You cannot save a culture by harming its children

Almost 250,000 children are removed from their family of origin because of neglect or abuse each year. Here’s the CAPTA (2010) definition of abuse and neglect:
Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or an act or failure to act, which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.

Abuse is traumatic
Child neglect and abuse are typically complex and chronic, leading to complex psychological trauma responses, including pervasive depression and anxiety, anger and irritability, inability to feel safe, strong physical responses to trauma reminders (triggers), insomnia, numbed positive emotional response and difficulty feeling close to others, extremely negative and irrational self-image, and avoidance. Treatment for post-traumatic symptoms can be very helpful and must include connections to supportive others such as a therapist or family. Unfortunately, the trauma itself makes it difficult to connect with others. It’s a catch-22. The strong relationships abused and neglected kids need are hard to come by. Luckily, there are great therapists, wonderful supportive social workers and family members and amazing foster families to help with the recovery.

Removal is traumatic
Even when a child is removed to a wonderful situation, being removed from even the most abusive family is traumatic. And though there are wonderful, caring social workers, foster families, and others to help traumatized kids, there are also abusive and corrupt social workers, foster families, and therapists. When additional trauma is heaped upon the original trauma, recovery is even more difficult.

Children should be in the most familiar setting possible
When a child is removed, the least traumatic removal will include people already known to the child. When loving family members or close friends are willing to care for the child, the removal trauma is minimized. Barring that, being geographically close and keeping routines and other social contacts stable is best for the child. If s/he can stay in the same school and the same neighborhood, routines and people are stable. Stability is key in trauma recovery.

However, sometimes there’s no way for the removed child to remain in the same neighborhood or school. Such transitions are traumatic. Trauma’s effects on the nervous system are life-long. Over time, with a loving, supportive, structured foster home, the effects of the removal trauma, as well as the original abuse and neglect, can be moderated, though never erased.

Breaking an additional attachment causes multiplicative harm
A child can actually survive and even thrive with love and stability. Imagine, though, that you’re that child. You’ve survived abuse and neglect – and then a traumatic removal. Still, life is good. You’re in a loving family. Your parents are foster parents, but they’re still Mom and Dad. Your siblings are foster siblings, but, to you, they’re just your sisters and brothers. You’ve lived there for years. You love your school and your friends, and pets. But now you’re moved to another home. Kids take improper responsibility for traumatic events, so from your perspective, you must’ve been bad. You’ve been rejected. You thought the world was safe and that things would be good for you, but you were wrong.

The harm of the initial trauma comes flooding back. The child may not even consciously remember it, but the nervous system remembers. It’s not in a child’s best interest to be moved from a long-term, stable placement.

It’s extremely damaging to move the child after a long-term, secure attachment. Because abused and neglected kids are more likely to abuse or neglect their own children, the children they traumatize are more likely to continue the cycle of abuse. You cannot save a culture by traumatizing its children.

My, how times have change, eh BIA?

These quotes are from the written statement accompanied the oral testimony of BIA Acting Deputy Commissioner Raymond V. Butler, who was Blackfeet Indian.

“The circumstances of some of the children in the category established under (c) present additional problems. One example is the children who are eligible for membership in an Indian tribe and who have never lived on a reservation or in an Indian community and, so far as can be seen, are themselves identified with their non-Indian heritage. Delays in establishing tribal membership and possible intervention by a tribe to which they have no ties, could be of great disservice to these children.”

“Family members, whether extended or nuclear-family, may not always be the placement of preference. Many relatives do not wish to take on additional child rearing responsibilities, some do not wish to have the interference by the natural parents which almost always results. The child’s ‘best interest’ should be the compelling reason for the selection of a placement.’”

“Aside from the appropriateness of including such restrictions in Federal legislation, there are certain problems about some of the preferences as stated. In 103(b)(5) ‘Any foster home run by an Indian family’ does not provide any safeguards as to the character and stability of the family and their standing in the community, two characteristics that are extremely important to a foster child’s development.”

“Sec. 102(c). This would require every placement by a parent to be executed by a Judge. Many parents are capable of making placements of their children without the invasion of privacy by a Court. In States where adoptive agreements may be made by natural parent and adoptive parent before filing the adoption petition, this provision would require treatment for Indian parents, to be different from that of others and raises questions of discrimination.”

