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Court settles fight over custody of Cherokee girl

| Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, 6:24 p.m.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Veronica's entire 4-year-old life has been lived at the center of a protracted custody dispute between her biological Native American father and a couple in South Carolina chosen as adoptive parents by her mother.

Now that the legal fight is over, the struggle to establish a normal existence for the young Cherokee girl begins.

Late on Monday, the Oklahoma Supreme Court declined to uphold a stay keeping Veronica with her father, Dusten Brown, and ordered that custody be turned over to Matt and Melanie Capobianco of Charleston.

The Capobiancos began the long journey back from Oklahoma to Veronica's new permanent home with the resolution of a yearslong battle involving questions of jurisdiction and tribal sovereignty in Native American and federal courts.

When they get home, their topmost priority should be making the stable life that Veronica has lacked in her first four years of life, experts say.

“The saga she's been through really seems to be this tragic tale of law and adults who talk about the best interest of the child but don't seem to be doing what's in the best interest of the child,” said Dr. Naranjan Karnik, a specialist in child and adolescent psychiatry at Chicago's Rush University. “Kids always know when there's uncertainty in the air. To not know where your home is going to be is the most unsettling thing.”

Dr. Philip Fisher, a psychologist specializing in childhood trauma at the University of Oregon, agrees.

Fisher notes that children who have been in unsettled home environments, such as shuttling between different houses or families, can suffer. At 4 years old, traumatic changes can hamper development in the part of the brain that helps someone make good decisions, Fisher said.

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