On Tuesday, the Page family of Santa Clarita, California filed an appeal in the State Supreme Court, in an attempt to keep their 6-year-old foster child, Lexi. Lexi was removed from Rusty and Summer Page's home on Monday, after a court ruled that Lexi would be placed with her biological father's extended family in Utah, a request he was entitled to make under the federal Indian Child Welfare Act. There was quite a media circus when Lexi was removed from her foster home, with protestors camped out and holding "Save Lexi" signs in an attempt to keep her with the Pages. Many have argued that remaining with the foster family would be in her best interest — but there's one thing the "Save Lexi" campaign has overlooked.
Lexi was born in 2009, and her biological mother disappeared shortly after that, according to Indian Country Today. Her biological father had been raising her alone, and when Lexi was a year old, he was arrested for grand theft auto. Since Lexi's father is a member of the Choctaw Nation, Lexi is considered a Choctaw child under the Indian Child Welfare Law. According to LA Daily News, the tribe agreed to place Lexi in a non-Indian foster home "to facilitate efforts to reunify the girl with her father," as was stated in court documents.
Lexi's father was released from prison in December 31, 2011, but Lexi remained in foster care while he completed a case plan in order to be reunited with her, according to Indian Country. He took drug tests and parenting classes, and got a job — but ran into trouble. Some court-ordered classes were only offered during his work hours; he didn't like his assigned therapist but was not allowed to find another; and at one point, he missed a drug test, which is automatically marked as a positive, according to legal mandates.
After 18 months of struggling with the system, Lexi's biological father requested that Lexi be placed with his extended family in Utah, using the parental "preferred placement" provision of the Indian Child Welfare Act, which would allow him more regular access to see his daughter. After all, Lexi's sister was already living with her biological father's extended family (the same place Lexi will now be moving).
In December 2013, however, a judge allowed the Pages to keep Lexi pending an appeal, since they claimed to be Lexi's de facto parents, according to Indian Country. It was only this week that Lexi was taken to join her extended family in Utah, whom she has been seeing in person once a month and Skyping with weekly over the past three years, according to LA Daily News.
Admittedly, transferring a child who has spent five formative years with a family would be upsetting to both the child and the attached foster family. However, this isn't the biological father's fault or that of his extended family, either. What really comes to light in the "Save Lexi" story is how difficult it is to work within the family services system, despite what I'm certain are the best of intentions.
Unfortunately, it's a terrible situation all-round, but blaming the Indian Child Welfare Act or the Choctaw in this situation (which the National Indian Child Welfare Association claimed in an statement to Oklahoma ABC affiliate KFOR on Tuesday was happening regularly) seems misguided. The ultimate goal in the foster care system is to rejoin children with their biological families whenever possible. Why were the sisters separated by the California foster care system in the first place? Why did the system not accommodate Lexi's father's working hours after he was employed? Why, after a judge decided that Lexi's extended family would be a good placement, did an appeal keep her from them for another two years?
Hopefully both parties can come to terms with the fact that the situation is neither side's fault. With any luck, Lexi will be able to adapt to life with her extended family — and stay in contact with her foster family, if she desires — quickly. The process so far has been anything but smooth, but if the system decides to start functioning properly, perhaps there's hope for a happy ending.