A favorable psychiatric assessment, months of clean drug tests, several parenting programs proactively sought and completed and a pile of support and reference letters are not enough for a couple to have their toddler and infant returned by Winnipeg Child and Family Services (Winnipeg CFS).
The 22-month-old boy has been in custody of the agency for six months. The two month old girl was taken shortly after birth in November.
At issue – Winnipeg CFS “is worried (the parents) have significant substance concerns” reads a case plan written by a social worker and obtained by APTN News.
The first-time parents – dad in his late 20s, mom in her early 30s – provided APTN months of drug tests that show negative for everything except methadone, which they’re both prescribed for previous opiate addiction. She stopped using four years ago, him a year ago.
APTN cannot identify either as per the Child and Family Services Act of Manitoba.
CFS came to be in their lives when the maternal grandmother called them last summer to say she believes the couple are drug addicts and that her daughter (the children’s mother) has an undiagnosed mental illness. That was enough to take the toddler in September. Not long after the little girl was born in November, she was taken too.
Both were given to the grandmother.
“I think my mom is not very happy that we don’t have a very good relationship and it’s easier for her to say ‘she has a mental illness and that’s why we don’t get along,’” says the mother.
The couple also believes the grandma doesn’t like the dad, who is First Nation.
In addition to months of bi-weekly clean drug tests, APTN has a copy of a psychiatric assessment that says the mother does not have a psychiatric disorder and no follow-up is needed.
The parents say they’ve provided all of this to Winnipeg CFS to no avail.
Winnipeg CFS points to fentanyl in the mom’s system shortly after the little girl was born but medical records obtained by APTN that show she was given the drug twice in hospital after a c-section delivery.
All subsequent tests show no sign of the drug.
Kendra Inglis is a long-time child welfare worker and is currently serving as director of Makoon Transition Centre – a new 19-suite facility that helps families battling CFS.
“I’m shocked,” Inglis said, of the treatment of the couple and lack of a reunification plan by the caseworkers.
Makoon has stepped in to advocate for the reunification of the family.
“From all the documentation I’ve reviewed and meeting with the family I would say they have had an uphill battle. I’ve honestly never seen this amount of documentation be ignored.”
APTN emailed Winnipeg CFS outlining all of the concerns raised by the parents and advocates — including the refusal to accept clean drug tests, numerous parenting program completion certificates, a favorable psych assessments and failure to have a reunification plan in place.
APTN outlined sections of the Child and Family Services Act that may have been breached by the agency when they apprehended the children rather than offer supports to keep the family intact, while satisfying whatever concerns they have.
Jay Rodgers is CEO of the Winnipeg General Child and Family Services Authority of Manitoba which oversees Winnipeg CFS.
In a statement he said, “Many of the concerns and questions you have raised are case specific. I am unable to directly respond to those due to the confidentiality provisions in the Child and Family Services Act.”
But he went on to say he would review this matter.
“I can assure you that when concerns such as these are brought to the attention of the Authority, we will work very closely with both the agency and the family involved to do a comprehensive review of the services that have been provided.”
The mother says it’s good news but they plan to proceed with requesting their file be transferred to a culturally-appropriate Indigenous agency.
“Deep down I think they know we’re not using drugs but they’ve kind of already dug themselves in so they can’t really unravel it – it’s easier to just go with it instead of saying ‘we made a mistake’ – that’s something they’re not willing to do,” the mother said.
When the children were taken, CFS had the mother kicked off welfare. She has spent almost full-time hours every day since, building their case to have the kids returned. They live on the dad’s income in a small one-bedroom apartment.
Having Makoon intervene to request the children be given to the parents to live together in one of their suites, is the couple’s only chance left of having their kids back.
“I’m hoping that when the agency is presented with the family’s almost fail-proof plan they’ll see that if they want to work reunification, this is the time to do it. We have everything for safety – 24 hour supports, all the checks and balances are here so I would challenge the agency if they’re serious about returning children, this is the place and time.”