A Nova Scotia couple fighting for seven months to have their seven children returned from the child welfare system got an unexpected Christmas gift – a visit from the children that have so far, not ended.
While they’re thrilled the children are home, how it all went down doesn’t sit well with them, or a support worker who is familiar with their child protection case.
APTN News can’t name the parents because their file remains open with Nova Scotia’s child welfare department.
As first reported by the Halifax Examiner, their ordeal began last May in Springhill, N.S. when a dispute with the landlord led to their eviction.
The landlord advised child welfare officials the family of nine would be homeless.
The agency sent the father and son to a hotel and the mother and six daughters were sent to an Indigenous women’s shelter in Millbrook, N.S. the mother says.
“We’d only known the structure of a two-parent home and then we were split up in two places,” the mother tells APTN, describing the chaotic time.
Things would get worse the mother says.
According to the mother, workers at the shelter described her daughters as “running wild” and “having no structure” and complained the mom left them to attend court for a review hearing with Amherst Child and Family Services.
She says the social worker used that to apprehend the girls from the shelter in June 2021 and sent them to separate foster homes throughout the province.
“We were in court to discuss programming or help — they told us they were going to help us get housing. None of that happened. They took the children and we were left on our own to find housing,” the mom says.
“At this point, I lost everything I had. My children, housing, everything.”
Their son was sent to live with his grandma where he remains today. The girls – now age 11, 10, eight, seven, five and four, were placed in homes that required the parents to drive three hours in different directions every few days for visits.
Neither could work while those visits were happening.
They eventually found housing in Halifax in October and had their case file moved from Amherst to Halifax hoping new workers would see the injustice and work to quickly have their family reunited.
A support worker familiar with the case, who APTN is not identifying over fears they would be fired for speaking out, says the children should have been returned when the couple got a place to live.
“From what I’ve seen there is no concern around their ability to parent,” the social worker tells APTN.
She says the initial apprehension might have been justified because they were homeless but things weren’t done to return the children and she thinks the couple’s race may have been a factor.
The worker says comments “about the family’s race that were made in professional settings really made me question what was going on.”
The mother agrees.
“Drinking and drugs and abuse have never been issues,” she says.
After getting settled, the couple was happy their six daughters would be home for a visit over Christmas from Dec. 23 to 28.
“It was a really good Christmas,” the mother says. Little did she know at the time, they would never be picked up.
Two children tested positive for COVID-19 by the end of the visit so Halifax CFS said everyone should stay under one roof and isolate.
“So we’re not fit parents unless our kids have Covid then they can stay with us? That’s what they’re saying,” says the dad.
The days and weeks ticked by and no one came for the children nor did anyone bring them more clothes – they’d each only been sent with a few days worth of belongings, according to the mother.
One of the daughters is vision-impaired and was sent without glasses.
The couple and their lawyer went to court on Jan. 20 and a judge ruled the kids could stay home and Halifax CFS would “supervise” the family with regular check-ins.
“The only reason they have (the children back) is because they happened to catch Covid,” the social worker says.
That should have been the end of their seven-month ordeal but it continues.
The parents haven’t received money to care for the children dropped on their doorstep for a month with no warning.
When child welfare agencies apprehend children, the federal government’s monthly Child Tax Benefit is redirected from the parents to the agency to cover the children’s expenses.
For this family, that’s $4,700 a month.
“I’m on income assistance getting $398 a month. How am I supposed to support a family this size on that,” the mom asks.
She’s been fighting with Halifax CFS to get the child tax money and her children’s belongings and fears because they took the kids on the grounds the family was homeless last May, they could use poverty as a reason to take the children again now.
The social worker says while child protection services has “so much power” she thinks they would be “hesitant” to look for new reasons to re-apprehend and re-traumatize the children.
APTN contacted the Department of Community Services which administers Nova Scotia’s child welfare system.
A spokeswoman said they can’t comment on the case for privacy reasons but “when financial burdens are identified for families and brought to child protection’s attention, social workers work with department and community partners to identify financial or other resources that can help the family get through challenging times.”
The mother says that’s not been her experience.
A day after APTN contacted the Nova Scotia government, the child welfare agency contacted the parents and the mother says, offered them $3,400.
They want the entire Child Tax Benefit returned from the agency.
The Nova Scotia government spokeswoman says, “We are continuing, along with other jurisdictions across the country, to engage the Canada Revenue Agency on this matter. We are committed to developing a consistent and supportive approach to support the stability of families.”