' [Birth Mother] First Mother Forum: Why passions run hot in the Veronica Brown story

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why passions run hot in the Veronica Brown story

Veronica, happy with daddy Dusten Brown
Why does the Veronica Brown case affect us so much? Why does the story of a father trying to keep his daughter--and not let her go to people who want to adopt her--rivet our attention so deeply? Even adoptive parents have turned their attention more than casually to this story.

For first mothers, the answer is: Because we are reminded of how it felt to relinquish our own children. 

For adoptees: Because at some level we understand what is lost when we were removed from our own families and given to another.

For adoptive parents, the answer must be as personal: those who feel that the girl belongs with
Matt and Melanie Capobianco, the adoptive parents-in-waiting, are thoroughly convinced that the "better life" they imagine for "Baby Veronica,"--now weeks away from turning four--is the better family for her; those who wish her to stay with her natural father have found the compassion to understand that they, as parents, are making the best of a bad situation for the child, and are dismayed as the Capobiancos tarnish the reputation of all adoptive parents.

As for myself as a first/birth mother, I keep scanning the news, hoping that Veronica be allowed to stay with her father, Dusten Brown, and react to any news on a visceral level. Support is rallying for him, but I am dismayed to see that the Capobiancos Facebook page (Save Veronica Rose) has over 2,000 more "Likes" than the supporters of Dusten Brown page (Standing our Ground for Veronica Brown).* 
Veronica's biological father, Dusten Brown, left the Cherokee Nation Courthouse on Friday carrying a piece of his heritage with him: sticks used in the tradition Cherokee stickball game.
Veronica's father, Dusten Brown, AT Cherokee Nation Courthouse

Since a judge put a gag order on both parties, news on the case has been scant, but this we know:
  • A Cherokee County, Oklahoma court has been asked to suspend the visits between the Capobiancos until further hearings can be held, confirming that the couple from South Carolina have seen Veronica. It is likely she has no recollection of them.
  • Special Judge Holli Wells has removed herself from the case, according to a court docket that was available Sunday. No reason was given.
  • In a flurry of activity that came Friday at the Cherokee County courthouse, the Capobiancos appear to be objecting to the appointment of a guardian ad litem to represent Veronica's “best interests” as the court proceedings drag on. That guardian is attorney Angel Smith, appointed to represent Veronica’s interests in a Cherokee Nation court, and apparently also in Cherokee County court.  
  • Jan Hunt, a family counselor and author with a focus on attachment and bonding, has recanted the letter she wrote to a South Carolina court urging Veronica go to the adoptive couple. Hunt says she was not given accurate information about an anonymous case which she was asked to analyze and to recommend placement of the child. Furthermore, she says she was asked to rewrite the letter several times over a period of two weeks as the request of the guardian ad litem in South Carolina, who hired Hunt. The anonymous father, Hunt says, was described as a terrible person and a loser. She was informed that the biological family was only requesting the child so the tribe would get more money, based on their numbers, and that the adoptive couple were being treated badly.
  • Jo Prowell, the guardian ad litem in South Carolina, has been involved in several contested adoptions in which attorney Raymond Godwin represented the prospective adoptive parents and Nightlight Christian Adoptions, based in Greenville, S.C. In this capacity, Prowell testified in favor of Godwin's clients, the Capobiancos. Incidentally, Prowell is not an attorney; Godwin is the Capobiancos original attorney in the adoption, and certainly the one behind getting Brown to sign away his rights in a parking lot shortly before he deployed to Iraq, without making clear to him what he was actually signing. (Brown immediately tried to get the paper back.)
  • Godwin** is also the attorney in another case involving an Indian child from Oklahoma being placed illegally for adoption in South Carolina. Currently, the infant, Deserey, is living with another pre-adoptive couple in South Carolina with no custody order in place and no signed Interstate Compact for the Placement of Children application on file with the State of Oklahoma. In this case, the non-Indian biological father, Jeremy Simmons, has been supported by the infant's biological Indian grandmother in seeking to return his daughter back to Oklahoma to his custody.
The most heartening new story on the case is the opinion of an Indian law expert, Jason Aamodt, who is an assistant dean at Tulsa University College of Law. He contends that the tribal court will more than likely trump South Carolina and Oklahoma state courts. Noting that several courts involved to date, he adds the cross-country custody battle is shedding light on how the tribal court system works. Adoption attorneys across the country say that the new adoption illustrates an emerging pattern of the adoption of Indian children that skirts the law. Rallies are being held for both sides in this case.

