A Metis mother in Manitoba who is trying to get in-person visitation rights with her two children is being told that she will be excluded from a meeting between lawyers with the child welfare agency and the judge who is examining her case.
The mother told APTN News that she was notified by a court clerk Friday afternoon that Manitoba CFS (child and family services) filed a petition on June 11 to see a judge on Monday June 22 — the day she was trying to get an emergency court appearance to address the expired temporary custody order and the lack of visitation with her children aged 9 and 11.
According to the mother, the clerk advised her the CFS lawyer will teleconference with the judge and neither she nor a legal representative are allowed on that call.
“So do they petition for an extension or permanent custody and I find out about it after and have no say in that discussion,” the mother said.
The clerk told her she can petition to ask a judge to order in-person visits or to have the children returned but that won’t happen Monday.
Trying to see her children in person
While Manitobans are enjoying the re-opening phase of COVID-19 restrictions which includes gathering indoors with friends, loved ones – even strangers — in groups under 25, the mother is questioning why the government is still refusing in-home visits between parents and children in the child welfare system.
The mother cannot be named because it is unlawful to name anyone involved with an open child welfare file in Canada.
The children are held on a temporary order from a judge that expired on June 15. Court has not been rescheduled and there’s no plan to return the children.
During the teleconference, of which APTN has obtained an audio recording, a social worker with Manitoba general CFS asked the mother if Sundays or Wednesdays are better for her to visit the 9 year old girl. The mother said Wednesdays and the social worker is heard saying Sundays are better.
“Why ask me if you’re going to turn around and tell me which day it has to be,” says the frustrated mother.
The meeting ended with the social worker telling the mother she would look into in-person visits with the girl but that Zoom visits with the 11 year old boy would need to continue because of the ongoing pandemic despite the mother saying the boy’s mental health is suffering from the lack of visitation.
Listen to part of the conversation between the mother and social workers:
In emails after the meeting, the social worker said in-person visits with the daughter also aren’t possible.
“Because my son is self advocating, blames the worker for all the crap going on and the fact that he misses me and hardly sees me and is willing to speak out if he gets half a chance, he is punished with removal of the person he talks to the most openly,” said the mom.
In the audio recording, she is heard advocating for the boy to have in-person visits and get the mental health support they said they would provide, as reason for apprehending the child.
“I’m requesting the agency step up and do it because you can,” says the mom.
The social worker doesn’t address any of the mom’s concerns and abruptly ends the meeting.
“I think we had that conversation already that the visits are going to remain (virtual) so (unless) if there’s anything else anyone wants to talk about – another topic – I think this is the time to end the meeting because we’re losing sight of what this conversation is about, it’s about virtual visits and I’ve shared they’re going to remain virtual we’re not changing these visits.”
Court documents show Manitoba’s general child welfare agency — not affiliated with a band or Indigenous organization — apprehended her son two years ago citing concerns that the mother can’t care for her autistic son’s complex needs because she herself has Asperger Syndrome, as well as anxiety and depression.
A caseworker went on to convince a judge that the mother is also bipolar, and demanded she submit a treatment plan in order to have supervised visitation with her son.
“I’m not bipolar, so asking me to be treated for bipolar – it makes no sense,” the mother told APTN. “She feels I’m bipolar because my mood gets unstable during meetings by my getting angry one moment then getting calm the next. It’s called self control and breathing.”
‘I’m being discriminated against
Her daughter was taken in April of this year for the same reason – concerns her parents can’t support her mental health needs. Her mother says she is thriving in a kinship care agreement with her grandma while the boy’s mental well-being is “disintegrating” in a group home.
“I’m being discriminated against for having mental health conditions – anxiety and depression, which isn’t a reason to take someone’s children.”
The children’s father, who is separated from their mother, was cited for having a messy house and wasn’t meeting basic needs as set out by their caseworker, so he too was stripped of care and control of the children.
A spokeswoman for the Manitoba government said agencies have been directed to begin restoring in-person visits.
“Agencies are beginning to allow more face-to-face work, including family visits,” said the spokesperson in a statement to APTN about why in-person visits aren’t happening despite health officials allowing them for the general public. “However this may vary by agency.”
“We will be consulting with the Authorities in the coming days and will provide updated direction that face-to-face visits should be resumed unless there are exceptional circumstances where a more cautious approach is needed.”