A Tlicho mother of four children says the system is stacked against her family after the territorial government failed to implement important amendments after one of her children showed signs of abuse while in the care of the Northwest Territories department of Child and Family Services.
The mother, who can’t be named because her children are in the care of the state, says she’s been battling the agency ever since moving from the remote community of Wekweeti to Yellowknife.
“To have our children have better education level, more activities,” said the mother. “But we struggled in our relationship so after my daughter was born we had our ups and downs. We both started relapsing and our children got apprehended in January 2022.
“It came as a complete shock to me because they didn’t inform me that they were going to apprehend my child.”
The mother and her husband started the year with four children in care – gone to an unfamiliar home with guardians they had never met.
“At the time they didn’t even ask ‘is there a place you would like to put them in the family placement home,’” she said.
While the mother admits to having these “ups and downs,” she said she never expected that her children could be at risk of mistreatment while in foster care.
She told APTN News that she’s brought her toddler to the hospital twice after discovering bruises on him after being in care.
A doctor’s note dated February 2022 stated that the bruises should be investigated and “were concerning to the parents.”
The mother said the child and family services conduct their own investigations.
“When they did their own investigation, they said ‘the foster parent said it’s from falling off a bed,’” she said. “He had bruises in his ears, bruises above his private part, bruises on his legs, a lot of multiple bruises.
Both parents speak their traditional language and struggle with English – especially when it comes to the legal system.
“It’s stressful when you don’t understand the system. There are some words they say and we don’t understand. There’s no advocate,” she said.
“The way the advocate would explain to someone who doesn’t understand.”
In the Northwest Territories, 98 per cent of the young people in care are Indigenous.
The territorial government says over-representation is due to a history of colonization.
But this past spring, the territorial government laid out a proposed amendment to the Child and Family Services Act.
It outlines that supports like counselling and parenting programs should be prioritized over apprehension as long as it’s in the child’s best interest.
The amendments include allowing parents to give a list of placements for their children.
For weeks, APTN has repeatedly asked the government for an interview about the amendments but has been denied.
After initially agreeing to an interview, they declined and sent an emailed statement instead.
In an email, the government said a committee is looking at the amendments and a formal response will be tabled in the upcoming session of the legislative assembly.
The mother’s eldest daughter, who also can’t be named because she is in care of the state, said she also wants change so she can be with family.
“I like it when I see them because we eat breakfast and we play, we go outside, we take walks and go to the park,” she said.
For the mother, she feels it’s her word against the system – and the system wins every time.
“I love my children and I want them home but because of the system and what I was told was that a judge would not believe me,” she said. “Because they have an affidavit and a commissioner of oath to sign this affidavit that whatever they say is true.
“I have no commissioner of oath, I have no affidavit. All I have is emails and photos that I keep track of, texts, I document everything I screenshot everything.”