6-Year-Old Girl at Center of Emotional Custody Battle Between Foster Parents and the Choctaw Nation
The young girl is being sent to live with extended relatives in Utah.
— -- A Santa Clarita, California, family is living its worst nightmare.
Rusty and Summer Page are losing their foster daughter, Lexi, whom they’ve raised as their own for the last four years.
A dramatic scene played out on Monday as the Pages were forced to say goodbye to Lexi. Due to a court order, the 6-year-old girl was taken from her home by Los Angeles County social workers to go live with extended family in Utah.
“She said, ‘Don’t let them take me. I’m scared. Don’t let me go,’” Lexi’s foster father, Rusty, said after the heart-wrenching moment.
“Please help!” he pleaded before a gaggle of news cameras assembled in the driveway. “For the sake of Lexi and everyone in this house right now.”
The legal fight for Lexi began four years ago, after relatives of the girl’s biological father, who is Native American, petitioned his Choctaw Indian tribe and the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services to challenge the Pages' temporary custody of Lexi. The relatives invoked the federal Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), a law meant to protect the rights of Native American families.
“The intent behind the ICWA is to make sure that Native American children are kept not only within the family but within the tribe and within the culture,” ABC News senior legal analyst Sunny Hostin explained.
Lexi is 1/64th Choctaw on her father’s side, according to court documents, which also note that she was 17 months old when she was removed from her birth parents’ custody. Her mother had substance abuse problems and her father had an extensive criminal history, according to court documents.
“The original decision to send her to Utah was made almost three years ago,” said Leslie Heimov, executive director of the Children's Law Center of Los Angeles.
The Choctaw Nation sent the following statement to ABC News:
“We appreciate the concern for Lexi and want to assure everyone she is in a safe, loving home with her relatives and her biological sisters," the statement said. "The Choctaw Nation has advocated for Lexi to live with her family since 2011. Her relatives have been a part of Lexi’s life for almost five years -- visiting her in California and making regular Skype calls. Lexi has also been on extended visits to Utah."
"Many steps have been taken by the Choctaw Nation to ensure the best placement of Lexi," the statement added. "An independent clinical psychologist was brought in to gauge her ability to transition from the foster home to living in Utah. The California court appointed a marriage and family therapist to perform a child custody evaluation to assess the mental health and parenting practices of both parties. The experts, along with Lexi’s long-time therapists, her social worker and her attorney, all agree it is in her best interest to be with her relatives."