By: Sarka-Jonae Miller
The federal Indian Child Welfare Act requiring that Native America children be placed with relatives if their parents cannot raise them was the basis of the removal of a 6-year-old girl, Lexi, from her foster family in Santa Clarita, Calif. Lexi had been placed with Summer and Rusty Page when she was 17-months-old. The Pages have been involved in a legal battle to keep her, a battle that may now be taken to the state’s highest court after a lower court ruled that the girl must live with relatives of her biological father. The Page’s attorney has filed for an appeal.
Lexi is 1/64th Choctaw. According to court records, when Lexi was removed from her parents custody her biological mother had problems with substance abuse and her biological father had a history of criminal behavior. The child’s current guardians are a couple in Utah who are also raising Lexi’s sister. The siblings currently reside down the street from another one of their sisters.
Leslie Heimov of the Children’s Law Center of California told the Los Angeles Daily News, “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.” According to ABC News, Lexi and her father’s relatives have been communicating and seeing each other monthly during the past three years.
The Pages say they want to adopt the girl. The National Indian Child Welfare Association accused the Pages of attempting to drag out the fight for custody for “as long as possible, creating instability for the child,” according to a statement.
The Indian Child Welfare Act was established to combat cultural biases that were believed to be the cause of a higher-than-average removal of Native American children from their homes. The Bureau of Indian Affairs clarified in 2015 that Native American tribes get to determine who is a member.
Social workers took Lexi to her new home on March 21. Her foster father asked KNX-AM radio, “How is it that a screaming child, saying, ‘I want to stay, I’m scared,’ how is it in her best interest to pull her from the girl she was before that doorbell rang?” The court that ordered her removal stated that the foster parents did not prove that giving Lexi to her relatives would cause emotional harm.
Child custody cases are often emotional and rarely have an easy solution when custody is contested. Without legal documents granting custody, guardians have no rights. With clear custody agreements in place, parents and guardians stand a better chance of protecting themselves and their families.
For assistance with adoption, child custody agreements, and child support documents, please visit CALDA.org. A legal document assistant can help create agreements and address custody concerns in the event that parents pass away or can no longer care for their children. This could prevent confusion, fighting, and delays that might be harmful to the children involved.