Zug's August 23 article in Slate, "Two year old 'Baby Veronica' was ripped from the only home's she ever known. The court made the right decision"* is a welcome change from the media blizzard chastising the South Carolina Court. The popular refrains "ripped from the only family she has ever known and "what about the best interests of the child"? repeated endlessly in this and similar cases are simply wrong.
The essential facts of the case are simple. Veronica's natural mother consented to her adoption. Brown, a Cherokee Indian, contested the adoption based on the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). This 1978 law is designed to keep Native American children within their community if possible. It was passed in reaction to horrific acts of forcible removal of native American children, about a quarter of all such children, for adoption by white families. As well as devastating the Indian community, this practice did untold damage to these children. In Australia, tens of thousands of aboriginal children were forceably removed from their single mothers to be adopted and raised by white families for a century, a practice that only came to an end in the 1970s. Australia has formally apologized.
When the South Carolina Court held last month that the ICWA required that Veronica be returned to her father, the media reacted--as it always does in cases like this--with biased coverage trumpeting this message: Let the almost always white, almost always better off family keep the child, "the only family this child has ever known." It happened in 1993 in the Baby Jessica/Anna Schmidt case in Michigan and Iowa; it happened in 1995 case in the Baby Richard case in Illinois; it happened in 2007 in the Anna Mae He case in Tennessee; in happened in 2010 in Ohio in the Grayson Vaughn (Wyrembek) case. All of the above children were returned to their true families of origin, but at the time, only a few sane voices broke through the din, as does Professor Zug in Slate.
Melanie and Matt Capobianco's were not the only family Veronica had ever known. She knew her mother for nine months before her birth, and recent research has given credence to the strength of that bond. She was connected with her Indian ancestors when her father's sperm met her mother's egg. Absent proof of abuse or neglect, child welfare experts--the Child Welfare League of America, the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform--social worker and adoptive mother L. Anne Babb agree that a child does best raised by his natural family. The children in the Baby Richard and Baby Jessica cases, for example, have grown up and done fine; Anna Mae He is still a youngster and returned to China with her family; the Wyrembek boy is still a boy. Anna Schmidt/Jessica DeBoer was the same age as Veronica, while the other were older when they were returned to their fathers and real families.
If the South Carolina Court had ruled in favor of the Capobianco's, it would have legalized kidnapping. Keep a kid long enough, and he's yours. In sum, the South Carolina Court did the right thing, not only legally, but humanely. To prevent this travesty in the future, adoption practitioners need only follow the law.
*Doing What's Best for the Tribe: Two year old 'Baby Veronica' was ripped from the only home she's known. The court made the right decision.
Baby Girl, a minor under the age of fourteen year v. Birth Father, and the Cherokee Nation
**For more on pre-ICWA practices, The Lost Child starring Mercedes Ruehl is a compelling story about an Indian woman, stolen from her native American family and adopted by a white couple, who returns to her true family. It's based on a true story. Coincidentally, Ruehl is a first mother.
Rabbit-Proof Fence is an amazing movie about the resiliency of children taken by force from their aboriginal mothers but who find their way home. Highly highly recommended. Kenneth Branagh plays the Australian bad guy. Have tissues ready.
And the book: Following an Australian government edict in 1931, black aboriginal children and children of mixed marriages were gathered up and taken to settlements to be institutionally assimilated. In Rabbit-Proof Fence, award-wining author Doris Pilkington traces the story of her mother, Molly, one of three young girls uprooted from their community in Southwestern Australia and taken to the Moore River Native Settlement. There, Molly and her relatives Gracie and Daisy were forbidden to speak their native language, forced to abandon their heritage, and taught to be culturally white. After regular stays in solitary confinement, the three girls planned and executed a daring escape from the grim camp. Order any by clicking on the icons.
When "best interests" of the child violate reason and decency
Fathers Day 2010: Unmarried Fathers Who Fight for their Rights to be a Dad
May the Richest Parents Win--The DeBoer Case
Biological Father Wins in Court, Again; Will the Vaughns Comply?
Favorite Adoption Quotes
Destined to be seminal in the fields of ethics and adoption, Ethics in American Adoption offers numerous case studies describing what is wrong with America's adoption system, illustrating what the lack of applied ethical standards in adoption does to adoptees and those who love them, and raising many questions about what adoption facilitators are doing, who is accountable for what they are doing, and whose interests they are serving.