It’s December in South Carolina, and little Braelynn Puckett is living happily with her brothers and sisters. She’s been a part of the Dalsing family for three years, and their home is the only one she has ever known. Then, out of the blue, comes a shocking decision – one that could turn Puckett’s young life completely upside down.
Tammy and Edward Dalsing live in Rock Hill, a city in York County, S.C. The pair have long been foster parents, providing a loving home for a number of children over the years. So, when they heard about a baby in need of a new family, they didn’t hesitate to welcome her in.
Braelynn was just a newborn when she came to the attention of the South Carolina Department of Social Services (DSS) in May 2013. Sadly, the organization suspected that her mother, Erica Smith, was using drugs. And when tests revealed that baby Braelynn was carrying traces of cocaine in her body, she and her sister McKenna were removed from the family home.
Of course, that meant that the DSS needed to find another home for the two girls. And as contracted foster carers for the organization, the Dalsings seemed like the perfect choice. After all, they were already providing a loving family for six kids, including three who had previously come there as foster children.
Soon, Tammy and Edward welcomed Braelynn and McKenna into their family. And after a while, the sisters’ biological mother came to visit the Dalsings’ home. According to Tammy and Edward, Smith was pleased with how happy and settled Braelynn seemed. Indeed, apparently she then asked the couple if they would be willing to adopt the girl.
The Dalsings were keen to give Braelynn a permanent home. However, they had some even more pressing concerns. Shockingly, the little girl was suffering from a condition known as deformation asymmetrical brachycephaly – a deformity in her skull.
This deformity meant that Braelynn urgently required medical treatment. Without it, she could have suffered adverse effects to her brain that would last for the rest of her life. And as her first birthday loomed closer, the Dalsings knew they were running out of time.
When a baby is less than a year old, their skull is still growing rapidly, and deformities like Braelynn’s are easier to correct. But even though they were up against the clock, the Dalsings were unable to pay for Braelynn’s medical care. The reason? Simply because they were foster parents. Furthermore, the insurance provided by the DSS did not cover the treatment.
Tammy and Edward knew that the best way to ensure Braelynn’s long-term health was to push for legal guardianship of the girl. And, eventually, they gained joint custody and were able to pay for Braelynn’s treatment. Still, although the little girl subsequently recovered from her condition, this was just the start of an ongoing battle that would see the family in and out of court for the next four years.
Unfortunately, Braelynn’s situation was further complicated by the fact that her biological father, Andrew Jack Myers, was still around. In fact, he was in prison in Virginia, serving time for fraud, contempt of court and breaching the terms of his probation.
At any rate, after several court appearances, Judge Rochelle Conits made what the Dalsings thought would be a final decision in September 2015. According to reports, she ruled to terminate Smith and Myers’ parental rights. And, apparently, this order considered not just Tammy and Edward’s ability to provide a suitable home for Braelynn, but also Myers’ seeming lack of interest in the young girl.
In her report, Conits noted that Myers had failed to provide any financial support for Braelynn despite being in a position to do so whilst incarcerated. Tammy and Edward also contend that Myers never tried to reach his daughter through them. Supposedly, he only ever posted one card over the course of the three birthdays that Braelynn spent with the Dalsings.
So, with Myers locked away and seemingly disinterested in his daughter, the path appeared clear for the Dalsings to officially adopt Braelynn. Indeed, Conits issued a Final Order of Adoption Notice, and the little girl returned to life with her adoptive family. For a while, too, they lived a normal, happy existence. But soon, everything was to change.
In November 2016 Myers’ prison sentence was up, and he wasn’t happy to find out that another family had adopted his daughter. So, with the backing of Braelynn’s biological grandmother, Myers contested against the court’s adoption order.
One month later, then, the battle for Braelynn went to court once more. Melinda Butler, Myers’ attorney, argued that during the 2015 adoption hearing her client did not have the representation he should have done. “He was never in court,” she said in a February 2017 interview with Fox News. “He was never allowed to come.”
“Mr. Myers has been committed to being a father to his daughter from the womb,” Butler continued. “He remains absolutely committed and his family supports him 100 percent.” Shockingly, this time, the judge on the appeal case seemed to agree.
Indeed, the appellate court judge ruled against the previous decision that the Dalsings could adopt Braelynn without Myers’ consent. Apparently finding no evidence to support the claim that Myers had neglected Braelynn, the court instead set aside the original adoption order. As a result, Braelynn’s future was hanging in the balance once more.
The Dalsings were dismayed, believing that the decision failed to take into account the most important thing: the wellbeing of Braelynn, who was now approaching her fourth birthday. “This is not right,” they wrote on a website dedicated to the girl’s future. “Not even considering Braelynn’s rights and Best Interest. Not even considering her attachment with us, with her biological sister who is in our home.”
The Dalsings fear that the case could set a dangerous precedent of undermining the finality of adoption. Some, however, have expressed concern that Myers was not adequately consulted over the adoption and have criticized the Dalsings’ somewhat public handling of the case, including their Save Braelynn website and Facebook page.
Currently, the Dalsings are appealing the court’s decision, and an online petition to keep Braelynn in their home has received more than 10,000 signatures. Meanwhile, the little girl continues to stay with Tammy and Edward as all parties await a final decision. But whatever the future holds for Braelynn, the case may well have lasting ramifications for families on both sides of the adoption debate.