This is the first in a series of WND reports on Lexi, the Page family and the Indian Child Welfare Act.
WASHINGTON – "She melted hearts."
Every child is special. Every parent knows that. But Lexi was different. She stood out. She had a special charm. At first glance, the little girl with the long, brown, braided ponytail may have looked like just any other kid next door, but she would quickly prove to be one of those rare souls who made you immediately take notice ... and then never forget.
Lexi's story could be a Frank Capra film. As supporters see it, all the coercive power and brute force of a heartless government bureaucracy was deployed against a helpless little girl, ripped out of the arms of her loving, heartbroken, all-American, suburban family.
Why? Simply because Lexi is 1/64th Native American. And because of a law, the only one of its kind in the U.S. legal system, that does not put the interest of a child above others, the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA.
And what a little girl she was. This is how her foster father, Rusty Page, who forced himself to speak of her in the past tense, described Lexi in a phone interview earlier this week with WND:
"She is, at least, she was, a very sweet girl. Anybody that knew her knew she was the happiest little girl out there. She could literally make anyone's frown turn upside down.
"She'd walk out our front door and see our next door neighbor, who's a gruff guy, and scream out his name and say, 'Hey, let me tell you about my day!' or 'Let me tell you a story,' and he would stop doing whatever he's doing and listen to her. It obviously wasn't his normal thing, but she melted hearts.
"She truly cared about everybody. She received a 'Student of the Month' award last month for her caring attitude. Out of all the kids at her school, she exhibited the most caring.
"She's the type of girl nobody would ever assume had gone through the trauma she had in her life."
Lexi arrived at the Page's door four years ago, a 25-month-old traumatized victim of two previous foster homes, with a mother battling addiction to methamphetamine and a father who had done time in prison for grand theft and had a history of domestic abuse.
The Pages turned that traumatized, broken child into a sweet, secure, happy and loving six-year-old.
But then came perhaps the biggest trauma of her life, thanks to the very people whose job it is to protect her.
Agents of the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services arrived at the Page home on March 21, to take Lexi from the only family she's ever known, to send her to live in Utah with a woman who is not even a blood relative.
And the cruel scene all unfolded in front of family, friends, the neighborhood, and the nation, as television cameras were rolling on a deceptively beautiful day in the Southern California suburb of Santa Clarita.
With Lexi hanging onto her father for dear life, clutching a teddy bear with her other hand, Rusty somberly walked her to the agents' car, while members of the Page family screamed in horror from the driveway.
Lexi is 1.5 percent Choctaw. The Choctaw tribe went to court, under ICWA, to place the girl with relatives, but the best they could find was a second step-cousin in Utah. In other words, Lexi is being taken from the only family she has ever loved to be placed with a non-blood relative who is not even a Native American, ostensibly to help preserve the Choctaw tribe.
The law does have an exception, when there is "good cause" to place the child with a non-Indian family. And all parties, including the tribe, the judges and child-welfare workers agreed that Lexi has formed a healthy, solid bond with the Pages, unlike any she has formed with any others. That includes her biological father, whom she has met and apparently fears.
The Page family believes, if any child ever qualified as exception to ICWA, it should be Lexi. But after two trips to local courts, and two to appeals courts, the California Supreme Court decided on March 30 it would not intervene in the case.
Lexi's fate has caused critics to point to the case as a particularly perverse and cruel example of how, by tearing her from the only family she's ever known and shipping her off to live with virtual strangers, the law can do tremendous harm to children by placing the interests of tribes above those of a child.
In fact, critics say, the law can be so onerous, foster family agencies increasingly won't even take Native American children.
Lexi's story, and the outrage it caused, made big national news when it happened three weeks ago, but disappeared from the headlines as soon as the girl was gone.
WND is doing this series because this story is actually far from over. In talking to the family and its attorney, WND has learned the Pages have good reason to hope Lexi will be returned to them and that they will be able to adopt her. That is because the case is heading back to the California appeals court for a third time, where the Pages have won twice before.
That issue will be examined in the next installment of this series, a discussion with the family attorney. WND will also examine the unintended but damaging consequences of the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA.