While this case continues, and Veronica approaches four on September 15, I read this in a scholarly review of Gone Baby Gone, the Ben Affleck movie about a "good," well-to-do police chief who steals a baby from a drug-addicted mother--promising to clean up her act--and who wants to raise her own child:
"At its heart, Gone Baby Gone is a morality play. As alluded to, the ultimate question posed is whether it is acceptable to steal children from poor families and give them to rich families. When the question is phrased in such simple terms, most people, I think, would consider the answer to be an obvious one. So why, then, did the audience in the theater where I saw the film disagree?"
The reviewer, Kimberly Kirkland, notes the people cheered that the girl had not been raised by her less-than-admirable mother. Kirkland goes on to talk about children stolen from poverty-stricken Chad, as well as the Aboriginal children who were taken from their parents in Australia to be raised "white" in prosperous white homes, and reports this astounding fact:
"An investigation into the long-term effects upon the removed Aboriginal children indicated that, contrary to expectations, these individuals were less likely than those left behind [with the Aboriginal families] to have completed secondary education and were significantly more likely to engage in criminal behavior and to abuse substances (Bereson, 1989)."
Baby Veronica is not going to be raised in poverty if she stays with her natural father, Dusten Brown, and the idea that she will be better of financially with the Capobiancos is not an argument that anyone is actually making in print. Yet what has crept into the social consciousness is that the Capobiancos, who must have known from the onset of this adoption, that there was a problem because the father was a member of the Cherokee tribe, is that somehow they "deserve" this child because they went ahead and were able to raise her under murky legal circumstances for two years. Those adoptive parents who support them have a great fear of all biological parents, who might emerge to "take back" their children. Their support never talks of the immorality of keeping a child from her natural parents, but hones in on the law, the legal documents obtained under unethical practices. The large and well greased machinery of the adoption industry supports the Capobiancos with all its might, for a win here by a natural father jeopardizes an entire lucrative industry.

Yet no one "deserves" another man's child simply because they possess her for a time, or were promised her in a shady deal, or paid off the birth mother's debts along the way, which appears to have happened in this case. Unless we are no better than baby sellers ourselves, we must rise above these petty acts of desperation. Unless we no longer wish to be a society of decent people, we must allow mothers and fathers to raise their own children, minus compelling reasons dictating otherwise. Unless we understand that to gut the Indian Children Welfare Act is shameful and wrong, we fail miserably as a society of compassionate people. That five justices of the Supreme Court did not understand this is to our great shame, and will define us in the decades to come. Their ruling flagrantly ignores all common decency and civility.

Veronica must be allowed stay with her father and her true family. That is her birthright.--lorraine

If you haven't already done so, please increase the number of supporters of the Standing Our Ground for Veronica Brown page on Facebook.

Many thanks for adoptive mother Jay Iyer for the link to the analysis of Gone Baby Gone in Contemporary Psychology, the American Psychological Association review, and for other insights. Link below. Read her compelling insights on not keeping a child when a birth parent wants her back at Adoptive parent shares thoughts on having returned a girl to her mother

Baby Veronica Case: Capobianco Expert Recants Damning Report on Father
Second Indian Infant Whisked to South Carolina for Quickie Adoption 
Expert Says Cherokee Courts May Have Final Say In 'Baby Veronica' Case
Both sides assemble in U.S. 'Baby Veronica' adoption case
Parental Rights Are Human Rights

Adoptive father John Roberts: Not impartial in the Baby Veronica case
Dusten Brown continues to fight for his daughter; the Capobiancos dig in deeper
'Baby Veronica' adoption will go forward 
**For More on Godwin's questionable actics:
Finding babies through Facebook. And your manicurist. And....

Birthright: The Guide to Search and Reunion for Adoptees, Birthparents, and Adoptive Parents
by Jean Strauss "An adoptee offers compassionate and comprehensive guidance to locating adoptees, birth parents and adoptive parents. Strauss proceeds from the view that seeking reunion with relatives estranged by adoption is a good thing, and she marshals impressive reasoning and evidence to support her case. Strauss interweaves the story of the search for her own birth parents with the strategies for finding birth relatives, and whether or not one agrees with the practice of adoptees or birth parents initiating searches for lost relatives, she tells that personal story compellingly." --Amazon
Order by clicking on the book jacket icon or the title above.

