The Indian Child Welfare Act’s application to the case of Lexi from Santa Clarita

In the news over the past few weeks, you may have heard of Lexi, the 6-year-old Choctaw girl who was fostered by a family in Santa Clarita Valley and, against the wishes of her foster family, sent to live with her relatives in Utah:

In photos, they are a happy family – but Sunday could be the worst day for the lives of Rusty and Summer Page and their 6-year-old foster daughter, Lexi.

Lexi spent time in two other foster homes before the Pages took her to live with them and their three young children four years ago. Now, they want to adopt her.
“She’s a very happy girl and she’s a part of our family and we love her dearly,” Summer said.

Rusty added that Lexi moved in with them when she was only 2 years old and knows the couple as her mother and father.

But the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services plans to come to the Page family home Sunday to take Lexi away and send her to live with a family in Utah. The decision was made because of her heritage – she is 1.5 percent Choctaw.

Because of that, her case fell under the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law passed in the 1970s that aims to protect the best interests of Native American children and promote stability of tribal families.

Many people are understandably confused at how the Courts could sanction this kind of a result. The key to understanding what happened here lies in understanding the Indian Child Welfare Act (“ICWA”), and why it exists in the first place.

ICWA was enacted in 1978 because many Native American children were being removed from their homes by the state due to abuse and neglect. Before ICWA was enacted, as many as 35 percent of all Native American children were being removed from homes with their biological parents and placed in homes with no connection to their culture. Congressional testimony showed that the per capita rate of Native American children in foster care was nearly 16 times higher than the rate for non-Native American. Congress recognized that if nothing was done, tribal survival would be threatened.

ICWA instituted many protections to protect Native American culture and tribal integrity. At issue with the case of Lexi are the provisions of ICWA concerning placement. Lexi’s biological father stopped reunification efforts with his daughter, and communicated to the Court that he wanted Lexi to be placed with relatives in Utah. ICWA preferences indicated that Lexi should be placed with a member of the child’s extended family and the Court of Appeal indicated that a departure from ICWA would require the foster parents to show a clear and convincing reason to stray from ICWA. The foster parents were unable to make such a showing.

Feel free to contact us if you are considering a divorce from your spouse, a legal separation, or have questions regarding child custody and visitation. Nancy J. Bickford is the only Certified Family Law Specialist (CFLS) in San Diego County who is also a licensed Certified Public Accountant (CPA) with a Master of Business Administration (MBA). Don’t settle for less when determining your rights. Call 858­793­8884 in Del Mar, Carmel Valley, North County or San Diego.

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