Tribal Custody Battle: Foster child taken from home of 4 years due to Indian Heritage law

Tribal Custody Battle: Foster child taken from home of 4 years due to Indian Heritage law

6-year-old taken from foster home in tribal custody battle.

After a last-ditch effort to prevent their 6-year-old foster daughter from being taken away and placed with the child’s relatives in Utah, a Southern California family now says it will comply with a court order to remove the girl.

Rusty and Summer Page had claimed that the girl, Lexi, woud be “ripped away from the only family that she has ever known.” The reason, they say, is that Lexi is part Choctaw and under the federal Indian Child Welfare Law, she is being moved to Utah to live with “non-blood-related” members of her biological father’s extended family.

“We’ve received word that the county has every intention of taking Lexi today, and we will with very heavy hearts comply with the order,” a tearful Rusty Page told reporters Monday outside his home, in Los Angeles County.

“We’ll be waiting here for them to come take her.”
The Page family has launched a Change.org petition that has attracted more than 37,000 signatures from around the world. Scores of friends and supporters of the Page family, including fellow members of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, were outside their home on Monday morning carrying signs of support.

But Leslie Heimov of the Children’s Law Center of California, which is representing Lexi, said that the court has decided the girl should be placed with the biological father’s relatives in Utah, including the girl’s sister who is living with the Utah couple. Another sister of the girl will be living down the street, she said.

“This has become a legal issue but it’s also a family reunification issue and sibling issue,” Heimov said. “The law is very clear that siblings should be kept together whenever they can be and they should be placed together even if they were not initially together.”

The girl has visited the Utah family regularly over the past three years, she said. They have come to Santa Clarita about once a month and they Skype about once a week.

“She has a loving relationship with them,” she said. “They are not strangers in any way, shape or form….The law defines family based on marriage, affinity or blood.”

At 17 months, the girl was removed from the custody of her birth mother, who had substance abuse problems and had lost custody of at least six other children, and the birth father, who has an extensive criminal history and lost custody of one other child, according to court documents filed with the Los Angeles-based 2nd District Court of Appeal. The father is an enrolled member of an Indian tribe, and the girl is considered an Indian child under the Indian Child Welfare Law.

The tribe agreed to place the girl with a non-Indian foster family “to facilitate efforts to reunify the girl with her father.”

At the age of 2, she was placed with the Page family, where she bonded and thrived, according to the court documents. After efforts to reunify the family failed, the father, the tribe and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services recommended the girl be placed in Utah with a non-Indian couple who are extended family of the father. The court agreed, finding that the Page family “had not proven by clear and convincing evidence that it was a certainty the child would suffer emotional harm by the transfer.”

The foster parents unsuccessfully tried to appeal the decision three times and a March 18 court order affirmed that the child was to be placed with the Utah couple, Heimov said.

Philip Browning, director of the LA County Department of Children and Family Services, said the law does not allow him to comment on details regarding specific children receiving the agency’s services.

“I want to assure the public that my Department will continue to act in the best interest of the children we serve and remain in compliance with the court orders and laws governing our work,” he said in a written statement. “I am also aware that sometimes the court must make orders that involve resolving competing priorities and interests. Often there are no easy solutions, but when a court makes an order, we must follow it.”