WND asked Rusty how he and his wife, Summer, were doing, now that it had been three weeks since Lexi had been taken.
"We're doing okay. We're just getting the word out there as much as possible. Also, we are just encouraging people by sharing the ways we've been encouraged with the amazing support from others and by the grace of God."
The parents have also been comforting their three biological children, who had grown extremely close to Lexi.
"They're doing okay," the reflective father observed in a soft voice that appeared to carry a hint of concern. "During the day they're typically distracted with school or activities. Night time is a little harder when they'll cry and ask questions that we can't answer. But, overall, they're doing as well as can be expected."
Had the family heard any word from Lexi?
"No, we haven't. Not even gotten a text message. not even, 'She's okay – leave us alone.' It's been complete silence. We sent a CARE package with some notes, and things like that. But we don't even know that it arrived, other than just having the FedEx tracking number."
Didn't a judge recognize Lexi's special bond with the family and rule it would be best for her to stay in touch?
"There was no formal agreement. Everybody's determination was really that the only way Lexi would be okay would be if she had continued communication with us. And it's been 22 days and not a word. And we know that she's hurting. We know that she's likely begging to call us. That makes it hard. As a mom and dad, that makes it the hardest on us. And, obviously, on her."
A source familiar with the matter noted that experts testified on behalf of the Page family, backed by science, that even with continued contact and even with therapy, Lexi would suffer long-term psychological harm if she were moved to Utah. So, the other side argued that, in order to lessen her trauma, there would be continued contact. Basically, the premise of their entire argument was that Lexi would still have the support of the Page family as she made the transition to her new family in Utah, and afterwards.
However, as Rusty attested, that has not happened.
In the meantime, the Page family has reportedly asked the family court for an order requiring contact with Lexi. The L.A. County Department of Children & Family Services, or DCFS, is reportedly opposing that. The bureaucrats’ position is Lexi should be kept from talking to her parents unless they agree to stop talking to the media and tell their supporters around the world, who are lobbying for them on social media, to stop too.
The source called it “shameful” to deprive Lexi of contact with the Pages because the bureaucrats are embarrassed by the media attention in this case. The source also pointed out that the Pages obviously could not silence their supporters, even if they wanted to. "That cat was out of the bag long before DCFS tried to coerce the Pages into silence," claimed the source.
Here's how you can help the Page family:
DONATE to the Go Fund Me account to the help the Pages pay for their ever-rising legal fees: $45,975 out of the goal of $50,000 has been raised by 779 people in 27 days.
SIGN the petition: 120,466 supporters have signed, leaving just 29,534 needed to reach the goal of 150,000
VISIT the Facebook page
So, with no direct contact with Lexi, had the Pages had any contact with any officials about her condition?
"We've had a couple of emails from L.A. County," said Rusty. "I probably can't share the contents. But, they've basically been negative towards contact."
Contact would seem especially important to a girl who had bonded so tightly with her foster family they wanted to adopt her.
"She loved having fun," her father reflected. "Our's is a family of music. We're always listening to music, we're always singing. We're always dancing, and that was her favorite activity: dance with Daddy or Mommy."
With warmth coming back into his voice, Rusty recalled how Lexi would "just play crazy with her siblings. She and her sister would get up on chairs and pretend that they're in a concert together. They did a video for my brother when he was getting married, and asked if they could be the entertainment act at the wedding. I mean, that's just the type they are. They're happy."
WND remarked how amazing that was, considering Lexi's problems when she first came to live with his family, and asked how they helped her adjust?
"I can speak to what's in the public court documents, which is that when she first came to us she was virtually a shell of a person. She'd been bounced around among several homes, she'd experienced abuse, both at home and also at foster homes. So, our focus for her was providing her love and consistency, which is what every child needs and deserves."
Rusty then described something particularly heartbreaking, a little girl who looked for a mother and father in every adult she saw.
"She would indiscriminately call everybody mommy and daddy, which was a problem because that led to her not having an understanding of strangers, and the roles of the different people in her life. She would exhibit severe signs of fear and detachment disorder.
