Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Foster Care and Lexi

The noticeable protest in Saugus, Santa Clarita, California is about a six year old foster child, Alexandria (Lexi), whose foster parents Russel (Rusty) and Summer Page wanted to adopt her but were prevented from doing so.  Normally I wouldn't give this situation more than a passing glance, but Alan Sherban (on Facebook) supported the effort, and if everything goes as planned, Alan is going to be the new Pastor at Bethany Community Fellowship (on Facebook), so I took a look at the situation.  Here's my two cents.

The foster care system in the U.S. is underfunded, understaffed and overwhelmed by the number of consumers, i.e. children in need of foster care.  Financially speaking, it doesn't make a lot of cents sense to become involved in foster care.  If you're any kind of a parent at all, you'll rapidly become frustrated with the official child care staff, most of whom are incompetent and obstructive by nature.  The few that are any good at their job at all are so overworked that a 12 hour day seems like a vacation.  Little wonder, as half the day is spent running around from place to place, the other half is divided over paperwork and cleaning up the hazmat spill created by co-workers.  Foster care parents tend to pay a lot of miscellaneous expenses themselves rather than fight with the government over a five dollar item.

The system tends to attract two kinds of people.  Group One is comprised of those few married couples that have discovered how to make a nice second income off foster care.  It isn't easy, but if you construct a dormitory and model it after the prison system, it can be done.  Like I said, it's rare, but it does happen.  It's generally 8 to 16 beds, and the place is open 24/7/365 to process new arrivals, like the survivors from a domestic at 3:00 AM.  Typically, these are not kind, altruistic, loving people.  They run foster care the same way you might run a 7/11 or a liquor store, only with a lower profit margin.  Group Two is a little different.

People in Group Two tend to be kind, empathetic people.  Most are religious, and all have a genuine desire to help the less fortunate.  Think about the sort of couple you'd like to have if you were forced to leave your children with them for an unknown period of time - and mind you, you're forced to leave your kids.  The thing is, people in Group Two will, by their very nature, tend to become attached to the children, and vice verse.

That's pretty much what happened here.  In spades.

Lexi came to live with Russel (Rusty) and Summer Page when she was around 18 months old.  Her biological parents are unfit to care for her, or pretty much anything else.  Her mother is a drug addict and petty criminal with five or six other children, all of whom she has lost custody of due to child endangerment and neglect.  Her father is also a drug addict (imaging that!), petty criminal, former guest of the State and general all-around bad guy.  He got out of the slammer (enforced rehab) all dried out and ready to bond with his little girl.  He was allowed visits once a week and managed to stay sober for 6 months before he fell off the wagon and landed back in the gutter.  The upshot here is that both 'parents' terminated their parental rights some time ago, which left Lexi up for adoption.

Now comes the tricky part.  The goal of foster care is to reunite the child with the parents, the thought being that the parents (or parent, singular) will eventually iron out their problems - which can be legion and involve hard drugs, mental illness, and violent crime - and everyone will get back together and skip off happily into namby-pamby land.  Which kind of happens, sometimes, and other times does not.  The main points here are to 1) care for the child, and 2) to reunite the child with family.  Ergo, foster care is temporary.  In Lexi's case that's especially true, and it was explained to Rusty and Summer right up front.

Lexi's biological mother was, and still is if she's alive, a member of the Choctaw Nation.  That means that the Choctaws recognize Lexi as a member of the tribe.  So, when both parents relinquished their parental rights, the Choctaw Indian tribe is first in line to adopt Lexi.  How? (pun intended)  Easy.

The Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA). The ICWA was enacted by the Federal Government when it was discovered and proven beyond the shadow of any doubt at all that children were being taken away from Indian tribe families and placed with white families who later adopted them.  You know how long it takes the Federal Government to actually redress a moral wrong in the US?  The ICWA was enacted back in the 1970s, and it was mainly due to the immoral behavior of the Church of Later Day Saints that did it.  Translated into English (from Congressional Weasel-Speak), it states that the Indian tribe gets first dibs on adoption, no matter what.  The tribe can pass on that right, but the tribe gets first choice.  That's the way it is with Lexi.

Rusty and Summer knew this right from the beginning.  Before they became foster parents, they knew they couldn't keep the kids they fostered.  In Lexi's case, they knew that even if the parents relinquished all parental rights and claims, or had their rights taken away from them, the Choctaw Nation would be first in line to adopt Lexi.  So they knew, up front, they'd have to give her up.

The thing is, they got attached to Lexi and wanted to keep her.  When they said they wanted to adopt her, the government told them to take a number and get in line.  They didn't.  They took it to court.  When the court told them to give Lexi up, they appealed.  They lost the appeal, and told their lawyer to take it to the California Supreme Court, and then (for all I know) to the United States Supreme Court if needs be.  Frankly, the California Supreme Court will likely refuse to hear the case, letting the lower court's decision stand, but that's another matter.  At the end of all this, the Page family got their decision which you can read here: Official Court Decision in the Court Of Appeal of the State of California. It outlines the entire bloody saga.

The Pages didn't like the decision, so they started a media circus which you can read about (or not as it amuses you) in Protests unable to stop child’s removal from family under Indian Child Welfare Act and UPDATE: County takes 6-year-old from Saugus foster family. Both these articles beg the question, "What kind of monster steals a 6-year-old child from a family that loves her?"  Thus vilifying the Department of Children and Family Services, the Choctaw Nation and pretty much anyone who dares to disagree with the Page family.

I don't doubt the Page family's love for Lexi, nor do I doubt that they'd provide a good home for her.  I don't fault them for taking their case to court to see if there might be an exception here.  But when it is made clear that there is no exception (Common Pleas Court), and that there really is no exception (Court of Appeals), isn't it time to start packing?

When it comes to the welfare, particularly the emotional welfare of a six year old child, does the weeping of her parents, the screaming of demonstrators and the commercial media circus really help her, or does it make her inevitable departure more traumatic?  And what about the other children in the family?  How are they supposed to handle this when their parents can't?

I was raised by tough, strong parents.  I learned very early in my life that you don't always get what you want, and when that happens the way you handle it matters.

Update: Here is an article by Suzette Brewer that summarizes everything nicely:Breaking: California Returns Child to Family in ICWA Case. Evidently this is not Rusty and Summer's first rodeo.  They've been through this scenario once before with identical results, less the demonstrators and commercial media.  If you want to read an even-handed, factual treatment of the story, this is an informative article.

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