“(2) This would seem to imply that all Indian-licensed foster homes would have first preference for any child — how would competing claims be settled?”

“A placement may be ‘invalid or legally defective’ yet its continuance could be essential for the child’s well-being.”

“Sec. 3. The declaration of policy seems an instance of Federal-government imposed standards on Indian tribes. It also seems to assume that a single set of standards is applicable to all Indian tribes. Rather, there is a great variation amend the tribes as to desirable standards. A primary concern amend many Indian tribes is to set their own standards.”

“Of course concern is the apparent inclusion in the scope of the Act of child placement by parents. Intervention in child placement by a Court or other government body, in the absence of established child abuse, neglect, abandonment, or delinquent acts by the child is generally considered an invasion of family privacy.”

– Johnston Moore

Johnston Moore is co-founder and Executive Director of Home Forever, which advocates for permanency and justice for children in the foster care system. He and his wife Terri have adopted seven children from Los Angeles County foster care, including their two sons who were nearly taken away from them against their wishes because they are 1/16 Native American.

All national & international child welfare guidelines emphasize Best Interest

…but the new ICWA regulations deny children a best interest hearing.

The new Bureau of Indian Affairs guidelines for Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) implementation disallow a best-interest hearing in child welfare cases involving Indian American children, assuming that the best interest is always with the tribe. In contrast, all major child welfare guidelines emphasize the primacy of the best interest standard. The Hague Convention, the United Nations, the American Psychological Association, and the National Association of Social Workers’ guidelines are included here.

The American Psychological Association guidelines indicate that children, parents and the state all have interests in child welfare investigations. The first guideline emphasizes that the child’s best interest is the primary purpose of an evaluation.

Guideline 1: The primary purpose of the evaluation is to provide relevant, professionally sound results or opinions in matters where a child’s health and welfare may have been and/or may be harmed.

The UN convention on the Rights of the Child argues that the best interests of children “must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them” (Article 3).

Non-discrimination (Article 2): The Convention applies to all children, whatever their race, religion or abilities; whatever they think or say, whatever type of family they come from. It doesn’t matter where children live, what language they speak, what their parents do, whether they are boys or girls, what their culture is, whether they have a disability or whether they are rich or poor. No child should be treated unfairly on any basis.

Best interests of the child (Article 3): The best interests of children must be the primary concern in making decisions that may affect them. All adults should do what is best for children. When adults make decisions, they should think about how their decisions will affect children. This particularly applies to budget, policy and law makers.

The National Association of Social Workers emphasize that client well-being is the social worker’s first responsibility.

“Services are intended to protect children and their well-being, strengthen families, and provide permanency when children cannot safely remain with their families. Child welfare services should be strength based; family centered; trauma informed; and respectful of a family’s culture, values, customs, beliefs and needs.”

The United Nations Guidelines for Children in Alternative Care emphasize dignity and respect for children, stability, permanency and safety. They specifically mention the best interests of the child 25 times. A key portion states that:

11 All decisions concerning alternative care should take full account of the desirability, in principle, of maintaining the child as close as possible to his/her habitual place of residence, in order to facilitate contact and potential reintegration with his/her family and to minimize disruption of his/her educational, cultural and social life.

12 Decisions regarding children in alternative care, including those in informal care, should have due regard for the importance of ensuring children a stable home and of meeting their basic need for safe and continuous attachment to their caregivers, with permanency generally being a key goal.

13 Children must be treated with dignity and respect at all times and must benefit from effective protection from abuse, neglect and all forms of exploitation, whether on the part of care providers, peers or third parties, in what- ever care setting they may find themselves.

14 Removal of a child from the care of the family should be seen as a measure of last resort and should, whenever possible, be temporary and for the shortest possible duration. Removal decisions should be regularly reviewed and the child’s return to parental care, once the original causes of removal have been resolved or have disappeared, should be in the best interests of the child, in keeping with the assessment foreseen in paragraph 49 below.

15 Financial and material poverty, or conditions directly and uniquely imputable to such poverty, should never be the only justification for the removal of a child from parental care, for receiving a child into alternative care, or for pre- venting his/her reintegration, but should be seen as a signal for the need to provide appropriate support to the family.

The Hague Convention makes very clear that a child’s best interest is the fundamental consideration in child welfare decisions. 

