A lot has gone around the Internet over the last few days regarding the Page family in Santa Clarita. I’ve read some of the comments (which you should not do) and there seems to be a combination of emotions running high and miscommunication/misinformation about the situation. So, as we should train ourselves to do, I went to the original documents for some clarity. (But not until a friend prompted me by reading it first. Thanks, friend!) Here are some excerpts from an appeal the Second Appellate Court of California. You can find the link to the appeal on the Pages’ petition to bring Lexi home.
In this part, I’ll just provide key excerpts from the appeal with headings that clarify what is going on. I’ve made the headers as factual and unbiased as possible so that you can simply get information on what has happened. Tomorrow, I’ll give my thoughts on the situation.
NOTE: The document calls Lexi by her full name, “Alexandria,” and abbreviates the Pages to “the P.s.” The Pages are referred to as “de facto” parents to distinguish them from Lexi’s biological parents and her extended family in Utah.
A description of the situation
A 17-month-old Indian child was removed from the custody of her mother, who has a lengthy substance abuse problem and has lost custody of at least six other children, and her father, who has an extensive criminal history and has lost custody of one other child. The girl’s father is an enrolled member of an Indian tribe, and the girl is considered an Indian child under the ICWA. The tribe consented to the girl’s placement with a non-Indian foster family to facilitate efforts to reunify the girl with her father. The girl lived in two foster homes before she was placed with de facto parents at the age of two. She bonded with the family and has thrived for the past two and a half years. After reunification efforts failed, the father, the tribe, and the Department of Children and Family Services (Department) recommended that the girl be placed in Utah with a non-Indian couple who are extended family of the father. De facto parents argued good cause existed to depart from the ICWA’s adoptive placement preferences and it was in the girl’s best interests to remain with de facto family. The child’s court-appointed counsel argued that good cause did not exist. The court ordered the girl placed with the extended family in Utah after finding that de facto parents had not proven by clear and convincing evidence that it was a certainty the child would suffer emotional harm by the transfer. (2-3)
The Page family knew that Lexi’s placement was subject to ICWA
The P.s were Alexandria’s third foster care placement, initially arranged in December 2011 as a “respite care” placement5 that evolved into a long-term foster care placement. The P.s were aware that Alexandria was an Indian child and her placement was subject to the ICWA. By the time Alexandria was placed with the P.s in December 2011, her extended family in Utah, the R.s, were aware of dependency proceeding and had spoken to representatives of the tribe about their interest in adopting Alexandria. The tribe agreed to initial foster placement with the P.s because it was close to father at a time when he was working on reunification. If reunification services were terminated, the tribe recommended placement with the R.s in Utah. (5)
The Page family was a good testimony of familial love and care
Alexandria’s first months after being placed with the P.s were difficult. She was weepy at times, did not want to be held, and had difficulty differentiating between strangers and caregivers, indiscriminately calling people “mommy” or “daddy.” These behaviors were considered signs of a “reactive attachment, the disinhibitive type.” The P.s addressed Alexandria’s attachment issues with consistency and loving care. They did not ask the social worker for a therapy referral, understanding the issues to be ones they could work out on their own. After a few months, Alexandria’s behavioral issues resolved, and she formed a strong primary bond and attachment with the entire P. family, viewing the parents as her own parents and the P. children as her siblings. (5)
The Page family wanted to adopt Lexi
Alexandria has lived with the P.s for over two and a half years, beginning in December 2011. By all accounts, they have provided her with clear and consistent rules, and a loving environment. Alexandria is bonded to the P.s, and has a healthy attachment to them. The Department consistently reminded the P.s that Alexandria is an Indian child subject to the ICWA placement preferences. At some point after father’s reunification efforts failed, the P.s decided they wanted to adopt Alexandria. They discussed the issue with the Department social worker, who advised them that the tribe had selected the R.s as the planned adoptive placement. (8)
Lexi’s attorney decided not to oppose Lexi’s removal
Over the next six months [February to July 2013], the court granted de facto parent status to the P.s, the ICPC request permitting Alexandria’s placement with the R.s in Utah was approved, Alexandria’s attorney withdrew her objection to Alexandria’s change in placement [thus favoring Lexi’s move from the Pages to Utah],8 and all parties submitted briefing addressing whether good cause existed to depart from the ICWA’s adoptive placement preferences. (10)
NOTE: The remarks in [square brackets] are mine for clarification.
The court determined Lexi’s best interests by professional testimony
The social workers and therapists who testified all agreed that Alexandria has a primary attachment and a strong bond with the P.s. She considers Russell and Summer P. her parents and the P. children her siblings. Regarding Alexandria’s ability to attach with a new caregiver if her bond with the P.s is broken, Javier and Lingenfelter acknowledged that a change in placement would be potentially traumatic, but that the existence of a primary bond and healthy attachment increases the likelihood that a child will successfully attach to a new caregiver. Marquez believed that with appropriate intervention and support, Alexandria would cope with a transition resiliently, characterizing the possible trauma as a loss, but not the equivalent of the death of a parent. Lingenfelter and Marquez both acknowledged that any transition would pose a risk of trauma, including the possibility of depression and anxiety. Javier did not believe Alexandria would suffer any severe trauma because she sees the R.s as family and would not feel as if she is being sent to live with strangers. Axline, on the other hand, compared the transition to the death or loss of a parent or family, because “she is being taken away from everything that is familiar to her, everything that she’s known to be stability.” She also believed that Alexandria would have a more difficult time adjusting to a new placement than when she first came to the P.s because of the length of time she has been living with the P.s, and because she is able to understand far more than when she transitioned to the P.s at two years of age. (11)
The court ruled against the Page family
The court issued its written statement of decision on December 9, 2013, finding the P.s had not demonstrated good cause to depart from the placement preferences and ordering a gradual transition for Alexandria to move from the P.s’ home to the R.s’ home. In its decision, the court reviewed the law governing the ICWA’s placement preferences and concluded that the R.s were extended family entitled to preference under section 1915(a) and Welfare and Institutions Code section 361.31(h) unless the P.s demonstrated good cause to depart from that preference. (12)
Ultimately, the court concluded that the P.s “were unable to meet their burden by clear and convincing evidence, that either the child currently had extreme psychological or emotional problems or would definitively have them in the future. Without that evidence, supported by experts, there is insufficient evidence to warrant a deviation from the placement preference. The evidence is uncontroverted that Alexandria is extremely bonded to the [P.s] and that she sees this family as her primary attachment. And while the bonding with the [P.s] is significant to this court, it does not supersede the placement preference under the ICWA. (13-14)