminated. It is wrong. And it is not merely semantics. Too many people will hear about this case without looking into it further and it gives all adoption a bad name when prospective adoptive parents assert ownership over a child before it is legally granted. It is exactly cases like this that stir up fear about children being "taken back" by birth parents. And it makes me feel defeated and resentful that I may ever be lumped into the same category as people who would fight to keep a child away from a parent who is fit, willing, and able to care for them.

2. GIVING UP ONE'S RIGHTS IS NOT SOMETHING THAT CAN BE DONE VIA TEXT MESSAGE. I don't know about you, but I've said some pretty dumb things in texts when I'm angry. In fact, I have one friend who I've made a pact with that we should never text when we disagree about anything, even if its just dinner. Texts are not legally binding documents, thank goodness. And yes, Brown did later sign actual legal paperwork to surrender his rights. But it is pretty clear that he believed he was signing them over to his ex-girlfriend and tried to intercept the paperwork within 24 hours when he realized the true content of the documents. I know, I know - read before you sign anything! But still, is this really a situation where we should be following the letter of the law? No, adoption should be a situation where the spirit of the law is of utmost importance. And the spirit of adoption is to find loving homes for children whose parents are unfit, unwilling or unable to raise them. This is not the case for Veronica.

3. One of the major mistakes that Brown made, which allowed the SCOTUS to determine that he was never Veronica's parent in the eyes of the law, was that he did not provide financially for her mother during pregnancy or for the baby in the four months after she was born. I'm sorry, but it is made clear in court documents that Maldonado cut off communication with Brown. So, what was he supposed to do? Just keep sending diapers to her doorstep? How is one supposed to force another person to allow them to accept money or material things? And yes, he did say that he would rather relinquish his rights than pay child support. That was a very dumb thing for him to say. But again, see #2. We all say and do dumb things when we are hurt and angry. Maldonado had broken off their engagement and cut him out of her life. And Brown was getting ready to deploy to a WAR ZONE for heaven's sake. It wasn't his finest moment, but I can understand him making a decision that he probably thought he could address again once he returned from Iraq. Perhaps he believed that they might get back together again? Or maybe he just thought Maldonado was a good mother and wasn't worried about being able to establish a relationship with his daughter in the future? I don't know, but again, I don't believe that one dumb decision should be the deciding factor here.

4. I firmly believe that whenever a prospective adoptive parent is notified that there is a biological parent who wants to raise their child, the prospective adoptive parent should immediately hand that baby over. I understand many things about bonding and attachment, and I am not unsympathetic to the grief that the prospective adoptive parent will experience. But as I've stated above, adoption is about finding families for children whose parents are not fit, willing or able to care for them. 

5. Now, had you talked to me back in 2011 when the original court case was being heard, I would have felt more conflicted. Ultimately, I would have agreed that Veronica should be returned to her father. But I would have insisted on a thoughtful transition that would have included gradually increasing visitation. Yes, it would have been hard on Veronica. But having seen MANY successful transitions of children back to their biological parents after 12-24 months in care (yes, children in care since birth) would have convinced me that it could be done without causing lasting damage. I know it is hard for people outside of child welfare to comprehend. I hear it all the time, "But these are the ONLY parents s/he has known!" And I understand that disrupting a child's attachment it is not to be taken lightly. But one transition in caregivers, if done thoughtfully and with sensitivity, will not ruin a child for life. If that was the case, no adoption except for those done at birth would ever be successful. The truth is that "healthy attachment begets healthy attachment". If a child is healthily attached to one set of caregivers, they can quite easily transfer that attachment to another set of appropriate caregivers. Attachments disorders are caused by multiple transitions and usually combined with unhealthy relationships with caregivers who do not meet the child's needs. Veronica would have transitioned just fine if everyone had been committed to her best interests and committed to maintaining important relationships in her young life. But sadly, that did not happen.

6. Don't even get me started on the way the SCOTUS butchered the Indian Child Welfare Act. The least of which was a bunch of non-Indians thinking that they could decide whether or not Veronica was "Indian enough" for ICWA to apply. Add into that, the notion that only "custodial" parents could invoke ICWA is crazy. So, as long as prospective adopters take the child from the hospital, the are the only custodial parents and no one else can ever invoke ICWA?

7. After I heard about the SCOTUS ruling, I was upset but mostly at the principle of it all. I never once thought any court would return Veronica to the Capobiancos. It would remove her from her father, who from all reports is doing a fine job of providing for her and raising her. But I was more certain because I can't imagine any professional would declare it in her best interests. Doing so would disrupt her attachment all over again. And while a two year old is somewhat blissfully unaware and has a fairly short memory, a four year old is in a much different place developmentally. Old enough to anticipate, old enough to remember her life with her father, old enough to have an opinion. And the fact that the state Supreme court didn't even bother to take any of that into consideration is just outrageous. It wouldn't have "delayed" things that long - a good bonding assessment can be done in just a couple months. But they didn't even bother. They acted as if time has stood still for Veronica - as if the last 18 months of forgetting her old life and bonding with her father didn't happen. And I'm willing to bet the Capobiancos feel the same way. Which brings me to #8

8. I have run out of sympathy for the Capobiancos. Their continued pursuit of this child shows that they do not have her best interest at heart. They have their best interests at heart - they believe that they should win. They believe that because THEY love HER, and have an ongoing bond to the beautiful little girl they brought home from the hospital, she must feel the same way. This is wrong folks. Veronica likely does not remember them at all, since she has had no contact with them for almost two years. And even if one wants to argue that it is the "same" as what Brown did by letting her be removed from them in 2011, I would say what my mother taught me when I was about Veronica's age.

"Two wrongs don't make a right."

And that is what this case boils down to right now. It doesn't matter who did what to who, who paid what, or who signed what and when. The bottom line is that we must look at where we are RIGHT NOW. Veronica is four years old. The only working memories  she has is of her life with her father. From all accounts (and lack of DCFS investigations) he has been successfully supporting her financially, putting a roof over her head, clothes on her body, food in her belly, and nurturing her as a father should. In whose right mind would anyone say that a four year old should be taken away from "the only family she knows" and sent to live with people she doesn't remember? I look at my four year old Goddaughter and think about how much I love her. I do love her. So much it hurts sometimes. And when she is with me, we have wonderful times. But when I jokingly ask her if she wants to come live with me? Her response is without hesitation, "No! I can't! My mommy and daddy would miss me!"

Adoption is not about who has the "right" to be a parent. It is not about who can be the better parent. It is not about who paid for more prenatal care, who can give them a better life, or who had them first.

Adoption is about finding a family for a child who needs one.

And Veronica does not need one.

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