NICWA's Terry Cross: In Defense of Dusten Brown

Mar 29, 2013, 22:33 ET from National Indian Child Welfare Association

PORTLAND, Ore., March 29, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Terry Cross, the executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association, released the following op-ed.

"He opted to look the other way. He should be absolutely ashamed of his character."
"He doesn't really care about the child."
                    —Anonymous comments on media coverage of Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl

At the heart of the case Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl is the story of a father who desperately wants to raise his daughter. Dusten Brown is a good father and an honorable man who has found himself in extraordinary circumstances. He is also a parent who has weathered scathing criticism from a public largely miseducated on the facts of the case that brought him into a national spotlight that he never sought.

As followers of this case, what we know to be true can be found in court records. While the public relations firm retained on behalf of Adoptive Couple has been masterful in creating a withering narrative of Brown­—spinning a tale of the deadbeat dad who waited two years before using a "legal loophole" to retrieve his daughter—it is clear that what makes for compelling PR doesn't always bode well for truth or decency.

In reality, court records paint a different portrait of Brown. Stationed at Fort Sill Army Base and engaged to be married when his daughter was conceived, Brown hoped to push his wedding date up so that his military benefits would provide for the mother and his child. Instead, the mother broke the engagement and cut off communication.

Shockingly little has been reported regarding Brown's military status and how it affected his daughter's removal to South Carolina and his subsequent efforts to contest adoption proceedings. In the months just after his daughter's birth, Brown was in the midst of intense pre-deployment preparations. He was being prepared to go to war.

Understanding this, attorneys for Adoptive Couple waited until days before his deployment to Iraq to serve him with notice of their intent to adopt his daughter. The process server threatened Brown with arrest when he questioned the true purpose of the papers he signed. Brown immediately sought legal counsel and took every legal measure he could to stop the attempt to adopt his child. He sought to have his daughter placed with his parents while he was in Iraq, a request staunchly opposed by Adoptive Couple.

Are these the actions of a deadbeat dad?

It took more than a year for Brown to fulfill his obligations to our country, completing his service honorably and admirably. Only upon his return could the adoption hearing occur. When the South Carolina Family Court finally heard the case, it denied Adoptive Couple's petition to adopt. More importantly, the court found that Brown "did not voluntarily consent to the termination of his parental rights or the adoption; and [that Adoptive Couple] failed to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Father's parental rights should be terminated or that granting custody of Baby Girl to Father would likely result in serious emotional or physical damage to Baby Girl."

When these are the facts, why have they been seldom mentioned? This winter, as I followed the case of another military father embroiled in a custody case that closely paralleled the one involving Brown, I often wondered this. In the case, Terry Achane, a U.S. Army drill instructor, won custody of his daughter from a Utah couple after it was revealed that his estranged wife cut off all communication with him while he was deployed and gave the child up for adoption without his consent.

While initially indicating they would fight the ruling, the Utah couple changed their minds. Their attorney explained that because they "love the child deeply and want her to succeed in life, they are willing to put her needs before their own hopes and desires and would rather drop the appeal than risk the child suffering potential psychological and emotional consequences."

The outpouring of support for Achane stands in stark contrast with Brown's treatment in the media. However, the tide is changing. The media has started to dig deeper in its reporting. As they do, more light is shed on Dusten Brown as a father and veteran. I can only hope that once these facts come to light, the same public that has vilified Brown will come to recognize him simply as a man who loves his daughter very much.

Terry Cross is a member of the Seneca Nation and the executive director of the National Indian Child Welfare Association in Portland, Oregon.

Media Contact: Nicole Adams, +1-503-754-0466,

SOURCE National Indian Child Welfare Association