On Monday, March 21, pandemonium broke out in Santa Clarita, California, at the home of foster couple Summer and Russell Page as social workers from the Department of Children and Family Services arrived to pick up a 6-year-old girl who was being held by the couple in defiance of a court ordering her returned to relatives after a five-year custody battle.

Breaking: California Returns Child to Family in ICWA Case

Suzette Brewer

On Monday, March 21, pandemonium broke out in Santa Clarita, California, at the home of foster couple Summer and Russell Page as social workers from the Department of Children and Family Services arrived to pick up a 6-year-old girl who was being held by the couple in defiance of a court ordering her returned to relatives after a five-year custody battle. At 2:45 p.m. PST, the sobbing girl was carried to a vehicle and whisked away as dozens of media outlets and protesters looked on, bringing an end to a stand-off over the child’s custody that had made headlines around the world.

The girl, who goes by the name “Lexi,” was ordered to be placed with relatives, including her biological sister, in Utah in compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act. Her identity was released to the media by the Pages over the weekend, including a Facebook page titled “Save Lexi,” in which they sought public support in defiance of the court’s order, according to legal experts in California.

On Sunday, the Pages, who authorities say were told repeatedly from the beginning that the child was “never up for adoption,” were supposed to facilitate a peaceful transfer at 10 a.m., but efforts to retrieve the child were blocked by protesters who had surrounded the couple’s house to prevent her removal. Officials did not want the transfer to become a dangerous situation and left without the child, according to those familiar with the case.

Yesterday morning, however, officials from DCFS released a statement that the agency intended to carry out the court’s order and asked the media “to respect the child’s privacy.” Behind the scenes, authorities were in contact with the foster parents to inform them to prepare Lexi for transfer or face criminal charges.

The girl has been at the center of a custody battle between the couple, her biological father and the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma, for nearly five years. She is the second child that the Pages have attempted to adopt out of foster care, according to court documents. The first child was also returned to its extended family after a custody battle with the Pages.

Indeed, according to both court documents and those familiar with the case, Lexi has had an ongoing relationship with her relatives in Utah for nearly her whole life. The couple, who are non-Indian relatives of Lexi’s biological father, fall within the familial placement preferences under ICWA. They have visited the girl at their own expense every month and regularly Skype with the girl at least once a week. Additionally, she has visited them in Utah, as well, and―significantly, she considers them family, according to insiders.

“These are not strangers that she’s never seen before or had any kind of relationship with,” said a source close to the father’s family who declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the issues involved. “Her sister also lives with [the Utah couple] and she has another sister who lives down the street from them. She has a very close relationship with the Utah relatives, and the Pages have been a big part of facilitating that over the years, so it’s baffling that they would create this kind of drama and friction between the two families at the last minute when they have thus far had a very amicable relationship that was in Lexi’s best interest. They knew good and well that the transfer was coming―this was not a surprise visit from DCFS, so all this drama was completely for show.”

Attempts to reach the Pages or their legal team by ICTMN were unsuccessful, however, their attorney, Lori Alvino McGill―who also represented Baby Veronica’s birth mother, Christy Maldonado in Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl in 2013―told local media that she will be filing an appeal with the California Supreme Court forthwith for the girl’s return and that another trip to the United States Supreme Court may be in the works “if that becomes necessary.”

RELATED: Broken: Choctaw Father in California Thwarted in Custody Battle With Foster Couple

A Little Perspective

The case began in 2010 when the child’s father lost custody of his daughter after he went to jail for selling stolen auto parts, according to court documents. The girl went through several foster homes before being placed with the Pages, who have been attempting to retain her ever since, in spite of being reminded numerous times by the state and the courts that she would eventually either be reunified with her father or be sent to live with relatives.

RELATED: The Battle for ICWA Goes to California With Contested Choctaw Foster Case

The girl’s father was released from jail in December 2011, after which the girl remained with the Pages while he worked to complete a “reunification plan,” which included unmonitored day visits over weekends.