Gone, Baby, Gone: A Novel 
 "Vanished is four-year-old Amanda McCready, taken one night from her apartment in Dorchester, a working-class section of Boston, where her mother had left her alone. In tracing the history of Amanda's neglectful mother, whose past involved her with a drug lord and his minions, those tracking the crime quickly find themselves tangling with Boston's underworld and involved in what appears to be a coup among criminals. Lehane tackles corruption in many forms as he brings his complicated plot to its satisfying resolution, at the same time leaving readers to ponder moral questions about social and individual responsibility long after the last page is turned."-Publisher's Weekly, condensed review. Lorraine loved the movie, didn't read the book. Yet.


  1. Dear Lorraine,
    Please forgive my familiarity in addressing you by your first name. And, please allow me that since I could have been you coming up in the sixties but I was not. Ever since Apr 2013, just before the US Supreme Court oral arguments about Veronica's custody and adoption case, I have read just about every word, yours included, printed and published. Bless you for continuing to advocate for all of us -- as in all the citizens of the USA -- to just Do It, as in, us all, having the Right Stuff needed to corral the crowd, quiet the noise, settle the fears, and let Dusten Brown raise up his daughter Veronica privately and in his own shade.
    Bridget Morgan
    Los Altos Hills, California

  2. I agree that Dusten and Veronica's situation reminds first parents of how it felt to lose their own children.
    However I think many first parents also feel strongly about their surrendered children's losses, and that increasingly there are adoptive parents who feel this way about their adopted children's losses too.

  3. Dear Bridget--

    Oddly enough, here I am Lorraine...but when a clerk on the phone calls me that, I correct them to Ms. Dusky!

    Thanks for your vote of confidence.

  4. I'm encouraged that a lot more adoptive parents are realizing how the lopsided supply/demand ratio for infants is driving the exorbitant prices for infant adoption, the need for aggressive outreach and the unethical facilitators who see a way to make money from the desperate and vulnerable.

    This is supposed to be about the morally righteous act of providing a family for a child who needs one. Instead, it is about procuring infants for those who can afford the price tag.

  5. As an adoptive parent, I am frankly horrified at the behavior of the Capobianco's. They never should have fought for custody and this should never have ended up in court. Not only has this harmed Veronica (this can't be healthy for her), but it pits adoptive parents and first families against each other (not how it's supposed to be). I find the adoptive parents who support the Capobianco's to be creepy, if I'm being honest.

    So, yes, this case is personal for me...because it is a stark reminder of how horribly adoption can go wrong and how important it is to foster open dialogue with my son's first family.

  6. Adoptive Mom: We so appreciate hearing from you . Because so often we feel like it is first mothers against adoptive mothers, and it shouldn't be that way.

    Jay Iyer's recent post at the blog (see link at bottom of post) is eye-opening.

  7. Lorraine,

    I am starting to notice a few voices here and there beginning to share their now changed minds on the Veronica case. We that are writing to expose the lesser known adoption truths, are at least getting more exposure because of this unfortunate situation. I hope Veronica will not only stay with her dad, but that her story will help bring forth all our voices on the side of adoption reform and hopefully make a great big change in both law and social perception of adoption in general.

    The disparity between number of likes on either sides FB pages is , on the other hand, most unsettling.

    Jennifer :)

  8. Dear Lorraine,

    The only redeeming feature I can see in the ongoing "Baby Veronica" battle is that the more you read about the steps the Capobiancos are taking - legal, publicity-driven, staking a possessive claim to a child regardless of her fundamental right to her fit natural family - the more it is likely to sway adoptive parents who surely must at least squirm at this unscrupulous hounding of a happy, bonded, secure father and daughter relationship.

