A Brandon couple in a battle with a Manitoba child welfare agency for taking their newborn son from hospital has been advised that the caseworker who managed their file for the past nine months has been replaced .
According to the family, who can’t be named by law because the child is in the child welfare system, say they’ve been offered a visit with their son this week, who they’ve not seen since August.
The news came less than 24 hours after the couple was in court for what was to be a week-long trial to have their son returned.
The matter was put off until Mar. 6 for the father to get a legal aid lawyer. The baby will be 11 months old by then.
A letter to the couple dated Jan. 28, is from a new case worker who says “I will be taking over from (the previous case worker) as the new Family Services Worker for Michif Child and Family Services. I look forward to working with you both.”
But the cordial tone disappears in the next paragraph, accusing the couple of “past and continued aggression and hostility towards Agency staff.”
The couple believes the system is unfairly rigged to force parents to comply with what they say are punitive and unreasonable demands by the agency – like parenting courses, regular sit-downs and assessments with agency staff and supervised visits with their child who they believe, should never have been apprehended.
They’ve been vocal about how they feel the child welfare system operates without accountability and are frustrated they’re expected to jump through whatever hoops the agency throws at them while being expected to be “civil and respectful” to the people they feel took their son without reason.
The now rescheduled trial was expected to shed light on why the agency took a newborn.
The couple has been openly critical of the child welfare system and been labeled hostile, aggressive and uncooperative in numerous emails and court documents by Michif CFS staff.
Tuesday’s letter offers a supervised visit with their infant son later this week, noting the agency has “expectations for you both” including to “focus on” and “provide care to” the baby and “be civil and respectful and refrain from escalating with agency staff.”
The mother doesn’t have faith this caseworker will be any more helpful than the last.
“I’m absolutely disgusted, they are trying to cover their tracks,” she said of the transfer of her file to a new worker. “(The previous worker) can get away with everything she’s done now.”
For the past four years, the couple has helped raise the father’s two older children from previous relationships with the full support of those children’s mothers and they’ve received letters of support from politicians backing their fight for justice. None of that has resulted in their son’s return.
APTN visited their home last summer. The baby’s room has been set up, ready for him since before he was born. A pile of clothing and diapers on his change table are replaced every month as he outgrows each size. The mother still has packages of frozen breastmilk in the freezer she’s never been able to feed her son.
Their ordeal began in December 2018 when they contacted child welfare officials four months before the little boy was born, because the mom had lost a daughter to child welfare five years earlier.
She had been convicted of failing to protect her infant daughter from abuse. She was at the time, trapped in an abusive relationship herself with the little girl’s dad.
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 injured the baby but the courts couldn’t prove who did it.
A legal aid lawyer convinced her to plead guilty to failing to protect the baby, for which she was put on the province’s child abuse registry.
She eventually left her abuser but never got the little girl back as court records show case workers felt she’s emotionally damaged from the abuse she suffered. The letter sent on Tuesday asks for a doctors note confirming she has PTSD, anxiety and depression, insomnia and a treatment plan for those disorders.
The letter requests they take an assortment of classes to appease the caseworker and attend “team meetings” with agency staff to make a case plan.
Their son was taken in April 2019 on a birth alert from the Brandon Regional Health Centre when he was just hours old.
Jon Gerrard, a pediatrician-turned-Winnipeg MLA, wrote a letter to Manitoba Families Minister Heather Stefanson last month pleading with her to intervene citing concern that child welfare officials “failed to take action to get to know the parents’ situation, to support the parents and to prevent any need for apprehension.”
Gerrard provided the minister with a report from a counsellor who indicated the mom has made great effort and progress in dealing with the trauma from her past abuse, and other letters “that make it clear that (the parents) are both excellent parents.”