A Tale of Two Headlines: Adoption and the Indian Child Welfare Act
By Shannon LC Cate on January 13, 2012
BlogHer Original Post
Two-Year Old Illegally Taken at Birth, Reunited with Her Father
Young Girl Taken by Biological Father Two Years After Adoption
Fox News had a choice of headlines here and went with the second. But which is the truth?
Here are the basic facts:
Baby Veronica was placed at birth with prospective adoptive parents while her biological father was serving the military overseas. He had signed a waiver to his parental rights with the understanding that the baby’s mother would raise her -- not that she would place the baby in a stranger adoption hundreds of miles from home.
The father returned to the U.S. four months after the birth and discovered his daughter had been placed for adoption.* He went to court to stop the finalization and thus began a court battle that ended only recently, returning the girl to him.
The law the father relied on to support his case is not “little known” (as the Fox report claims) but quite well known by adoption professionals. It is called the Indian Child Welfare Act. Since the 1970s, this law has protected tribal rights to American Indian children by giving the tribe ultimate authority over whether or not a child can be placed for adoption outside the tribe. Given that American Indian tribes are sovereign political and legal entities, this is only reasonable. Given the history of Indian children being taken in masses (often without consent) from their families and placed in government “orphanages” and “boarding schools” as a means of willfully undermining Indian culture and social welfare, it is the least the United States can do to uphold this law now.
This is the kind of case that comes up from time to time -- the kind of case that leads people who don’t know anything else about adoption to assume that it’s a risky business in which parents can lose a child they thought was their own after months or even years of living as a family.
The reporter here does nothing to educate people about the falsehood of that fear, but instead keeps exclaiming about how you always have to worry about the adoption being reversed. At any time, someone could come and take your child away!
But not only is this untrue about adoption in general, it does not reflect the facts in this particular case.
The prospective adoptive parents learned at least as early as four months into their custody of Veronica that the law had not been followed. That is sad indeed for them and for Veronica, but it is hardly a case of an adoption being “reversed.”
On average, an adoption is not finalized until a child has been living with a prospective adoptive family for six months. Here, the biological father began his appeal before the adoption was final. It was not reversed. It never happened. From four months old at least, the prospective parents in this case knew that there was a good chance of Veronica going back to her father.
If the adoptive parents had really been concerned about Veronica’s best interest, they would have handed her over right then and there, knowing that they had broken the law and were bound to lose her eventually (let alone that it was, at that point, simply wrong to keep her -- as wrong as it could ever be to illegally take a child from her family). Four months old would certainly have been an easier age than two years for Veronica to transition from one family to another.
Short of returning Veronica to her father, the foster parents might at the very least have allowed him regular visitation so that when the time came he wouldn’t be a stranger and they wouldn’t be “the only family she had ever known.” As it happened, they orchestrated her loss themselves and made it worse for her than it need have been.
(It’s worth noting too, that even if they had somehow won the court battle and maintained custody of Veronica, knowing the biological father who loved her and wanted her in his life would have been a boon to the child. Open adoption, whenever possible, is increasingly acknowledged to be best for adopted people.)
Finally, this report is a glaring example of the double standard that applies to mainstream tales of adoption. If it is a tragedy for a toddler to leave the “only family she has ever known” and go a thousand miles to live with a new one (one she is related to by blood, and with whom she shares an ethnicity), why is it a “miracle” and a happy homecoming when a toddler leaves the only family she’s ever known (even if it was a foster family) to go halfway around the world and be adopted by people who not only don’t share her blood or ethnicity, but don’t even speak her language?
If we are going to celebrate international toddler (and even older child) adoption, we cannot decry the ICWA.
But really, Fox News, we can’t decry anything at all on the basis of misinformation. And this report is full of it.
* Some readers have commented below that the father was not deployed at the time of Veronica's birth. I have been ubable to find a reliable source for his exact date of deployment.