"It was very, very difficult for her to get by, just day-to-day. That's why, as we devoted our time to helping her, even the first trial judge expressed a great deal of surprise that we were able to get her through in the way that we did, and the fact that she no longer needed therapy – and never actually received therapy. It was all through just love and consistency in our home, that she was able to recoup."
Just love and consistency?
"That's what every kid needs."
He called that the opposite of attachment breaking.
"When you break attachments, you break that bond and that love. We did what every parent would do with their kid, which is just treat them with utmost respect and whatever we could to encourage her and just let her know that she was loved."
How did you the Pages end up with Lexi? Was it their first experience with foster parenting?
"It wasn't our first time, actually. We knew the family who had her before us. She had been living with them for seven months. And when they found out her birth father was getting out of jail, and that ICWA was involved..."
He let the sentiment just trail off, indicating that was when that family gave up on the system because of ICWA, even though they loved Lexi enough to want to keep her.
"Their goal was to adopt. So, they were basically scared by what was going to happen. They were also struggling with the behavioral issues. So they turned in what's called their seven-day notice of termination."
They gave notice with the intention of turning her over to you?
"No, they basically said 'We can't deal with this, we're going to turn in notice.'"
So, they just gave up on her?
"Yeah. Out of fear of ICWA. And the ramifications that go with it. That speaks to the sadness of what ICWA does."
And then Rusty said something shocking. ICWA was actually preventing kids from finding homes.
"In recent years a lot of foster family agencies actually refuse to take Native American children now because of the fears that come with it."
The family taking care of Lexi was afraid they would get too close to her then lose her?
"Yes, but also the financial burden as well as the emotional burden. It was all too much for them to handle."
The family decided to abandon Lexi on December 22, four years ago, and let the social worker know. Rusty recalled, "The social worker basically said, 'I don't know if I can find a family by Christmas time.'"
But the social worker knew where there might be room at the inn for the child no one wanted, as Christmas Eve approached.
The Page family had watched Lexi a couple of times for something called weekend respite care and week-long respite care.
"So, when we took her in, it was because it was Christmas time, and no child deserves to be sleeping at DCFS's office on Christmas. So we took her in on respite, and basically asked that they find her a Native American registered foster home soon after."
But what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement ran into a snag.
"We told them she could stay with us through Christmas and after that, let's start looking for a home. Well, it turned out, there are no Native American registered foster homes in L.A. County. At least, they're weren't at the time, I don't know if there are now."
Weeks went by. Months went by.
"So we said, look, we have a choice to make, and that's either that we treat this child like a red-headed stepchild and exclude her from everything, or we treat her like every child deserves."
But even as the Pages elected to treat little Lexi as a full-fledged family member, they tried to reconnect her with her father.
"We worked with the birth father on reunification. That was the only plan at the time. And we just did what we felt called to do, which was just to take care of her. The first eight months she was with us, that was our goal, it was to help her heal and to help her reunify with her birth father ."
But Lexi's biological father stopped visiting Lexi and cancelled his reunification.
And somewhere along the way, the Pages fell in love with Lexi.
"Yeah. And that's natural. A lot of people say, 'Well, you should know as foster parents that's how it works,' and we agree – when we signed up to be foster parents, we signed up for the heartbreak that potentially comes with losing a child."
But there is a key difference in this case, he noted.
"At the end of the day, Lexi never signed up for that. Lexi never signed up for the first three years of her life being horrific."
Rusty asserted it's all about what's best for Lexi, not about what the Page family wants. But that is why the family is fighting so hard, and will take it all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary, to get her back.
"From day one, when we started foster care, whether it was the first case or with Lexi, it's always been about the best interest of the child. That's where ICWA has some problems. It sets aside the best interests of the child. We can take the hurt. But there's a reason why the first judge, and Lexi's first attorney, all agreed that she should stay in our home. Were it not for ICWA, that would have been what happened. That shows the tragedy that comes with a law that intentionally ignores a child's best interest.
"Everybody agreed she was strongly bonded and attached with us, and that was three years ago. Imagine how that's grown in the course of three years. So, people keep saying, 'You've been fighting for three years, it's your fault,' but it's not a family fighting to expand our children, its not about what we want or what the family needs, it's about what Lexi wants and what Lexi needs.