At some point, however, communication between the Pages and father broke down after it became clear that they were targeting his daughter for adoption and interfering with his visitations, he told ICTMN at the time. According to court documents, the father was a “model parent” who had over time become depressed and worn down by fighting with the Pages and what he considered lengthy, unnecessary reunification requirements that he felt were not getting him any closer to regaining custody of his daughter.

In December 2013, he reluctantly ceased reunification and requested that she be placed with relatives according to placement preferences under ICWA. In 2014, however, the Pages went to court to establish “de facto parent” status―giving them the same rights and standing as biological parents―which was unanimously rejected by a California appeals court.

RELATED: California Appeals Court Upholds ICWA in Choctaw Foster Case

“The foster family was well aware years ago this girl is an Indian child, whose case is subject to the requirements of the Indian Child Welfare Act and who has relatives who were willing to raise her if reunification with her father was unsuccessful,” the National Indian Child Welfare Association said in a statement. “The purpose of foster care is to provide temporary care for children while families get services and support to reunite with their children, not to fast-track the creation of new families when there is extended family available who want to care for the child. The temporary nature of these relationships is also the reason we view those who serve as foster parents as selfless and nurturing individuals. Reunification and placement with extended family whenever possible is best practice for all children, not just Native American.”

Moving Forward Under the New Normal

According to officials with the California DCFS, peaceable transitions for the child are the primary objectives when replacing them to another home. Alerting the media, refusing to relinquish the child and releasing her name to the press is in violation of not only the court order, but also a violation of confidentiality that is enumerated under state statute.

“We like all of our transitions and replacements to go smoothly,” said Armand Montiel, public affairs officer for DCFS. “We don’t like drama for the child.”

Montiel said the actions by the Pages over the weekend could trigger sanctions not only by the court, but also by the foster agency in making a determination about whether they should remain a foster family.

Leslie Heimov is the executive director of the Children’s Law Center of California, which represents 33,000 children in Los Angeles and Sacramento, with over 275 lawyers, paralegals, investigators and social workers. They also represent Lexi’s interests in this case. Heimov said the main priority at present is to ensure her safety and well-being during the transition period, in spite of the media chaos surrounding her retrieval yesterday.

“The privacy issues in dependency court proceedings are confidential under state statute, so we try to follow the law and we have not yet decided whether we’ll pursue legal action against the Pages for violating confidentiality,” Heimov told ICTMN this morning. “At the moment we are more concerned about our client and the best way to get her placed with relatives and her emotional and physical well-being. That said, even setting ICWA aside, this child has a family and sibling that she should be placed with, which is also the preference under California state law. We are very cognizant of the privacy issues, but we feel that the information that is being reported in the public arena about this case should be accurate.”

RELATED: Trafficking Native Children: The Seamy Underbelly of U.S. Adoption Industry

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azsandy007's picture
Submitted by azsandy007 on
The media is nothing but a bunch of vultures. They don't care about anything other than to get a story that can be exploited- as is the case here. The Pages don't want to give up the child because their money would be cut off. All they want is the money, so they are raising a big ruckus about relinquishing the child to her family. Shame on those people for subjecting the child to the trauma of an unnecessary custody battle. Their appointment as foster parents should be revoked because they are not fit to be foster parents.

Brian Shaffer
Brian Shaffer
Submitted by Brian Shaffer on
This article is dishonest. You claim that DCFS was "blocked by protestors" and that they "surrounded the home," and that the taking of Lexi had to be rescheduled for the next day. You state that the Pages were told that they had to "prepare Lexi for transfer" or face criminal charges, as if they were preventing DCFS from taking her. All of that is false. The protestors stayed three houses down on the street corner, allowing all cars to pass peacefully. Nobody ever "surrounded the house" or blocked anything. DCFS never even showed up on Sunday. My source: I was there. The whole time. Slept there. This publication has lost all credibility.

editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
@Brian Shaffer: The story has been vetted by official sources in LA County. In addition, there has been plenty of other coverage in the mainstream media that disputes this claim.

