By Eric Egan
CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A James Island couple continues to fight a federal law that they say has taken their two-year-old adopted daughter away from them.
The little girl was removed from her adoptive parents December 31, and driven more than 20 hours to Oklahoma to live with her birth father. It's been 10 days since that transfer, during which, two-year-old Veronica has talked to her adoptive parents only once. The sudden change of surroundings for the toddler could have a drastic impact.
Veronica's birth mother, Christine Maldonado, sought out Matt and Melanie Capobianco to adopt Veronica. The couple could not conceive a child, so since Veronica's birth they raised her as their own.
But Veronica is now back with her biological father. A judge made the ruling, in compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act.
"The Indian Child Welfare Act says the most vital resource for the continued existence of tribes are their children," said Cherokee Nation Assistant Attorney General, Chrissi Nimmo.
Nimmo says the girl should be placed with a family member.
Veronica's birth father says he was kept in the dark about his daughter's adoption. The Capobianco's argue he signed away his rights to custody. But since he's part Cherokee, Veronica is considered an Indian child, thus the federal law ordered her removal from the only home she's ever known.
"When a child is Indian, the state or a private party attempting to do an adoption has to prove they actively participated in helping this family correct the conditions that may have led to the removal of the child," Nimmo said.
Child psychologist Elena Tuerk offers a different view.
"It seemed a recipe for disaster," Tuerk said.
Tuerk says Veronica's sudden change in environment is not healthy. She explains the little girl is likely confused. Veronica fully expects to see Matt and Melanie again, but she may begin to doubt.
"As the weeks go by, and that security becomes more and more uncertain, we can fully anticipate she's going to start demonstrating symptoms of depression, anxiety," Tuerk said.
The one solution, according to Tuerk, is to return Veronica to her primary caregivers, the Capobianco's.
"I think it's cruel otherwise to pro-long this for both families and most certainly for Veronica," said Tuerk. "There's no reason to not expedite it."
The Capobianco's will take their case to the state supreme court as early as April, or as late as this summer.
Until then, Veronica stays in Oklahoma.