On April 17, 2012, the South Carolina Supreme Court heard a case involving a 2-year-old multiracial child unlike any case the state had ever heard before. This particular adoption case has many layers and to say it is complicated would be an understatement.
It’s a case that involves an adoptive couple, a birth mother, birth father and the Cherokee Nation – all coming from different perspectives. At the core of all those perspectives, however, is an innocent child whose life took a completely different course on New Year’s Eve of last year when her adoptive parents had to hand her over to her biological father.
Veronica Rose was born to an unwed mother in September 2009. Friends and relatives close to the birth mother say she wasn’t supported by the birth father and that he wasn’t interested in raising their unborn child. She told him the time had come for her to make a very difficult decision but that she was going to do what was best for the child. With two other children of her own, Veronica’s birth mother knew she was in no position to support a third child on her own and to give her the life she deserved.
In August, one month before the baby was due, Veronica’s birth mother met the couple that she selected to raise her child. They all agreed an open adoption was the best approach. Matt and Melanie Capobianco wanted Veronica to know exactly where she came from and to have a relationship with her birth family. They welcomed her birth mother and her two children into their life.
Fast forward to mid-September to a small town in northeast Oklahoma. Veronica was born a happy, healthy baby. Matt and Melanie were in the delivery room, Matt cut her umbilical cord and they were the first to hold her. Once they received clearance from the state of Oklahoma, they returned with Veronica back to their home state of South Carolina.
Several months went by, Veronica thrived. She bonded with her adoptive parents and they bonded with her. She began to smile, coo, roll over and finally sleep through the night. Then out of the blue, everyone received notice that the birth father had changed his mind. He had agreed to the adoption but now he wanted his daughter back.
Everyone was shocked. Where had he been? Why did he want her now? Only he had the answers. He filed for custody in Oklahoma and nearly two years of court battles ensued.
At the core of the birth father’s battle was a federal law known as the Indian Child Welfare Act. Because he was a member of the Cherokee Nation that meant that Veronica would be considered an ‘Indian child’.
In 1978, Congress passed the law to protect Indian children from being removed from their Indian culture and placed with white families. At the time, research showed that Native American children were being placed with non-Native families at a disproportionately high rate. For fear of losing their culture, tribes asked for federal help.
In many cases, this law seems to have served its purpose and successfully reunited Native children with their Native families, especially children without a permanent home that would otherwise remain in the foster care system without a loving, caring home.
However, in Veronica’s case it seems odd that a law would allow a healthy, thriving child to be uprooted from a stable and loving home environment. One recent case in the state of Kansas involving ICWA would not allow a birth mother to pick the family to raise her child even though the biological father, a member of the Cherokee Nation, sat in jail. Based on the law, it’s the tribe who determines the fate of an Indian child.
So as we wait for the South Carolina Supreme Court to make their ruling, we can’t help but wonder if they are going to rule in favor of the tribe or will they rule in favor of the birth mother’s decision to personally determine who raises her child? Only time will tell. It could be early summer before we know. In the meantime, we hope they rule in favor of Veronica’s best interest since that should be paramount in all adoption cases, regardless of whether a federal law applies or not.
To learn more about Veronica’s story, visit www.saveveronica.org. You can also sign a petition for federal lawmakers to look deeper into how this federal law is being used. Supporters for the adoptive parents, Veronica and her birth mother, have set up a Facebook page (www.facebook.com/saveveronicarose ) and Twitter account (www.twitter.com/save_veronica) as well.