    I like this angle of your post. The protection of families must be the foundation of a civilized society, one that does not readily take away the rights of those who create its future members. I believe this protection is recognized within the penumbra of the Constitutional "right to privacy," first described by the US Supreme Court in Griswold v. Connecticut. And then Kimberly Kirkland, whose review you cite, mentions the protection of this fundamental right by the United Nations. The fiber of our society would be destroyed if children were gathered up from families and redistributed as some authority saw fit. Unfortunately, most people (not just adoptive parents but the general public as well) don't see the seriousness of the much broader issue of family disruption when they see two specific families: one a single biological mother struggling with all kinds of issues, the other a stable couple with a nice home, and spontaneously think, "Of course the child should be with the couple!"

    Based on the reaction to cases that make the news, I think the overwhelming public opinion that an adoptive family is a "better deal" for a child than his/her biological family comes from society's (unrealistic) view of what an ideal family should be. Money definitely figures in it, but so do one or more of some other factors: more "refined" looks and speech, better education, engaging more with the children (as in reading to them, participating in various activities with them), having a stable marriage and extended family relationships, exposing the children to more information and opportunities (not necessarily due to more money but more awareness of available resources), etc. It is a dangerous slippery slope if we think about "reallocating" children based on a supposed ideal of what a family should look like. Not only that, as your quote about the investigation of displaced aboriginal children suggests, that type of thinking could result in serious disadvantages for the "reallocated" children.

    This is why I am angry when I see commenters maligning Dusten Brown as "deadbeat," "disrespectful," "crude," "unintelligent," etc. If we deem people unworthy of their parental rights based on anything other than a serious compromise to their children's safety, we would destroy the emotional well-being of society. People need to really think about the gravity of rights that hold a biological family together before judging who should be allowed to parent.

  9. The adoption industry has succeeded in normalizing adoption with its message of... "The Adoptive Parents are the REAL parents",... "Adoption is a wonderful way to build a family",... "Being an adopted child is just as valuable as being a bio-child". While I appreciate the destigmatizing effect some of these beliefs have on adoptive families, it is absolutely not the same being raised in an adoptive family as it is to be raised in one's bio-family. I think the adoption industry has been so effective that many people no longer even think about WHAT adoption is supposed to be for and WHEN adoption is appropriate. I think the C's and others like them have so totally bought into the adoption propaganda that they erroneously believe they are Veronica's real parents (forgetting the fact that without her natural parents, Veronica wouldn't exist).

    The only good I can see coming out of this is that maybe this will take the blinders off for many people about how the adoption industry really operates and what its motives really are. No one has to fight a natural parent to the death to steal their child. The truth is that Veronica is not and never was available for adoption.

    I am sorry that Dusten and especially Veronica have to be a part of this. But people need to realize that so many other children (myself included) never should have ended up being adoptees in the first place. Maybe the story of Dusten and Veronica will finally start to put some chinks in the adoption industry's armor.

    It bothers me enormously when Dusten is badmouthed. Sure, I've noticed that he doesn't have perfect grammar. So what!? That is no reflection on how much he loves his daughter or on what kind of father he is. Not everyone gets a masters degree, not everyone goes to law school, but that doesn't make anyone a lesser person or a less fit parent.


  10. It seems suspicious to me that those who always advocate in custody adoption cases leaving the child where she is to avoid trauma, when the child has been the longer time with the prospective adopters, have suddenly reversed on this one. Whatever happened to best interest of the child and attachment to known caregivers??

    Sure, it's fine to take a 4 year old who knows and loves her dad and his family suddenly away from them, yet it would not have been fine to return a 4 month old when there was a lot less chance of trauma to the child. This case has to be upsetting to anyone with compassion and common sense.

  11. Please see these links. There is more to the story about what really happened to Dusten and Veronica. I understand why adoption records and OBCs are still closed to adult adoptees. The real purpose is to hide all the Georgia Tanns in our midst.



