Grieving mother says 'CFS failed my daughter' after 4-month-old dies in foster care

The family of a four-month old baby is confirming the child died in the custody of foster parents after Child and Family Services took the child from the mother.

'The system needs to change,' says former CFS worker now advocating for family

Daralyn Green speaks Tuesday about her four-month-old daughter Vanatasia Unique Emerald Green, who she says died while in care of Child and Family Services. (Warren Kay/CBC)

The family of a four-month old baby is confirming the child died in the custody of foster parents after Manitoba Child and Family Services took the child from the mother.

The mother of Vanatasia Unique Emerald Green said she was informed by CFS workers on Monday morning around 10 a.m. that her daughter died as a result of choking on her bottle and/or vomit.

"There are so many questions to which I need answers," said Daralyn Green, fighting back tears as she spoke during a news conference arranged by the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC).

The family said they last saw the baby on Friday. Green, who lives on Bloodvein First Nation, said she had visitation rights for a period of one week at a time, every three weeks.

"We just had a visit last week. My baby was good. She was happy," said the mother.

"CFS failed my daughter; they failed us. That's how I feel."

Baby born healthy

Green said her baby was born healthy. She didn't answer questions from media about why the newborn was taken from the family.

"I don't know why they didn't give me a chance, they give other mothers a chance, and this was my first baby," she said.

Vera Green, Vanatasia's grandmother, says the joy of the child's birth turned to disappointment when she was apprehended by CFS. (Warren Kay/CBC)

Vera Green, the child's grandmother, said the happiness when her daughter gave birth gave way to confusion soon after, when the baby was apprehended by CFS.

"Look what happened when she ended up in the care of CFS," she said, sobbing. "Now she's taking her home in a casket."

Martina Fisher, whose traditional name is Blue Sky Eagle, worked as a CFS worker for nearly 19 years, and was brought on by the family to assist them get their child back.

Fisher said CFS doesn't give Indigenous families enough opportunity to work with them, often offering little communication.

Martina Fisher, who worked in CFS for 19 years, and now advocates for the Green family, had some pointed criticisms of the agency at Tuesday's media conference. (Warren Kay/CBC)

"There is always a chance to work with the mother, the family and the community," she said. "You have to start changing the system, not the family. The system needs to change."

Fisher urged child welfare officials to heed advice and make changes now. She said things have changed for the worse in the decades since she left CFS.

'Stop doing this'

"I was against taking a child from mother from birth. I never once allowed for that to happen," she said.

"I hope this will be a lesson, so that they stop and we stop doing this."

The AMC said the baby was in a foster care home in Winnipeg run by B&L Resources. The agency has come under the microscope after allegations of children being abused in a foster care run by them.

Sagkeeng First Nation Coun. Marilyn Courchene criticized the agency for the way it dealt with family members after the child's death, saying it delayed bringing the family to Winnipeg, which meant they didn't get to see the girl until after the medical examiner. 

"Once the family arrived, the agency proceeded to separate each of the family members by placing them in separate hotels," she said. The needs of the mother and father and the support they receive from their community "is not respected or acknowledged by the agency."

The fact that this latest death comes a week after the Manitoba children's advocate released a report on the death of 15-year-old Tina Fontaine is troubling to Courchene.

"This province does not treat First Nation children as human beings. Instead, they continue to cause more harm by leaving them in dangerous situations," she said.

Overall, the provincial government says there are 10,328 kids in care and another 446 in "non-paid" care, but the figure is disputed by child welfare agencies. According to annual reports from the four agencies, the total number is closer to 11,150.

Father Reggie Kennedy, mother Daralyn Green and grandmother Vera Green, from left, speak at a media conference Tuesday about Vanatasia's death. (Warren Kay/CBC)

The province has said it is investigating what happened. 

"Our condolences go to the extended family, caregivers and those who were involved in this child's life," wrote Families Minister Heather Stefanson in a statement to CBC News. 

"While we must respect the confidentiality of this child and their family, we share in their grief during this tragedy. We know the CFS agency and authority responsible for the child's care are gathering information to find the family the answers it needs."

Winnipeg police confirmed officers are investigating as they do any time a child dies. There is no word on charges.