Article 1 (a) to establish safeguards to ensure that intercountry adoptions take place in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights as recognized in international law;

“Convinced of the necessity to take measures to ensure that intercountry adoptions are made in the best interests of the child and with respect for his or her fundamental rights, and to prevent the abduction, the sale of, or traffic in children…”

4b) have determined, after possibilities for placement of the child within the State of origin have been given due consideration, that an intercountry adoption is in the child’s best interests;

16d) determine, on the basis in particular of the reports relating to the child and the prospective adoptive parents, whether the envisaged placement is in the best interests of the child.

Article 21 (1) Where the adoption is to take place after the transfer of the child to the receiving State and it appears to the Central Authority of that State that the continued placement of the child with the prospective adoptive parents is not in the child’s best interests, such Central Authority shall take the measures necessary to protect the child, in particular –

Article 24

The recognition of an adoption may be refused in a Contracting State only if the adoption is manifestly contrary to its public policy, taking into account the best interests of the child.

The BIA should ensure that ICWA guidelines comply with these international and national standards by assuring each Indian American child’s best interest will be heard in court.

Bonnie F. Cleaveland, PhD ABPP

Clinical Psychologist

Charleston, SC

Attachments:

APA Guidelines

Hague Convention text

NASW Standards

UN Guidelines

UN CCRC

American Psychological Association (2013). Guidelines for psychological evaluations in child protection matters. American Psychologist 68(1) 20-31. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/practice/guidelines/child-protection.pdf

Hague Conference on Private International Law (1993). Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. Retrieved from http://travel.state.gov/content/adoptionsabroad/en/hague-convention/hague-convention-text.html

National Association of Social Workers (2012). NASW Standards for Social Work Practice in Child Welfare. Retrieved from http://www.socialworkers.org/practice/standards/childwelfarestandards2012.pdf

United Nations (2012). Guidelines for the alternative care of children. Retrieved from http://www.unicef.org/protection/alternative_care_Guidelines-English(2).pdf

United Nations (1990). Convention on the rights of the child. Retrieved from http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/ProfessionalInterest/crc.pdf

Proposed Federal Regulations Prevent Best Interest Hearings for Indian Children

The Bureau of Indian Affairs proposed new regulations in March, 2015 that would prevent state courts from considering a child’s best interest. Further, it restricts testimony from psychologist experts in trauma, attachment, developmental psychology, adoption and foster care, or anything else, unless they also have knowledge of the specific tribe’s customs. See the “links” page for the links to the new proposed regulations, the text of ICWA, press releases, and information on children’s rights.

I have no doubt that tribes want what’s best for children. Unfortunately, tribes believe that the best interest of the child is always with the tribe, and that other factors, such as abuse or neglect, are not as powerful a factor as being with the tribe. Part of the reason for this belief is a 1994 pilot study called the Split Feather Study. The study is not scientifically sound, and has come to some terrible conclusions for children. Please see the 13-minute presentation on this website, under “Split Feather: Scientific Analysis” for a detailed critique of the study.

The public comment period lasts through May 18. If you can be at any of these meetings, please speak up and demand that children’s best interests should be the primary consideration in every hearing every time.Screen Shot 2015-03-27 at 2.08.57 PM

INDIAN CHILD WELFARE ACT

September 7, 2013

In a recent blog post on the National Council for Research on Women, Dr. Laura Briggs asserts that the feminist attorneys who sided with the adoptive father in the Baby Veronica case were misguided.  I disagree with Dr. Briggs’ assertion[1] that feminists are “on the wrong side” of the Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl case. The amicus brief Dr. Briggs cited, by Joan Hollinger and Elizabeth Bartholet, made the legal case that an “unwed mother with sole custody of her children should have a due process right to make decisions concerning her children”[2].  They noted that, in most states, a biological link between unwed father and child doesn’t define a parent.  Instead, an actual relationship between father and child is required.  Those ideas make sense, and, in fact, The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) thought so, too. [3]

Here’s why the Supreme Court’s ruling is good for women:

  1. The Baby Veronica SCOTUS ruling improved biological parents’ abilities to choose adoptive placements for their child.
  2. The Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978 (ICWA)[4] has the unintended consequence of harming Native American children.  The best interest of the child should be paramount in every custody case every time.
  3. The ruling also made it less likely that a parent can change his or her mind late in the adoption proceedings and claim a child she or he had previously relinquished.