  12. Its so encouraging to see adoptive parents post and recognize how unfair this situation has become for Veronica and Dusten.
    As an adoptee, I followed the Baby Jessica and Baby Richard cases in the 1990s and was shocked that adoption laws were built to separate a parent and child. I learned thru my own search and many that I helped how horrific the BSE was, but did not expect it to be 20yrs later and still we are not seeing any improvement in what best interest of the child really means. How anyone with a heart can think that it is in Veronica's best interest to pull her out of her family home now and place her at 4yrs old with what will be strangers -makes no sense. How will they explain the law to her when obviously millions of adults can't figure it out across the states much less in a Sovereign Nation?
    Why is no one bringing up the SC Supreme Court indicated that there was fault on the part of the C's and the agency with filing the paperwork?
    Why is no one asking how someone trained in attachment therapy had an attorney who solicited a referral of an attachment therapist with faulty, disparaging and damaging information?
    People that do that and that hire those who do- don't figure into the best interest of the child. Dusten admitted to his mistakes in waiting and giving Christi time. He's proven himself a worthy father. Leave the family alone. Matt- go adopt one of the children in true need that you so eloquently referenced in your press conference in OK. I pray that the Cherokee Nation Court upholds that Dusten Brown maintains custody of Veronica. She needs to be home.

  13. If you are an Facebook PLEASE "Like" the STANDING OUR GROUND FOR VERONICA BROWNpage. The Capobiancos page is called "Save Veronica Rose." Save from what? Being raised by a good father who wants her? I think the title of their page with the "Save" is what makes me nuts on this case.

    Come on, people, so them our fierceness and numbers!

  14. In response to Rennee:
    "How anyone with a heart can think that it is in Veronica's best interest to pull her out of her family home now and place her at 4yrs old with what will be strangers"?
    Beats me, Renee. I guess it's different when THEY do it.

    "He's proven himself a worthy father. Leave the family alone."
    I agree. Whatever mistakes he might have made, he has paid his dues and then some.
    His daughter has a right to her natural family and he has more than earned his right to have his daughter.

  15. One thing that is puzzling me about this case is the involvement of the tribal court. I thought the supreme court ruling that the adoption was not subject to the ICWA would also deny the tribal court any jurisdiction in this matter.

    I have no doubt that the PAPS would lose a best interests case but they can argue that best interests don't apply since they are the legal parents according to SC (and therefore oppose the GAL appointment). position is that they are the legal

  16. Hi Anon 11:42 p.m., the US Supreme Court held that the father could not invoke ICWA, but that does not necessarily mean other provisions of the act cannot be invoked - by Veronica (as a citizen of the Cherokee nation), by her paternal grandparents and by the tribal nation at large.

    As for the best interests analysis, the way in which it would apply would be if one argued that the South Carolina courts should NOT have made the Capobiancos Veronica's legal parents without conducting a best interests analysis. So, the argument applies at a point in time after the US Supreme Court ruling but before the adoption was finalized. Regardless, however, I am not sure to what extent the Oklahoma courts can stand up against a judgment (of adoption) by a South Carolina court, given the "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution. And I don't know how tribal courts operate. All I am hoping for at this point is a miracle for Dusten and Veronica Brown.

  17. @Maryanne and Robin:
    I do so agree with you both. The double standard when it comes to taking a child from the only home she remembers and where she is happy, is appalling. Especially when it is the home of a decent loving natural parent. Majorly hypocritical.
    I also agree that Veronica was never truly available for adoption. She should have been with her father from the moment he expressed his desire to raise her.

    I too am disgusted at the way some of the C's supporters criticize Dusten for having less than perfect grammar. So what indeed.
    People who stoop to tactics like this have no class. No class at all.

  18. Hi.
    There are no winners in this case. I feel sorry for both sides. I have to wonder about a father who would take a child from her parents at 2-years-old, and then use the argument today that she is attached to him and it would be too hard on her to be removed. That is exactly what he did.

    You mention the circumstances surrounding the adoption and imply that something sinister was going on. This man signed away his parental rights - probably to get out of paying child support, since he only paid his back support for his first child when this case came to court. If he was any other man in America, he would be out of luck according to the law. It is because he is Cherokee that has had any right to challenge, but the Supreme Court ruled that shouldn't have applied.

    I think the laws to protect Indian families are just, and the history iof the law was put in place because children were being torn from their families. I think this law is being abused in this case, and do not think this was the intent of the law.

    That being said, I don't know what outcome I hope for. Neither offers a happy ending in my opinion. I think the courts should have left her with her adopted parents but since they didn't, and she has spent the past two years with her father, I feel she may be better off staying with him. But, I don't think it is fair for the parents who raised her to lose their daughter because of a bad court decision. My second child is 15 months old and if he was taken away from me for two years, I would still love him and want him back. That early bonding doesn't just go away.

