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Five parents in two states fighting in the highest courts in the land over who will raise one 3-year-old child. Even the Cherokee Nation has gotten involved in the case.
Meanwhile, Veronica is growing up while the custody case drags on month after month.
While lawyers on both sides are filing briefs, making arguments and issuing public statements to the press, Veronica has gone from a 27-month-old toddler sleeping in a crib to a little girl sleeping in a big-girl bed who will turn 4 in September.
The current question being bandied about in the court is what is in the “best interest of the child,” another legal phrase.
And yet, what is in the best interest of the child may be as simple as creating a life with all five parents in it, according to local therapists. Instead of isolating her from any of her attachments, some mechanism that allows all five parents in her life may be the best answer.
Adults should be adults
Cynthia Cupit Swenson, a professor at MUSC’s Family Service Research Center said it’s time for the adults to start acting like adults. Veronica shouldn’t be isolated from any of the people she has come to know, either from her life with Matt and Melanie Capobianco on James Island or with her biological father and his wife, Dusten and Robin Brown in Oklahoma.
Local legal scholars have said that the most recent S.C. Supreme Court ruling means that there will be no more hearings about this case in Family Court. The ruling ordered the court to finalize the adoption of Veronica by the Capobiancos and to terminate the parental rights of Brown.
The case could be at an end. Just like the Capobiancos were forced to do 18 months ago when Brown claimed parental rights under the Indian Child Welfare Act and was awarded custody, the Browns could be forced to let Veronica go back to the life she led for the first 27 months of her life with the family selected by her birth mother.
The question of who she will live with next lies in the hands of the S.C. Supreme Court that has given lawyers until Monday to issue arguments for a rehearing of a decision that could bring this case swiftly to an end.
If and when that happens, the adults will move on, but once again, Veronica will be faced with a massive change in her life, leaving her birth father, his wife and the horses, dogs and little pink room she has become aware of in the last 18 months in Nowata, Okla.
Life gets bigger
“It’s time for Veronica to have a really big life,” Swenson said. “She will have to get to know her past again, and it’s critical that she not be isolated from her birth father because she has become close to him.”
She thinks Veronica could come out a winner in this — with five parents including her birth mother, Christy Maldonado — giving her love and attention. But it will take work, and stifling anger and hurt on the part of the adults after all the legal wrangling. It’s essential if Veronica is to have a happy well-adjusted life.
“Little kids will handle stress exactly the way that the adults do,” she said.
Swenson is both a professional psychologist and a friend of the Capobiancos and was there when Veronica left with a stranger she had never met.
“They need to have no drama here,” Swenson said. “If everyone is interacting in a positive way, she will be fine.”
Bonnie Compton is a child and adolescent therapist at the Life Guidance Center in West Ashley and the host of a weekly Internet parenting program, “Whole Hearted Parenting.” She has no connection to the case but said that the most important thing for a child is that they feel safe and secure. She said that one of the biggest issues Veronica may face is one of trust.
“Her trust is not going to be the same as it was. The bonding process is a process where an infant learns to trust. Then babies learn to separate as toddlers and that terrifies them, and they need to have consistent parents.”
As a preschooler, Veronica will be much more aware of her environment. There are the standard monsters and nightmares that go with that age, and Veronica’s many changes means she faces more layers to those fears.
At almost 4, Compton said that the Capobiancos will have to distinguish between normal fears for her age, and fears brought on by the many changes in her life.
While it may sound daunting to worry about how to help Veronica feel secure again, Compton said what so many people say about children: they are resilient.
When they start asking questions, be open with the answers and don’t overwhelm the child with too much information. As long as a child feels safe her or she will grow and thrive.
Those questions may be ones Veronica may revisit at various stages of her life, or she may never worry about them again. Compton said that just depends on the child. But she does advise having a professional help ease the transition.
Have a plan
The best thing for the Capobiancos to do is to have a plan in place to gradually transition back into Veronica’s life, something their public statement on Friday said clearly: “We are committed to making Veronica’s transition sensitive and gradual. We have asked Dusten again for visitation during this interim period to ease the transition, and we have volunteered to go to Oklahoma. We have met with several child-welfare experts and submitted to the courts a detailed transition plan that the experts and Veronica’s guardian ad litem agree will make Veronica’s homecoming successful.”
They have been rebuffed before by Brown. They were allowed only one phone call to Veronica after Brown took her Oklahoma and have had no contact with her since.
The Browns are protective about the current state of affairs. On Thursday, they issued their own statement saying “This child has been back with her family for 19 months and to tear her away from us, the family she loves and the only family she knows or remembers, would be devastating to her. ... We have contacted our U.S. Senator and encourage each of you to do the same, in order to help us keep Veronica in her home, which is a safe, loving and nurturing environment. We will never give up the fight to raise our daughter.”
Maldonado, the birth mother, has a stake in this process, too. She wants to be close to her daughter even though she was giving her up for adoption. She now thinks that Brown is trying to use “best interests of the child” as leverage and has a message for him and the Cherokee Nation: “if the transition to come is at all bumpy, it will be because of Dusten Brown’s unconscionable decision to immediately sever all contact between the two families.”
Reach Stephanie Harvin at 937-5557.