The facts of the case

But first, let’s review the facts of the case.   Christinna Maldonado, a non-native (and part Hispanic) single mother of two became pregnant by her fiancé, Dusten Brown.  However, she ended the relationship while she was pregnant.  Ms. Maldonado asked for support for the baby, but Brown demanded that she marry him, or he would not pay support.  She declined.  They communicated via text, and she asked him if he would rather pay child support or relinquish his rights.  He decided to relinquish his rights and did so legally.  Maldonado identified a South Carolina couple, Matt and Melanie Capobianco, and an open adoption resulted.  After Veronica had been with her adoptive parents four months, Brown changed his mind and decided he wanted to raise his daughter.

Court battles in SC ensued, and eventually the court ruled that two year-old Veronica must be turned over to her biological father, Dusten Brown.  On December 31, 2011, SC adoptive parents Matt and Melanie Capobianco handed 27-month old Veronica to Brown, and they continued their litigation.   The SC Supreme Court ruled that he was not considered a parent because he didn’t attempt to take responsibility for his biological daughter until she was four months old.  Even so, because of the ICWA’s additional protections to Native American peoples, Brown would maintain custody of Veronica.

Subsequently, however, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that ICWA did not apply to Dusten Brown because he had never had custody and was therefore not an existing Indian family.

SCOTUS remanded the case to the Supreme Court of South Carolina, which directed the Family Court to immediately finalize the Capobiancos’ adoption of Veronica[5].  The Family Court finalized the adoption on July 31, 2013, approving a week-long transition plan for Veronica to make the transition as smooth as possible.  However, Brown did not show up for the transition plan and made clear that he would not turn Veronica over, despite being arrested for Custodial Interference.

The Law of Unintended Consequences

The Baby Veronica case revealed two tragedies of the unintended consequences of ICWA.  In this case, the law gave a shirking dad more rights than a biological mother.  Second, despite aiming to help Indian children, ICWA unintentionally harms many children. [6] [7]

Parents should be able to choose adoptive placements for their children and native children should have the same rights as non-native children.   However, under the ICWA, Native American children have fewer rights.

Put this in personal terms.  If you had a child to be placed for adoption, and the father was uninvolved, you would want to choose the parents of your child.  You would have that right… but ONLY IF you created that child with someone whose lineage couldn’t be traced back to certain Native American people.  If the biological father were Indian, even if not involved in a tribe or enrolled in a tribe, the tribe can step in and determine “best interest” for your child.

More shocking is that even if both parents (Indian or not) chose and agreed upon an adoptive placement for their child, the tribe must be notified and may step in to deny the placement chosen by the parents and place a child an in Indian home.  ICWA lays out specific placement preferences. “In any adoptive placement of an Indian child under State law, a preference shall be given, in the absence of good cause to the contrary, to a placement with (1) a member of the child’s extended family; (2) other members of the Indian child’s tribe; or (3) other Indian families.”

Even more shocking, if you were to be raped, decided to place the child for adoption, and the biological father is an enrolled Native American, the tribe can step in determine where the child is placed, including with the “father’s” family!

Do you think it’s unlikely that a tribe would ignore parents’ wishes?  You’d be wrong.  It happens in infant adoption cases, and it happens even when children are older.   The tribe has claimed children in numerous cases, several of which are high profile.  Fortunately, in many cases, appeals courts overturn the tribe’s attempts to take a child.[8] [9]  [10] [11][12] [13] [14] [15]

When SCOTUS ruled in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl that ICWA doesn’t apply to a child who was never in an “Indian family,” a non-native mother will actually, finally, be able to choose a placement for her infant child without interference from an Indian tribe.

ICWA is meant to provide special protection to Indian Children.  Instead, it places specific burdens on Indian Children. [16] Unfortunately, too many cases have shown that the tribe is more concerned with keeping its children than with keeping its children safe.[17] [18] Because of the shortage of Indian foster and adoptive homes[19] [20] [21], Indian children are often placed with known substance abusers or known sexual and physical abusers who are Native rather than a safe non-Native home.[22] [23] [24] [25] [26]

