Mennonite community in talks to reunite children, parents
Manitoba Child and Family Services letter lists concerns it wants addressed
With talks underway to reunite dozens of children with their parents in a rural Manitoba Mennonite community at the centre of child-abuse allegations, a letter by child welfare officials lists a number of concerns they want addressed before the children can return.
The letter from Child and Family Services (CFS), obtained by CBC News, is dated July 25, 2013 and addressed to the leadership in the private Mennonite community.
The children were removed from the community by welfare officials in June, after four adults — three men and a woman — were charged with multiple counts of assault, including assault with a weapon.
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Court documents show the youngest alleged victim is less than a year old, and the oldest is 17.
The documents allege that the assaults took place between July 2011 and Jan. 31, 2013, and involved the use of cattle prods and straps.
A court-ordered publication ban means neither the Mennonite community nor the people charged can be named in order to protect the identities of the alleged victims.
Paul Walsh, a lawyer representing some of the families involved, said a restoration team consisting of CFS staff and community leaders, will hold a meeting on Aug. 15.
Walsh said he believes once the conditions are met, the families should be reunited.
"My group of 10 parents, five families, are prepared to sign off, endorse what the agency wants," he told CBC News on Tuesday.
"So it would appear that things are moving deliberately to the return of the children."
Jay Rodgers, chief executive officer of General Child and Family Services Authority, said meeting the conditions would be the first step in returning the children to their homes.
"It's going to be different with each individual family, depending on how those discussions go. But the agency would always, upon returning kids, follow up with families for a period of time to ensure that those kids are kept safe," Rodgers said.
"Through the restoration committee, processing that with every individual family, again, to make sure that there's a clear understanding of what the meaning of the letter is, but also how the parents take what's in the letter and put it into practice."
Some commitments already made
The letter from CFS lists three decisions the Mennonite community has already agreed on while working to have their children brought back.
In one of the decisions, "community members will commit to 'spanking children only with hands' on their butts," the letter states in part.
The community also agreed not to allow parents or adults "to use objects to discipline children" and not to "leave marks or injuries on children as a result of discipline."
The CFS letter goes on to list another 18 points that officials want community members to address.
For example, officials want assurances from parents that they will not use any form of physical discipline on children under the age of two and over the age of 12.
As well, CFS staff want parents to tell them they "will not pinch, pull hair, sit on, slap faces, pull/pinch ears, burn, withhold food, or have children stand or sit for extended periods of time as punishment/correction," according to the letter.
When the children are brought back to the community, CFS officials say they want outside professionals to be allowed in to assess the ongoing safety of the children.
The apprehended children have been living with foster families, but one 13-year-old boy has been missing.
RCMP and CFS would not say if they suspect the boy is back in the community, but the CFS letter states that families are expected to co-operate if they know his whereabouts.
Read the letter
Below is the letter from Child and Family Services. Names and details that may identify the Mennonite community have been redacted.