Brian Shaffer
Brian Shaffer
Submitted by Brian Shaffer on
@editors First, thank you for posting my comment. I was concerned that it wouldn't be allowed on the site, but I respect that you permitted a challenging viewpoint here. As for the vetting of the article, it matters not. I'll repeat myself... I WAS THERE. Nobody blocked anything. The People Magazine link isn't working for me right now, but I did see it earlier, and they were dead wrong on this as well. Whoever told you that protestors "surrounded the home" and blocked DCFS is outright lying, and this information shouldn't be published.

JJohnson1956's picture
Submitted by JJohnson1956 on
What a twisted article. I registered just so I could say that. Shame on the Choctaw's for taking this girl from a loving home...from the girls' "mommy" and "daddy". This wasn't dug up by the media, this was a grassroots effort to show the absurdity of ICWA. @azsandy007 you are missing a screw or two...If they were doing it for the money, why did they have only one foster child? Why would they try to adopt? Why would they incur legal fees to fight this racist legislation that says because they are white they are not good enough to adopt a child from a registered sex offender dad and a drug addict mom.

Kali Kealoha Coultas
Kali Kealoha Coultas
Submitted by Kali Kealoha Coultas on
How dare her FATHER fight for her? are you kidding me? poverty doesn't make you a bad parent.... he sold stolen car parts.... not drugs... not weapons... he clearly needed money and was in a crappy situation of which he did the time for. Poverty doesn't mean that he's an unfit father, thats what the justice system decided, that she aws to be reunited WITH HER DAD. Not the foster parents. foster parents are just that... foster parents, temporary parents until the child can be reunified with their natural family or surrendered to the system and ... forgotten. These foster parents KNOW BETTER. They knew that going into caring for her, and they knew it to the day they had to part with her. If they weren't capable of letting her go, they shouldn't have looked after her. Children deserve their families... their natural ones if they're safe and her father hasn't shown any reason of not being safe. Adoption in this country has become an industry and has completely forgotten about the rights of the child and most of you are buying it hook line and sinker.... Want to help the girl? want to REALLY help the child? child first you say? then go help her father, and help her back to him. When parents are poor...they coudl use some help...but nobody EVER wants to help the parent keep their children....they just want to get their hands on that child....surprised they didn't rename her already and request a new birth certificate with the foster parents names lol.... anyone who supports this is supporting KIDNAPPING. ~ adoptee who has had a fantastic life and loves her adoptive parents and natural parents both...but realizes the importance of reunification when possible. Grow up america.

Mary Foreman
Mary Foreman
Submitted by Mary Foreman on
Get the facts straight - read the court documents for an unbiased view of this case. And SHAME on ICTMN for producing such a biased and incorrect view. Watch the videos and you will see NO ONE was blocking the home. Read the court docs and you will find that her father willingly gave up reunification efforts because he was emotionally unstable. The fact is that a 6 year old girl was torn out of the arms of her de facto parents - the only family she has ever known and sent to live with "relatives". These "relatives" are not her family, are not NA, do not live on a reservation, and do not have any blood ties to her. She has been sent to live with her step grandfather's niece. It is absolutely absurd, wrong, political posturing at its worst. SHAME on the Choctaw Nation for allowing this to happen.

Cluff's picture
Submitted by Cluff on
I would like to thank Indian Country News for the article. They obtained FACTS before publishing unlike many of the other news outlets. There is always more than one side to a story. You should be pleased with your journalist that published this article. They did a fine job.

Jewel's picture
Submitted by Jewel on
I can't believe the comment that the Paige family is only in it for money! Do you think 500 a month is suffucient to raise a child! NO! And I notice whoever wrote this article italicized the word temporary. Since when is 4 to 5 YEARS temporary???? Anyone of you who have a 6 year old child THINK what it would do to the child to be ripped away from your family! The whole thing is SICK

Douglas Buchholz
Douglas Buchholz
Submitted by Douglas Buchholz on
Shame on all that were involved, from the Courts, to ICWA, to DCYF to the Foster Parents, etc. They all were to blame.

editors's picture
Submitted by editors on
@Mary Foreman: Read the Choctaw Nation announcement just posted. See the DCFS’s statements on the thwarting of its attempt to carry out the transition in a manner best for the child.