  19. @Anon 11:27pm

    There will be a clear winner in this situation, Veronica, if she is able to stay with her natural dad. You see, Miss Veronica is NOT AVAILABLE for adoption. And the Copabiancos knew this. They knew from the very beginning that the natural father would not consent to the adoption and that they were bypassing the laws of Cherokee Nation. So they can boo hoo hoo all they want, but they are responsible for their own predicament.

    Then you ask why a father would take his daughter back after two years with prospective adoptive parents. Well, first of all, Dusten had been trying to get her back since Ronnie was four months old and he first learned about the adoption. But the real reason is, duh, he IS HER FATHER. The C's are not and never will be Veronica's parents. Maybe you should read the current post at this blog about re-homing adopted children. I agree these are extreme stories, but you see, Mr. Brown wanted to be the one to be there for his daughter, to provide for her and protect her, instead of giving his own flesh and blood to complete strangers. That is something to admire, not something to criticize him for.

    If you support the Copabiancos then you are basically saying it is okay to bypass the laws and do whatever you can, by hook or by crook, to take someone wanted, well-cared for child away from them. In other words, you support legalizing kidnapping.

    Also, I am frightened for any child that was placed through this particular adoption agency as there are now other stories coming to light about their unethical activities.

  20. Hi Anon 11:27 pm, even if there wasn't anything "sinister" surrounding the circumstances of this adoption, even if you think ICWA is being misused in this case, my problem with the Capobiancos' approach is more fundamental, about the rights of families that are procreated and linked by generations of history to stay protected unless there is a threat to the childrens' safety. This is a right that is recognized and sanctioned by the United Nations, as well it should be because any other standard can lead to the breakdown of human society and, indeed, our emotional well-being as a species. The law is fallible and in any case only provides a guide in custody decisions, never actual answers about how to secure the best life for a child.

    I am a foster/adoptive parent who reunified a child with her biological mother. Based on that experience, I know that if I were seeking to adopt a child and that child’s biological father opposed the adoption when the child was four months old, I would at most want to be assured that the father does not have what they call a “protective issue” in foster care, i.e., is a drug abuser, a repeat felon, a pedophile, etc. and, if none of those problems seem to exist in the investigations of the social workers/family court, then I would walk away. I would walk away because I believe in the fundamental right of biological families to be together when there is a fit family member to take care of the child. Dusten Brown is more than fit to be a parent by family law standards. Notwithstanding what his maligners who want to “Save Veronica” have to say about this father, Dusten Brown doesn’t even come close to being borderline on a family law scale of fitness – he is well above the threshold. I would be wracked with guilt for the rest of my life if I used legal maneuvers to deprive a little girl, in this case Veronica, of her fundamental right, a fit biological parent who loves her and can raise her.

    As for that “mistake of law” made by the South Carolina Supreme Court, as a lawyer I often sigh because the beauty of the American justice system can sometimes be a curse. The American laws in general are designed to be “living, breathing” instruments, adaptable to the particular facts and needs of society at a given period of time, always changing. There is no absolute truth in the law, and its tricky interpretation is clearly evidenced by the very narrow majority in both the South Carolina Supreme Court and the subsequent US Supreme Court rulings on ICWA as applied to the facts of this case. I think it would be rather presumptuous of us to say that in both those rulings, which were so close, nearly half the justices were making a “mistake.” The law is subject to interpretation – and for now, until times change, we have the US Supreme Court’s majority (5 justices out of 9) view of ICWA as it applies to parents like Dusten Brown.

    The US Supreme Court however did not rule on custody of Veronica. The South Carolina Supreme Court did, and they assigned custody without conducting a best interests hearing for this precious child who is now 4, not 2 – this I have a huge beef with. But, mostly, I am sad that the Capobiancos lack the empathy toward Veronica to give her the gift of being raised with her roots.

    I also want to add that Dusten Brown fighting to get his biological child back, which he did from the time when she was 4 months old and he found out about the adoption, can in no way compare to an adoptive couple trying to hang on to a child – one party wants to preserve the fiber of society, a family as created and as meant to stay barring extenuating circumstances, the other party wants to break that family apart. In that regard, I believe the laws too readily permit the loss of rights of unwed fathers. It is a standard so divergent from foster care measures of a fit parent that I fail to understand it.



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