What should have been a day filled with balloons, cake and loved ones celebrating a baby boy’s first birthday was instead filled with tears, and emptiness for a Brandon, Man., couple whose newborn son was taken from them by child welfare workers in hospital days after he was born.
On April 24, their little boy turned one. He has never been home and they haven’t seen him since August 2019 when the already-tenuous relationship between them and Michif Child and Family Services workers turned sour, as the frustrated father called them kidnappers and child traffickers, saying they had no grounds to apprehend his child other than to support child welfare industry jobs.
“We’ve spent the day on and off crying,” said the little boys mom. “We cried ourselves to sleep last night.”
It’s illegal to name parents of children in care. Their battle was first shared last September on APTN InFocus.
“I should have heard him wake up this morning. I should have gotten him dressed and ready for his big day,” said the dad.
Every month for the past year, the couple updates a pile of clothes, diapers and toys sitting on a changing table in their cozy Brandon living room. They give the old but unused items away as they’ve too small for the growing boy that never comes home. His nursery sits empty but the freezer is still full of breastmilk his mom pumped for months, awaiting his homecoming.
Throwing it away would seem like a defeat neither wants to face.
The couple appeared in court in January hoping a judge would return the boy but instead, court was adjourned for the dad to get a legal aid lawyer. He now has one, but the mom’s is no longer working on the case.
The matter is to resume the end of May by teleconference, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Days after court in January, the parents were advised their caseworker and supervisor were no longer working on their file.
They say they’ve received no word form their new worker since February and have no idea how their son is doing in foster care.
In the meantime, both have taken several parenting classes hoping it somehow expedites their son’s return.
“We want to see him but they make you feel like criminals even to sign something that says you need supervised visits,” said the dad, who is raising kids from a previous relationship. The mothers of those children have given glowing written reviews of the couple’s ability to parent.
The problem stems from six years ago when the boy’s mother was in a relationship with a man convicted of assaulting her. Their infant daughter had been hurt too. No one was ever charged with that assault but the mom was convicted of failing to keep her safe and the girl was apprehended. Based on that, child welfare officials seized their newborn.
Months before he was born, the couple told CFS about the pregnancy wanting to make sure all was in order for them to be left alone to raise their first child together. They had two home visits but no plan was put together. Then the agency showed up at the hospital with an apprehension order.
“We had said come, drop in to our home for unannounced visits if you’ve got concerns – we agreed to that. That should have been their first option, not taking my son,” said the dad.
Former Winnipeg Centre Liberal MP Robert Falcon-Oullette raised their case in the House of Commons arguing for reformed child welfare laws, known as Bill C-92 which was to give more power and flexibility to Indigenous child welfare agencies rather than provincial laws he felt unfairly target Indigenous families.
Manitoba Liberal MLA Jon Gerrard has been advocating for the couple for six months, also frustrated that taking the baby was the first course of action, rather than the last and that the system is designed so that agencies have unlimited power to make parents jump through hoops and punish them with punitive measures if they question the system or stand up for themselves.
Metis Child and Family Services Authority governs Michif CFS and has said in a statement to APTN:
“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.