“Best for Choctaw child’: California family appeals removal of 6-year-old foster child

© Miguel Vidal
A California family appealed to the state’s highest court after a decision to return their 6-year foster child to her relatives.

The family’s lawyer, Lori Alvino McGill, filed the appeal with the California Supreme Court on Tuesday, requesting that the child, Lexi, be returned to her foster parents, Rusty and Summer Page, until the case is decided, according to the Associated Press.

A lower court had ruled that because of Lexi’s Choctaw bloodline, she was required by law to live with relatives under the federal Indian Welfare Act. The Act was passed in the late 1970s after lawmakers found that Native American families were being broken up at disproportionately high rates, largely due to cultural ignorance and biases within the child welfare system.

Arguing that Lexi has lived with them since the age of 2 and considers them her family, the Pages have fought efforts under the Act to place Lexi with relatives of her father, who is Choctaw. The court found that the Pages had failed to prove that Lexi would suffer emotional harm by the transfer.

“Our family is so incredibly devastated. Our hearts are broken and we are trying to make sense of everything that has happened with our three children who witnessed their sister Lexi forcefully ripped from our family by strangers,” the Page Family said in a statement.

There is now a “Save Lexi” campaign, including an online petition, a GoFundMe campaign, and a Facebook page. By Tuesday evening, the fundraising campaign had over garnered over 1,800 shares and collected nearly $25,000 in donations.

Sorry for the confusion on the donation link. We had two going at once. Here is the donation page for those of you asking how you can help. https://www.gofundme.com/saveourlexi

Posted by Save Lexi on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The National Indian Child Welfare Association said in a statement that the Pages had been aware for years that the girl was an American Indian, but chose to “drag out litigation as long as possible, creating instability for the child.”

The Choctaw Nation said it “desires the best for this Choctaw child.”

The Pages have three children and wanted to adopt Lexi, who was 17 months old when she was removed from the custody of her parents. Her mother had been accused of substance abuse and her father had a criminal history, according to court records.

Lexi was taken to live with the Utah couple, who are not Native Americans, but are related by marriage to her father. Lexi has been visited by relatives of her father, with whom one of her sisters lives, monthly over the past three years. Another sister lives down the street from them.

“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,” Leslie Heimov, of the Children’s Law Center of California and Lexi’s court-appointed legal representative, told the Los Angeles Daily News.

“She has a loving relationship with them,” Heimov said. “They are not strangers in any way, shape or form.”

In 2015, the Bureau of Indian Affairs issued guidance on implementing the Indian Child Welfare Act, clarifying that tribes alone are responsible for determining who is a member.