Law
4:47 am
Tue September 24, 2013

Okla. Court: 'Baby Veronica' Should Go To Adoptive Parents

Originally published on Tue September 24, 2013 9:13 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The child known as Baby Veronica is back with her adoptive parents. Her mother gave her up for adoption to a couple in South Carolina. That led to a U.S. Supreme Court case when Veronica's biological father challenged the adoption and took custody for a time. He is Cherokee from Oklahoma.

NPR's Hansi Lo Wang has been covering the case. Hi, Hansi.

HANSI LO WANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what made this different than other adoption custody battles?

WANG: What makes it difference is this law, 1978 law known as Indian Child Welfare Act. It was passed to keep American-Indian children with American-Indian families. So the biological father of Veronica, his name is Dusten Brown - a registered member of the Cherokee Nation - he did not agree with this adoption. And so he tried to use the Indian Child Welfare Act to claim parental rights.

But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that he cannot use this law because he had actually had given up his parental rights before Veronica was born, in a text message to the biological mother.

INSKEEP: A text message, OK. So the law does not apply here and so that means Veronica goes back to the couple in South Carolina. She's not a baby anymore, is she?

WANG: No, she's four years old.

INSKEEP: Four years old, so she has some idea of what's going on around her. And this must have been an emotional moment for everybody involved.

WANG: It was. I talked to lawyer Alvino McGill. She's an attorney for the Capobiancos, that's the adoptive couple. And she says that they've been on a roller coaster of emotions since this whole legal battle has begun. I couldn't reach Dusten Brown or his attorney, but I did speak with the Cherokee Nation's attorney general. It's the same thing on all sides here.

INSKEEP: And the adoptive couple did have Veronica for quite some time, is that right? So...

WANG: That's right.

INSKEEP: ...Veronica may have some memory or knowledge of this.

WANG: She was with them after she was born. And was with them around two years old was with when she's left with Dusten Brown.

INSKEEP: So is this case over? Is it finished? Is Veronica going to stay with the adoptive couple?

WANG: The short answer is we don't know for sure. We know that she is en route to South Carolina as of last night, with the Capobiancos. We know that Dusten Brown, the biological father, willingly, peacefully transferred custody last night. And we know that the attorney general for the Cherokee Nation says they're going to assess the new options today, to see what other ways that Dusten Brown can still regain custody of Veronica.

But the main point that the attorney general of the Cherokee Nation really wanted to make was that this case - they may have lost the battle so far for the custody of Veronica - but they have one a war on the Indian Child Welfare Act. And it's brought national attention to this case. His name is Todd Hembree, and this is what he told me.

TODD HEMBREE: It has opened the awareness to couples and adoption agencies throughout the country that, before you set your sights on a Native American child, you better dot your I's and crosses your T's; because we stand ready and able and willing to defend those Native children's rights.

INSKEEP: Which they're able to do in some cases, not this case, because of the Indian Child Welfare Act. Why is there such a law saying that children should stay with American-Indian families whenever possible?

WANG: There was a long history of American-Indian children being intentionally taken out of American-Indian homes, and being placed upon native families through adoptions. It was a long practice in place. And in 1978, the U.S. Congress passed this Law to prevent that from happening again.

INSKEEP: In this case, it does happen. In this case, custody was surrendered according to the U.S. Supreme Court. What are all sides doing if anything to make to make sure that the Veronica, the child here, has a smooth transition?

WANG: Well, this is the issue that's on everyone's mind. She had some meetings with the adoptive couple, the Capobiancos, for the past few weeks. And so, she has had more recent contact with them. And the Capobiancos said that they hope that she will continue to have her biological father and the Cherokee Nation as part of her life.

INSKEEP: NPR's Hansi Lo Wang, thanks very much.

WANG: Thanks, Steve.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.