A Brandon Manitoba family, who is in a bitter battle with Michif Child and Family Services over their five-month-old infant son, says the system is unfairly rigged against families who are forced to comply with unreasonable demands like unwarranted supervised visits.
They say if you try to fight back, you risk losing your child for good to the system.
There are 11,000 kids in care in Manitoba.
Their baby is one.
He was taken at birth because his mother was convicted of failing to protect her infant daughter six years ago from injury. She was at the time, trapped in an abusive relationship herself.
Her abuser got 18 months for assaulting the mother – and she in turn got three years probation and lost her daughter for not keeping her from harm.
Someone had shaken the baby but the courts couldn’t prove who did it.
The couple says they contacted Michif CFS in December 2018 — four months before their son was born — because the mother had had previous involvement with child welfare with the daughter she lost to the system.
“All of December I was trying to meet with them to make a case plan to make sure my unborn child was not taken from us,” said mother.
In April 2019, weeks before their son was born, they heard back from the agency that they wanted to meet.
“They said nothing about an apprehension, it was possible but probably not, and would need to do a home inspection. We passed it – passed two by two totally different agencies,” said mom.
Then their son was born later that month and in swooped CFS.
They’d put a birth alert on mom’s health file so that anywhere she had the baby, hospital staff are flagged to notify the agency.
“Every time (the father) left the room, the CFS worker would show up,” said mom.
“They came three times to the hospital room, I never saw them once. But they came three times. Some how they snuck into the room every time to get her alone,” said the father.
By law APTN News can’t name a child in care or their parents, relatives or anyone who might lead to their identity.
The baby was a day old when they took him from his nursing mom.
She showed APTN InFocus the dozens of packages of breast milk she pumped, expecting they’d bring him home soon. They remain in her freezer.
It’s been five months and they’re still only being offered short supervised visits at the Michif CFS office.
Numerous emails finger-wag at the father for being “disrespectful” to staff, who he calls child traffickers and accuses of unlawfully kidnapping his son.
The father has two children from previous relationships. He has half custody of his daughter and his son, who live out of province but frequently come to Brandon to visit.
The mothers of those children fully support the mother and father and have no safety concerns or parenting issues with the couple.
But that’s not enough for Michif CFS.
Court records show they’re concerned the abuse that mom suffered six years ago makes her unfit to parent, citing a hip injury, post-concussion syndrome, anxiety and depression. All of which she continues to receive treatment for.
That she’s in a loving relationship with a man who has care and control of his older children, isn’t a factor in the agency’s decision to keep their infant.
Court documents show the caseworker admits she didn’t do an investigation or evaluation before taking the child, but simply acted on the old file of a different agency that took the mom’s older daughter.
Under oath she testified, “because of the information that we received in the intake module , after consulting with my supervisor we both agreed that if (the baby) was to be returned him, he would have been at risk of serious harm.”
The agency has not said why they won’t return the baby to his parents and do home checks as a way to address any concerns.
The parents say their son is at no risk of any harm with them.
But the father points out that agencies get more money from the government for putting kids in care.
A former teacher of the mother set up a GoFundMe account to help the couple raise money for a lawyer.
In Manitoba, agencies are paid by the government based on the number of kids they apprehend.
This incentivizes taking children from their homes, and has been cited in a provincial review of CFS as something that needs to stop.
The same review calls for an end to birth alerts that disproportionately flag Indigenous mothers and women who were at any point in time, in foster care themselves.
Most alerts lead to separating mothers from their newborns – something First Nations Family Advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, Cora Morgan said is one of the most violent acts you can commit against a woman.
The government of Manitoba has sat on this report and its recommendations for 14 months.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission and National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls have both demanded an end to birth alerts, saying they often lead to mental and emotional spirals that leave them broken and vulnerable.
It has a similar effect on the children raised in care. Both the TRC and MMIW report called for child welfare to be overhauled to keep families together whenever possible and put an end to the needless apprehensions happening across the country.
And in Sept., the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ordered compensation for on-reserve children needlessly ripped from their families should be awarded $40,000 in damages, along with their guardians, for the “wilful and reckless” destruction of Indigenous families by the Canadian government.
The governing Liberals announced on Oct. 4, that it is asking for a judicial review of the ruling.
The Green party and NDP have made it an election issue, saying they’d honour that ruling and the Conservatives, while not in government, said they’d challenge the compensation if they were in power.
Between 40,000 and 80,000 on-reserve children were made wards of the state between 2006 and 2017
British Columbia last month was the first to announce they’d end birth alerts immediately but Children and Families Minister Katrine Conroy couldn’t say what if anything would be done to return the babies in care who were taken on these alerts.
The couple from Brandon, Man., says it’s most frustrating that there’s nowhere to go when CFS has run amok and question how they can be given such power without accountability.
They say lawyers and judges seem to rubber stamp whatever agencies demand which allows the industry to operate without unfettered.
An emailed statement to APTN from the Métis CFS Authority, which is to oversees and governs Michif CFS, said:
“Our Metis CFS system prides itself on the work we do … not only to preserve families wherever possible, but to help families to strengthen by supporting them to build capacity and skills.”
It goes on to say parents who disagree with the processes should contact the Manitoba Children’s Advocate or the Ombudsman.