Having a child welfare file transferred from a provincial agency to a culturally-appropriate one had first-time parents hopeful their newborn would be returned to them before his one-month birthday on Christmas Eve.
But the infant’s mom says since having their matter handed over to Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services (DOCFS), things have actually gotten worse in some ways.
“We’re in limbo,” says the 38-year-old woman, who lives with her partner in Brandon, Man., where their son was taken from hospital at just two days old after a nurse called child welfare authorities to report “unsafe language” around a newborn.
APTN News cannot name the parents because of privacy rules under the province’s child welfare laws.
According to the parents, dad – who hadn’t slept in the three days mom was in labour — had been tending to the newborn as the mother left the room to get fresh air. The baby was fussing according to the father.
He was talking quietly to the baby assuring him dad would rock him to console him.
A nurse says she heard the word shake according to the mother and the child welfare agency.
Child and family services arrived and told the parents without an approved adult moving into their house immediately, the baby would be seized.
Manitoba is currently in a code red situation because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the parents say they weren’t prepared to have anyone live with them in their two bedroom home with only 24 hours notice.
Security escorted them out of the hospital and the baby was taken to a foster home out of town where he remains.
“We’ve seen him 10 times since he was born,” the mom says, pointing out he’s not being breastfed because of this. “Our next visit would have been scheduled for Christmas Day but DOCFS isn’t open that day so they won’t seem him for Christmas, much less him being home by then as mom had told APTN InFocus.
“It doesn’t feel like Christmas for us at all. We just stare at each other and try to find things to do to not break down in tears. It’s starting to eat at us as a couple. We don’t blame each other or anything, but it’s the stress of this – it’s hard.”
She says they avoid the baby’s room at home – a place they’d taken pride in creating, expecting to bring him home after he was born on Nov. 24.
It was shocking enough to have the infant taken but she says they were willing to go through the hoops without question, in order to get him back but what’s happened in the past month makes her question if that’s even the goal.
“They had originally said he was taken because of the language in the hospital but in our paperwork now, they’re saying it’s because of historical mental health issues, which they didn’t know about until after we were cooperating and being open about our histories when they asked,” the mom said. “Now these are the reasons you took him?”
The paperwork also said that historical addiction issues are a reason they took and are keeping the child – another disclosure that was only made after the baby was taken as mom and dad felt they had nothing to hide about their past.
“Before any of this happened I was ignorant about what CFS does – I had no idea. We thought it was a mistake — cooperate and get (the baby) back. But now it feels like we’re being set up. Like they’re going to drag this out, try to trigger us to fail and then they can say ‘see, we were right’ and keep him,” she said.
APTN called Brandon DOCFS asking if someone would explain in general, how a reunification works and on what sort of timeline, but was hung up on. Subsequent calls went to voicemail which went unreturned.
The same message was left at the head office outside of Winnipeg and was also not returned.
“We were proactive getting support documents from professionals including doctors – no one had any problems with us having a baby. We were prepared, we were ready we were happy. They have all of these documents and now we sit in limbo at the mercy of the bureaucracy without our baby,” the mom said.
A court date has been set for Jan. 4 to officially transfer the baby from CFS Western Manitoba to DOCFS.
In the meantime, a case worker told them to take a parenting course, which they’re currently enrolled in but don’t feel was necessary.
“We’re doing their dance. Doing what’s asked of us,” she said. They’re also in contact with the First Nations Family Advocate’s Office.
Mom said they were to have a meeting last week with their DOCFS caseworker to discuss next steps but the worker “didn’t show up and she’s now on holidays until after Christmas.”
If parents miss meetings with case workers it’s a strike against them in court. She questions if that will work the other way too.
There are currently nearly 10,000 children in care in Manitoba, 90 per cent of whom are Indigenous.