A foster child's biological uncle is speaking out after a KING 5 story aired with her foster parents, who were upset DSHS removed her from their home over her tribal bloodline.
Twenty-five-year-old Antonio Vaughan of Everett said "Elle" is now staying with him and his wife Ashlee.
"We're going to take care of her and make sure she's safe," said Vaughan. He said he felt sorry for the foster parents and that somehow the situation became "our family versus their family, with a little girl in between."
Two weeks ago, after a Skagit court commissioner's decision, DSHS removed the 3 year old girl from her foster parents home in Lynden where she had been living for the last two years.
Pete and Laura Lupo said they were heartbroken after losing her. They said DSHS had designated them to be her adoptive parents in December and that they were about to move forward with the process when she was removed from the home on June 5. According to the Lupos and their attorney, DSHS cited the Indian Child Welfare Act and state law as the reasons for placing the girl with her blood relatives.
"Elle's" birth mother had lost her parental rights. Her father, Scott Vaughn, is now serving time for assault with a deadly weapon. He was about to lose his parental rights in January, when his brother, Antonio stepped in to keep "Elle" in the family.
Antonio Vaughan says he had visited the toddler twice in her first year of her life, one of those times was for a week and half during the holiday season. She has also visited his home this year, through arrangements made with the Lupos.
When "Elle" went into the foster system, Vaughan says "from day one," they had always expressed interest in caring for her, but both he and his wife were living out of state and had just graduated from college. They said they had filled out a form with DSHS in July of 2012, expressing "future interest" in taking the child into their home.
Vaughan said at that time he also informed DSHS of "Elle's" Cherokee heritage. He stated that she was "likely 1 to 2 percent Cherokee."
Vaughan always assumed that "Elle" would go back to her parents eventually, but when it became clear they were on the verge of losing their parental rights, he and his wife stepped in. Vaughan said he helped his brother, Scott, enroll in the Cherokee tribe and that the tribe helped the family clarify her Native American heritage with DSHS, eventually paving the way for her to stay with family instead of the Lupos.
Vaughan says he has been involved in the Cherokee tribe for years when he lived in Oklahoma and his wife is a Nooksack descendant. They feel it is very important to make sure "Elle" is immersed in the tribal culture that she is a part of.