"We've had another biological child since Lexi arrived. We can very easily expand our family. That's never been our intention and never will be, as we continue to do foster care for kids who need it."
They've cared for two foster children so far, and wish it had been more, but have been prevented from doing that by the way the drama with Lexi has played out.
"We're some of the biggest proponents of foster care. I write pieces that are read by 6,000 people, I've spoken at Dodger Stadium, spoken at many different venues, so I'd like to be able to practice what I preach and continue doing foster care, the need is so great."
How did he become moved by the foster child cause?
"I've always had a heart for caring for orphans. As Christians, we are called to care for orphans."
He called his wife's story a little bit different.
"Her best friend, growing up, got pregnant when she was a teenager and gave the child up for adoption. And the family who adopted the child became very influential in Summer's life. My wife realized, it takes a very special person to love someone who's not their own biological child. What was really moving for her, and then me, down the road, was not just that they cared for her daughter, but that they cared for the teenager just as much."
Rusty said when they first started foster care their goal wasn't just to help children but also to help biological parents to overcome issues that keep them in the system, such as lifestyle choices.
He said they're the first ones to tell people that foster parenting is not the place to look for a child to adopt.
"If you're in this to care for families and care for children, you're in it for the right reasons."
Then, a stern warning.
"And be prepared for the battle of your life. Because, at the end of the day, it's working with a broken system."
How hopeful is he that the appeals court will return Lexi to the Page family?
"We're reservedly hopeful. We've already prevailed twice in the court of appeals, so we're hopeful that reason will prevail. And I think we get further and further encouraged as we see more and more people signing the petition and sending us notes encouraging us to fight on. So, we're very optimistic, cautiously optimistic about the court of appeals.
"But, like I said on day one, should we lose in the court of appeals, that's not the end game. It's really not over until the federal Supreme Court rules.
"If you read the details of the Baby Veronica case, the federal Supreme Court made it clear that additional ICWA cases coming through will be treated with a greater deal of scrutiny. So, I am very optimistic at the federal level, however, I don't want to wait until the federal level because, meanwhile, Lexi is hurting. But we're willing to take the fight as far as it needs to go.
"And even after she's home, we will continue to fight for reform of ICWA. We hope it will become 'Lexi's Law,' a law that helps protect Native American children. The law should never give the tribes basically a yellow card to pull at the end to dictate their will over a child, regardless of their best interests. We're optimistic about a Lexi's Law."
Have they received any assistance from anyone in government?
"Yes, we've received quite a bit of support from local mayors, from congressmen, from assemblymen. We're currently working toward going to Washington, D.C., to meet with a contingent of elected officials to talk about what a Lexi's Law would truly look like. It was actually an assemblyman who came up with that concept of Lexi's Law. We want it to be more than the Pages go to D.C. There are several other families that have been impacted by ICWA."
Is he working with his congressman, Rep. Steve Knight, R-Calif.?
"Yes. Actually, I was on the phone with his office when they came to take Lexi. So, I had to rudely hang up on him and come to the rescue, as much as possible."
Knight later said, "The Page family and their struggle is very concerning to me, and my heart goes out to them at this dark hour. While this issue must be handled primarily by the judicial system, my staff and I will stay in close contact with the family to provide any support and information possible."
What does Rusty want the world to know about his family's fight for Lexi?
"I would just say I think what we've done is what every mother and father would do for their child. And I just want to encourage people to be willing to fight for their children and for truth. And be willing to put yourself in position to do that as a foster parent.
"We need more good foster parents in this country. The last thing I want is for this case to scare people away from caring for children. I would use our experience as a platform to advocate for good foster parents and ensure that children's futures are brighter than they are today."
Here are the basics and some of the astounding highlights of the Lexi Page case:
- Lexi is six. She had lived with the foster family of Rusty and Summer Page since the age of 25 months, after living with two previous foster families.
- Lexi was 17-months old when she was removed from the custody of her birth mother, who had a long history of drug abuse and had lost custody of at least six other children.
