Amidst the conflicting claims regarding the actions and character of the parties contending for custody of almost-four year old Veronica, it is the undisputed facts that seem most significant. Dusten Brown is Veronica’s father. Dusten Brown has fought for Veronica from the time, when she was four months old, that he became aware that Veronica’s mother wanted to place her for adoption. (There is much dispute about what happened during the pregnancy and in those first four months, but no substantive dispute about what happened since then.) The adoptive parents had the opportunity to let go then, at four months, with comparatively little trauma to Veronica, but instead fought in court against Dusten, delaying the handover of Vernonica to her father until she was 27 months old. It is further undisputed that Dusten, along with his parents and wife, form a loving and successful family environment for Veronica, and that she has thrived with them for the last 19 months.
Whatever the law may say, ethically the result is clear: Veronica should remain with her family. This is true not only because it would be traumatic for her to be moved, again, although that is certainly relevant. More fundamentally, Veronica should remain with her father and family because adoption should never be used to take children away from a loving family.
Remember when adoption was supposed to about providing families for “orphan” children, or for children from abuse or neglect so severe that, after reasonable efforts to rehabilitate and preserve the family, there was no way to make the family a reasonably safe place? Unfortunately, adoption all too often has become about the desire of adoptive parents to parent, rather than the needs of a child for a home. There is nothing wrong with wanting to parent a child, but everything wrong with taking someone else’s child to do so.
The Veronica case is distinctive because of the issues surrounding tribal citizenship and the Indian Child Welfare Act, but the basic scenario of adoptive families fighting to wrest or retain children from original family members is all too commonplace. It is very unfortunate that the law too often is structured to side with adoptive parents in these settings. However, it is even more unfortunate that adoptive parents who have a child for a few days, weeks, or months before becoming aware that the original mother or father want the child, feel justified in fighting to keep what they deem as “their” child.
In this case, it is particularly unjust that the adoptive couple have sought, and the South Carolina courts granted, an order taking Veronica from her father and family, without even a best interests hearing. It is ironic that the adoptive parents make the argument that the transfer should be done quickly for Veronica’s sake, when in terms of Veronica’s best interests there is no indication that the transfer should take place at all. Indeed, if the adoptive couple had wanted to minimize Veronica’s trauma they would have returned the child to her father as soon as he sought it, when she was four months old. This case has become a revealing illustration of the determination of adoptive parents to obtain, take, and keep children, regardless of whether those children indeed have a parent and family who love and want them.
Others have noted a certain religious backdrop to this case, related primarily to organizations supporting the adoptive parents or involved in the adoption who claim a religious purpose or affiliation---specifically Christian. Without claiming to evaluate those ties, my belief as a Christian is that, regardless of what the courts decide as a matter of legal right, the adoptive parents should allow Veronica to remain with her father and family. Perhaps they can work out some access to Veronica, perhaps not: but they should honor Veronica’s family relationships. Indeed, one wonders whether the determination to wrest Veronica from her father could be viewed as a kind of coveting of another’s child, and if successful as a kind of child stealing: violations of the 8th and 10th commandments.
The Christian community—and especially the Christian adoption movement-- should see the Veronica case as an opportunity to establish several fundamental principles, without which adoption becomes exploitation and sin. Adoption should not be used as a means to take children from their original family when that family loves and wants them, and is able to provide a positive and safe environment for them. In regard to the tribal aspects of the case, it needs to be made clear that the Christian community has no desire to use the power of the state or law to wrest children away from their original communities for the sake of “Christianizing” them or separating them from their birth cultures, as was done so often in the past. This case is an opportunity for the Christian adoption movement to clearly repudiate the shameful history of the use of adoption and other means to accomplish a kind of cultural genocide. This case is also an opportunity to make clear that there is a strong priority for children to be raised, whenever possible, by their biological parents, and that therefore biological parents have priority over prospective adoptive parents. Once these priorities are established, then adoption can be reserved for those instances when it is truly needed for the benefit of children.
In regard to the fate of Veronica herself, of course, I lack access to all of the facts. I know nothing except what is in the public record. I can only hope and pray that the courts and all of the parties will ultimately be guided to a just result that will truly be in Veronica’s best interests. It has been immensely saddening, however, to see how willing so much of the media has been to ratify as normal the sense of entitlement to Veronica that the adoptive parents are expressing, and so unwilling to consider the claims of a father who has for so long sought nothing more than to raise his own daughter. There is something amiss in our cultural concept of adoption that is begging to be corrected.