Why would the tribes place Native American children in harm’s way?  It’s chilling to realize that the courts have interpreted ICWA to mean that the best interest of an Indian child is different from the best interests of other children.  What we might think of as best interest of a child, such as a stable environment, basic necessities, and lots of love and attention, is not what ICWA means by best interest.  For example, consider the following in a case before the Montana Supreme Court.  “…(W)hile the best interests of the child is an appropriate and significant factor in custody cases under state law, it is an improper test to use in ICWA cases because the ICWA expresses the presumption that it is in an Indian child’s bestinterests to be placed in accordance with the statutory preferences.”[27]

The ruling protects adoptions, and, as a result, children

In order for domestic adoptions to be a viable course of action for giving needful children homes, it’s important that parents not be able to change their minds after a child has bonded with his or her adoptive family.  For example, one NA biological mother who voluntarily relinquished her infant for adoption attempted to regain custody two years later.[28] Even if unsuccessful, this sort of legal battle places serious financial and emotional burdens on both families and, therefore, the child.

Dusten Brown didn’t want responsibility for Veronica.  He signed away his rights.  But then, inexplicably, when she had been with her adoptive family four months, he wanted her.  Under SC law, he would have no rights because of abandonment and because he signed legal papers relinquishing his rights.  Had Brown not been a member of the Cherokee National of Oklahoma, there would have been no invocation of ICWA. Without ICWA, when he abandoned his child and signed away his rights, Veronica would have been happily adopted in SC with the Capobiancos, her birth mother, and her half-siblings, in a lovely open adoption.

Bonnie Cleaveland, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Charleston, South Carolina.


Footnotes

[1] Briggs, L. (2103). Feminists and the Baby Veronica Case.  Retrieved from http://www.ncrw.org/public-forum/real-deal-blog/guest-blog-feminists-and-baby-veronica-case

[2] Hollinger, et al. Amicus Brief Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl U.S.  12-399 (February, 2013)

[3] Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 570 U.S. (2013)

[4] Indian Child Welfare Act,
25 U.S.C. (1978)

[5] Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, 731 SE 2d 550 – SC: Supreme Court 2012

[6] (2013, June 30).  Indian child welfare laws should be for children.  The Bismarck Tribune.

[7] (2013, February 5).  Native Americans; For sake of a theory, law tears at adoptive families.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

[8] Adams, B. (2010, September 28). Navajo Nation can’t fight adoption of tribal kids.  The Salt Lake Tribune.  Retrieved from http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/home/50372614-76/navajo-nation-state-child.html.csp

[9] McCarty, M.  (2010, July 4). ‘Don’t take my child,’ a mother begs;

A California woman prepares for a custody battle with a Dayton man. Dayton Daily News.  Retrieved from http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/news/local/dont-take-my-child-california-mother-begs/nNFCC/

[10] Klien, G. (2009, August 15). Mother invokes Indian law in victory over Marin child welfare authorities.  Marin Independent Journal.

[11] (2008, December 16). Couple to appeal for return of Indian baby. South Jordan, UT.UPI.

[12] (2007, August 29) Children, Discrimination and the Indian Child Welfare Act. U.S. Newswire.

[13] Dvorak, T. (2005, July 6) American Indian mother frustrated by laws that let tribe block adoption. The Associated Press.

[14] Miller, J.  (2004, September 3) Applicability of Indian Child Welfare Act to private adoption explored by NYC family court.  The Daily Record of Rochester.

[15] (2013, July 15).  Whiteshield Pleads Guilty in Death of Spirit Lake Toddler.  Valleynewslive.com. Retrieved from  http://www.valleynewslive.com/story/22622418/update-lawmakers-calling-for-action-in-spirit-lake-child-death

[16] (2007, October 9). A Tribal Question;

Native American children should not be harmed by a law intended to preserve Indian families.  The Washington Post.

[17] Williams, T.  (2012, September 19).  A Tribe’s Epidemic of Child Sex Abuse, Minimized for Years.  The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/20/us/us-steps-in-as-child-sex-abuse-pervades-sioux-tribe.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[18] Williams, T. (2012, July 7).  Officials See Child Welfare Dangers on a North Dakota Indian Reservation.  The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/08/us/child-welfare-dangers-seen-on-spirit-lake-reservation.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[19] (2012, July 15).Race Should not be Overriding Factor; In Adoption Process, only one Cultural Identity is Key.  The Daily Oklahoman.

[20] (2012, March 28) Goveror Susana Martinez: Foster Care System Needs More Native American Foster Families.  States News Service.

