‘There were many times we could have prevented apprehension’: Inside the CFS system on InFocus

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High apprehension rate makes families distrust child and family services (CFS) agencies.

On this first of a three-part series on CFS, Host Melissa Ridgen talked to a child advocate and a former CFS worker who shed light on how this industry works and why Indigenous families are targeted.

Ballooning case loads and increased public scrutiny of a system that apprehends Indigenous children at alarming rates, over time led to social workers being re-branded “family preservation workers.”

The name suggests keeping kids with their family – but it turns out they serve the same function as they always have and children continue to be apprehended regularly and families separated and fractured, some forever.

Cora Morgan , the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs children’s advocate says the system in Manitoba is designed to keep children.

It’s financially beneficial to CFS agencies to have more kids in care and it creates more job, and job security, for CFS workers and others who work alongside the industry,” she said.

“The minute a child is removed from a home, it’s automatically an illegal process. Agencies have unlimited legal budgets and they can go to court. Our parents mostly rely on legal aid and legal aid lawyers are over burdened with a number of files. A lot of times, our families can’t even effectively fight wrongful apprehensions, there are not mechanisms in the system for them to do that.”

Morgan went on to say, “here in Manitoba, as soon as a child is removed from a home there is an automatic legal process in place. Parents are prescribed a case plan, they have to follow that case plan and return to court to make their case. We’ve heard of hundreds of parents who completed their case plan and still aren’t able to get their children back.”

Jillian Wheeler was a family preservation worker or social worker for three years. She started out straight from post secondary school and expected to help children and families.

She found out quickly that often wasn’t the reality of the job, nor did it seem to be a function of the system.

“There were many times we could have prevented apprehension but that’s exactly what happened.” Wheeler said.

She went on to talk about who the system targets the most.

“I was never called as a protection worker to an upper middle class, middle class home unless it was a foster home,” Wheeler said. “It was always people, you know, lower economic means, lower education, people who were really victimized by the system, that didn’t know their rights all too often. The issue of poverty is huge. Poverty and trauma were often the core reasons (for seizing indigenous kids) but no one was helping that.

“And they talked a lot about family reunification – putting in money to try and help the families, but the families would have to come to us, but most families don’t trust CFS, with good reason.”

On next week’s InFocus we talk to parents whose children were questionably seized and the uphill battle to get them back.

Know your rights on what to do if you child is apprehended.

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