A Winnipeg woman has been charged with three counts of attempted murder after her two young sons — a nine-year-old and a four-month-old — and her sister were stabbed.

The children were taken to hospital in critical condition Thursday with wounds to their upper bodies but have since been upgraded to stable, police said.

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A four-month-old infant with stab wounds is taken to a Winnipeg hospital on Thursday. ((Sheila North-Wilson/CBC))

The mother's 32-year-old sister was also stabbed as she tried to intervene, but was released from hospital after treatment. The sister's four-month-old daughter was not injured, said Const. Jason Michalyshen.

The nine-year-old boy fled the suite in a downtown housing complex after being injured and notified security at the apartment, who then contacted emergency services, police said.

The 35-year-old mother was arrested shortly after the incident, which happened around 5:30 p.m. Thursday at a downtown housing complex at 355 Kennedy St.

Neighbours told CBC News the family had moved to Winnipeg from Somalia about five years ago.

The woman has also been charged with assault with a weapon and assault. She is in custody at the Provincial Remand Centre.

The children have been placed in the care of the provincial government's Child and Family Services agency.

Mental illness suspected

A close family friend believes the accused woman, who speaks little English, has been suffering from mental illness.

"I believe she was depressed. I am not a medical professional to diagnose but she wasn't herself lately," said Abdi Rizak Adam, vice-president of the Manitoba Somali Association."She was withdrawn. Kind of upset about everything."

Adam said the woman was anxious about trying to bring her husband to Winnipeg from a refugee camp in Ethiopia. She knew she would have to work full-time to sponsor him but she didn't want to leave her children alone.

Immigrants face challenges

People who work with newcomers say there can be stressful challenges for people who come to Canada.

There can be a sense of isolation for people because of language and cultural differences, said Noelle De Pape, executive director of the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, which offers transitional housing and social services to new Canadians.

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A woman is taken into custody at the scene of Thursday's stabbings. ((CBC))

While there are many support programs available, people need to be made aware of them and take advantage, she said.

People who have gone through refugee camps may not know how to access help, she added.

"We end up dealing with many issues that are at a crisis point with very expensive front-line services like police and hospital, but we need to focus on prevention and supporting families and their children," De Pape said.

She also noted the location of Thursday's stabbing "is right in the heart of … the newcomer service community, near Central Park."

With files from The Canadian Press