- The Choctaw tribe wanted to reunite Lexi with her biological father, even though he had an extensive criminal record and had lost custody of one other child.
- Lexi was taken from the Page family, seized by the state on March 21, screaming and clutching her teddy bear, and relocated to live in Utah.
- Lexi was taken under the Indian Child Welfare Act, or ICWA, because she is 1/64th Choctaw. That's 1.5 percent.
- ICWA gives tribes authority over placement of children who qualify for tribal membership; in the case of the Choctaw, that is children who have any trace of Choctaw blood.
- But the woman she's been placed with is neither a blood relative nor an Indian. However, Lexi's foster mother, Summer Page, is part Indian: the Tuscarora Tribe.
- Lexi is now in the care of a woman named Ginger, whose uncle is Lexi's step-grandfather. That makes Ginger a step-second cousin.
- On March 30, the California Supreme Court refused to intervene in the case. But an appeal to return Lexi to the Pages is still before the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles. The Page's attorney plans to take the case as far as the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.
- The Pages have not been able to speak with Lexi since she was moved, even though they were assured they would.
- Lauren Axline of Valencia, California, who was the foster social worker on Lexi's case for three-and-a-half years, said: "I can speak of the deceptive, crooked, and destructive things the ICWA (Indian Child Welfare Act) social workers and lawyers have done that are not in the best interest of this child or her future."
- She added: “I can also speak of the amazing Page family and how they have loved Lexi from day one and how much Lexi is truly a part of their family. They took a scared two-year-old who didn’t know a parent from a stranger and helped form this beautiful, silly, confident, loving, stable little six-year-old by the love and nurture they provided for her in their home the last four-and-a-half years.”
- Axline described the Native American unit of the Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services as “deceptive” and “crooked."
- The slight tribal heritage of the biological father is the reason Lexi was seized, although she will not be returned to him.
- Lexi and her biological father have never lived on a reservation or been subject to tribal law before.
- Axline told the Daily Mail that on trips to visit her father, Lexi seemed traumatized -- scared to death of him: she would hide and cry hysterically.
- He has a criminal record including drug use and grand theft auto -- and, most alarmingly, domestic battery.
- Axline said she believed the foster agency handling Lexi's case 'hid' key-facts, 'overlooked' damning visitation reports and 'refused' to put the child's best interests first.
- Axline said the Native American unit of the DCFS has behaved terribly and she wants to expose their 'lies' and 'cover-ups. But she said the DCFS continued to ignore her reports.
- She said, "Instead of writing Lexi was 'hysterically crying' during visits with the family she now lives with in Utah, as I told them, they would put, 'Lexi had such a fun time at Disneyland when they went, she was smiling and laughing'. It was completely deceptive."
- Axline said things got so bad that her agency began reporting things directly to the court so they could at least see both sides.
- 'It doesn't make any sense, Summer Page is native non-blood but the family in Utah is non-native, non-blood,' she said.
The Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma issued this statement on the case:
"The Choctaw Nation’s values of faith, family and culture are what makes our tribal identity so important to us. From the beginning of this case, the Choctaw Nation advocated for Lexi’s placement with her family.
"Lexi’s family was identified early on, and they have created a loving relationship with her. The Pages were always aware that the goal was to place Lexi with her family, and her permanent placement has been delayed due to the Pages’ opposition to the Indian Child Welfare Act.
"We understand the public’s concerns for Lexi’s well being as this is our main focus, but it is important to respect the privacy of this little girl. We believe that following the Choctaw Nation’s values is in Lexi’s best interest.
"The Choctaw Nation will continue to uphold these values and advocate for Lexi’s long-term best interest."
In the next installment of this series, the Page's attorney will explain to WND why this custody case has similarities to many other heartbreaking cases, but is still different than any other in U.S. history.
Here's how you can help the Page family:
DONATE to the Go Fund Me account to help the Pages pay for their ever-rising legal fees: $45,975 out of the goal of $50,000 has been raised by 779 people in 27 days.
SIGN the petition: 120,466 supporters have signed, leaving just 29,534 needed to reach the goal of 150,000
VISIT the Facebook page