A Winnipeg mom is calling foul on Winnipeg Child and Family Services (CFS) for banning her from eating during visits with her child while encouraging others to do so.
The 43-year-old Metis mother, who cannot be identified due to privacy provisions in Manitoba’s Child and Family Services Act, believes it’s an arbitrary policy directed at her for being a vocal critic of the child welfare system that has taken her two children.
Audio and video recordings obtained by APTN News, taken between Nov. 17 and the end of November at the child welfare office where supervised visits take place, show an apparent double standard.
In one video, a staff member is heard to explain her job is to clean the rooms after visitations. Someone sees her carrying dishes. When asked if people are allowed to eat there she says, “Yeah, we encourage that.”
She goes on to say, “We have a microwave, so make sure whatever containers you have, can be good for the microwave.”
In another recording a father is seen grabbing a mop to take into a visitation room where he’s seeing his two children. He’s asked if the agency provided the plates they were eating on and says, “Yeah just ask for them.”
Watch the recording:
Yet the 43-year-old Metis mother was told during that same time period, if she insisted on eating during visits, they could be canceled.
She provided a Nov. 17 email from her caseworker Dinuldy Robson that reads, in part, “…snacks will no longer be welcomed in visits as a means to ensure parent and child wear masks during the entire duration of a visit. As such, the Agency will ensure [redacted name of child] is well fed prior to visits and receives a snack on her way home from visits. This directive comes into effect immediately and as such, it will be expected you wear a mask during the entire visit tomorrow with [redacted name of child]. If you feel you cannot follow this directive, the Agency can suspend in-person visits and transition the visit to virtual. Please let me know what you decide.”
The mother says it’s “small things like this” that show “the pettiness and the gaslighting” in a dynamic where the agency and social workers have all the power and parents have none.
APTN asked Winnipeg CFS to explain why some staff say eating is encouraged and some parents are allowed to do so, while another is threatened with having visits canceled if she insists on eating.
A statement from Norlyn Ritchie, acting CEO of Winnipeg CFS says: “Winnipeg Child and Family Services is currently discouraging food sharing during in-office visits. Masks should only be removed during eating and additional hand hygiene must be followed.”
APTN asked for clarification on that contradictory statement and did not receive a reply. Nor did the agency answer why some are encouraged to eat, and do, while others are threatened with having visits canceled for doing the same.
Inside one family’s case: Why child welfare feels like a losing battle
APTN has covered the mom’s story before. She’s active on numerous child welfare support groups online for parents battling a system that’s taken their kids, often on what feel like flimsy grounds, and creates barriers to having them returned.
Her daughter is nine and has been in care since February 2020 on temporary guardianship orders that Winnipeg CFS keeps going to court to have renewed. Her 12-year-old son has been made a permanent ward and lives in a group home.
His file was transferred from Winnipeg CFS to Metis Child, Family and Community Services recently, and she has virtual visits with him. She hopes that progresses to something more eventually.
Winnipeg CFS, meanwhile, says the mom is incapable of caring for children who have special needs.
Among the evidence used to take and keep her children was a parental capacity report that includes entries like: “She is unable to complete long division or mental math. Her multiplication skills are questionable. She uses a calculator in her daily life.”
It was documented that she “struggled” with having a high-needs toddler and the arrival of a new baby when the kids were small. The report said she was struggling to “maintain a clean house.” She also has learning disabilities.
Section 7 of the Manitoba Child and Family Services Act states agencies must work to resolve problems that would place children at risk.
They’re to provide “counselling, guidance and services” to prevent circumstances that would require kids to be placed in care. They’re to offer the same to help families protect their children and “re-establish and support parents’” abilities to care for their children.
Section 10 says agencies must offer supports to prevent family disruptions and restore family functions.
This Metis mother says none of that has happened. She’s heading to court in the coming weeks as Winnipeg CFS fights to keep her daughter.
At a virtual court hearing in September, two lawyers representing CFS, three Legal Aid lawyers (one for her, one for her ex-husband and one for her son), along with two CFS workers and a judge – eight people in all – were paid by the taxpayers of Manitoba to be there.
Manitoba spends more than $500 million a year on child welfare.