Mental Health Professionals Speak Out

Mental Health Professionals from Across the Nation Ban Together to Protect 2-Year-Old in Adoption Battle

Charleston, SC
[2/9/12] – - – More than 80 psychologists and psychiatrists from across the country have come together to express their concern for Veronica Capobianco, a 2-year-old child that has become the center of the nation’s attention due to a custody battle.

The 80-plus-member group authored a letter that is currently being shared with lawmakers around the country. The letter states that based on decades of research, Veronica is at high risk of suffering short- and long-term psychological and emotional damage, resulting from separation from the only family she has ever known.

Matt and Melanie Capobianco began the legal process of adopting Veronica, a multi-racial child, in September 2009. Since birth, they have raised the child in their home in Charleston, South Carolina.

On New Year’s Eve, the Capobiancos were forced to turn over the child they considered their daughter to Dusten Brown, the biological father. Prior to the transfer, Veronica had never met Brown and was placed in a car and driven more than 1,000 miles from the Capobiancos.

Veronica’s transfer was a result of a South Carolina family court judge’s ruling in favor of the Indian Child Welfare Act. This federal law, authored in the late 1970s, was originally intended to preserve Native American culture by keeping Indian children with existing native families as opposed to non-Native American families.

The judge did not order a transition plan for the child fueling the national psychology and psychiatry community to come together and speak out against the way this case has been handled and the injustice against Veronica.

The letter states, “As mental health professionals, we are extremely concerned about the irreparable emotional damage this legal decision has and will continue to cause Veronica.”

It goes on to explain that developmental research is very clear regarding the deep psychological and neurological damage caused when a child, who is securely attached to her caregivers, is abruptly removed from their care.

The letter concludes that every day Veronica is away from the only parents she has ever known, the likelihood increases, as well as the severity, of numerous problematic mental health outcomes. The group reminds lawmakers that time is of the essence and that significant psychological damage is being done to this innocent child every day she is away from her adoptive parents.

Brown, who is a registered member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, filed for paternity and custody four months after the child was born. Veronica’s birth mother had no contact with Brown since three months before the child was born and only after he expressed his desire to terminate his paternal rights did she decide to give the child up for adoption.

The birth mother selected the Capobiancos to adopt her child and through an open adoption the two parties remained involved in the child’s life. It wasn’t until Veronica was four months old and after signing a waiver that he wouldn’t contest the adoption, did Brown change his mind.

He filed for custody with Oklahoma family court. The case was dismissed and jurisdiction was granted to South Carolina. Because Brown did not support the birth mother for at least a six-month period, the Capobiancos felt South Carolina law was on their side. The Brown family got the Cherokee Nation involved, who in turn utilized the Indian Child Welfare Act to remove Veronica from her adoptive family.

After learning about the Capobianco’s case, the author of the law, former U.S. Senator Jim Abourezk of South Dakota, was quoted in Charleston’s daily newspaper The Post and Courier as saying this use of the Indian Child Welfare Act is “something totally different than what we intended at the time.” Additionally, he said, “That’s a tragedy. They obviously were attached to the child and, I would assume the child was attached to them.”

Following the family court judge’s ruling, the Capobiancos appealed to the South Carolina Supreme Court. The case has been accepted but a court date has yet to be determined.

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Jessica Munday
(843) 216-0442