[21] (2004, September 4) Indian children need foster care.  Deseret Morning News.  Retrieved from http://www.deseretnews.com/article/595089155/Indian-children-need-foster-care.html?pg=all

[22] Collinsworth, A.  (October 4, 1997). Report details child’s abuse, death.  Edmondsun.com Retrieved from http://www.edmondsun.com/local/x519222174/Report-details-child-s-abuse-death.

[23] Kelly, A. (2011, January 27). Hearing in foster child’s death yields no decision about trial.  The Oklahoman.

[24] Cunnif, M.  (2008, April 4). Toddler’s Killing by Convict Leads DSHS, Yakamas to Update Caregiver Policies.  Spokesman Review.

[25] Manson, P. and Sanchez, J.  (2008, February 20) Abused siblings now have loving home – and $1 million from feds The Salt Lake Tribune.  Retrieved from http://archive.sltrib.com/article.php?id=8310879&itype=NGPSID

[26] Clay, N. and Ellis, R.  (2007, October 4). U.S. law pushed boy home before he died; Tribe fought state’s move to cut mom’s parental rights. The Oklahoman.

[27] In re CH, 997 P. 2d 776 – Montana Supreme Court 2000.

[28] Harrelson, G. (2007, May 4). A case of two mothers.  St. Paul Pioneer Press.

WHY WE FIGHT

I’m proud to serve with a dedicated group of volunteers working for child welfare.  We came together because of the Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl case, and we’re fighting together again to Bring Sonya Home.  We don’t have a name, or a charter, or a meeting place.   We do have members with very different talents – we’re designers, photographers, child welfare advocates, attorneys, PR professionals, stay at home moms, and psychologists….   We’re white and brown and all colors in between—and biological parents, adoptive parents, and non-parents.  We’re liberals and conservatives.  We’re Christian, Buddhist, atheist, Hindu, Jewish, and we’re all over the country. It’s a group that may not be put together for any other cause, but fighting for these two little girls has bonded us.

Our group grew organically out of a case that outraged people across the country, and even throughout the world.   It grew primarily through Facebook.   And many of us, though strangers before the battles, have found wonderful friends who share our values.

Our first case

In Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl, a child whose biological mother hand-picked an adoptive couple after the biological father refused to support the child, but four months later, changed his mind.  He took the child when she was two.  The case ascended all the way to the Supreme Court of the US, which returned her to her adoptive parents when she was four.

The second case

Our second case started three months after the happy resolution of the first case.  Nine year-old Sonya Hodgin of Dickson, TN had a pretty rough first year of her life, being passed around to various caregivers.  She settled, though, with Kim and David Hodgin, and was with them for eight years.  Her parents adopted her while her biological father was in prison; his rights were automatically terminated because he was serving a 15 year prison sentence.  However, when he testified in a murder investigation and his sentence was reduced to 7.5 years, the adoption was reversed and, after he got out of prison (and a few years after that) the courts ordered the nine year old Sonya turned over to him, though she had never spent any time with him since she was an infant.

Our work

I can’t speak for everyone in the group – again, we have no stated mission or any sort of organization, but I think the unifying principle is that we want children’s rights to be considered above any adult’s right in every single custody, foster or adoption case.  We’re child-centric.  When a transition from a stable, loving home is necessary, the child’s mental health should be considered every time, and a gradual, sensitive transition should occur.

Democracy

Interestingly, as our group of volunteers came together on these two cases, a core, but smaller, group of activists formed on the opposing side of the issue, advocating for the fathers in both cases. The internet has been a major force for organization on each side.  Facebook seems to have been absolutely essential in our communications, allowing us to work in unison. Petitions on Change.org ensue.  Our messages have spread quickly through our social networks, and the populace gets to decide how it feels about each case.

As a group, we write to politicians and bureaucrats. Although political systems are often corrupt, there is still influence in numbers, and politicians listen when their voters speak. It’s the beauty of the intersection of the democratic system with Facebook.  We can disagree, and do it in a civil manner, using facts to bolster our opinions.

In Adoptive Couple vs. Baby Girl, our activism literally changed case law, and made it more likely that Native American children will be treated not as property of the tribe but as people who deserve their rights to be considered first. We hope that our activism in the Sonya Hodgin case will, similarly, encourage the courts to always consider the best interest of the child first in every case, every time.

Bonnie Cleaveland

Charleston, SC

February 24, 2014