SANTA CLARITA, Calif. — A video taken by a supporter of a California family captures the emotional moment that a six-year-old girl was handed over to authorities after her foster parents lost a court battle to adopt the child, due to a federal law surrounding foster children that have a Native American heritage.
As previously reported, the California Department of Children and Family Services removed the girl, named Lexi, from the home of Rusty and Summer Page on Monday. The couple, who are professing Christians, attend Grace Community Church in Santa Clarita.
Members of the church and others gathered outside of the Page home on Sunday to speak against her impending seizure, praying and singing hymns.
Lexi has lived with the Page’s for four years, during which time the couple has attempted to adopt her, but were not permitted to do so. They have since been entrenched in a court battle to keep the girl in the home, as they state that Lexi considers the couple and their three children as her family.
The issue is that Lexi is 1.5 percent Choctaw Indian, which means that her case must apply under the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that was passed in 1978 to ensure that foster children are placed in American Indian homes, to “protect the best interests of Indian children and to promote the stability and security of Indian tribes and families.”
The Act “sets federal requirements that apply to state child custody proceedings involving an Indian child who is a member of or eligible for membership in a federally recognized tribe,” the National Indian Child Welfare Association outlines.
“The Choctaw Nation desires the best for this Choctaw child,” the Nation said in a statement. “The tribe’s values of faith, family and culture are what makes our tribal identity so important to us. Therefore we will continue to work to maintain these values and work toward the long-term best interest of this child.”
Because of the Indian Child Welfare Act, a Los Angeles judge ruled that Lexi be placed with extended family in Utah, a decision that the Page’s fought. They lost their appeal on Friday, resulting in the removal of the child.
“We know that their hearts are breaking, but, unfortunately, that’s the nature of foster care. We ask the adults to love a child as if it’s their own and then to let that child go, and that’s an extremely difficult thing to do,” Children’s Law Center of California Director Leslie Starr Heimov, which represents foster children in court, told the Los Angeles Times.
Heimov says that the Utah family has visited the girl once a month, and that the girl has also visited the family and Skyped with them.
“Her family in Utah have been waiting for receive her for over three years,” she said in a statement. “The injustice here is not that she is leaving California, but rather that her foster parents pursued litigation, which prevented her from joining her family sooner.”
But the Page’s state that the extended family members are only related through marriage and not blood, and they are not American Indian. They also note that a number of Lexi’s brothers and sisters on her biological mother’s side are living locally in Los Angeles County, and that she therefore need not be taken to Utah.
Heimov told reporters that “the law defines family based on marriage, affinity or blood.”
A video of the moment that Lexi was surrendered as social workers came for her on Monday has been posted online and captures the emotion of all those involved. Footage shows a man knocking on the Page’s door and advising, “They’re here to take Lexi.”
Rusty Page then carries the girl out in his arms as she cries aloud, clutching a teddy bear. One of the Page children also begins crying and screaming, and Summer Page calls out, “We love you, Lexi!” Others present in the crowd likewise call to the child to let her know that she is wanted and that her foster parents are fighting for her. A man is also seen surrounded by reporters as he prays for the Page family.
Attorneys for the Page’s state that they plan to file an appeal with the California Supreme Court.
“We will continue to pursue the appeal, and we will press on to the U.S. Supreme Court if that becomes necessary,” Lori Alvino McGill told the Los Angeles Daily News. “We are extremely disappointed that [Family Services] would remove this little girl from her home while our appeal is pending.”
According to the outlet, at 17 months, Lexi was taken from her birth mother, who had a substance abuse problem and had lost custody of six other children. Her biological father, who is no longer in a relationship with the mother, has an “extensive criminal history” and had also lost custody of a child, but is a member of an Indian tribe.
The tribe agreed to allow the girl to be placed with a non-Indian foster family while efforts were made to reunite Lexi with her tribal member father, and at age two, she moved in with the Page family. When reunification with the biological father did not occur, he and the tribe agreed with social workers that Lexi should go to live with a willing non-blood relative of the father, even though they are not Indian. One of the father’s children from another relationship is living in Utah with the extended family member.
The Page’s attempted to adopt the child over two years ago and fought the transfer, but were rejected due to the Indian Child Welfare Act and the court’s determination that the family did not provide “clear and convincing evidence that it was a certainty the child would suffer emotional harm” in removing her from their home.
“Our hearts are broken and we are trying to make sense of everything that has happened with our three other children who witnessed their sister Lexi forcefully ripped away from our family by strangers,” the family said in a statement. “But nobody could possibly be more devastated than our 6-year-old daughter who found herself restrained in a car and driven away to go and live in a foreign place hundreds of miles from her family, friends, teachers, home and life.”