Point of View

Broken child welfare system rooted in broken family ties

After viewing the apprehension of a First Nations newborn on Facebook, my emotions flared up as I remembered my own experiences in dealing with similar instances.

'Even I was prevented' from raising grandchild says grandmother, great-grandmother, former CFS worker

'Jane' says video of a child welfare apprehension brought back painful memories of her own experience with the system, both as a family member and former worker in the system. (Donna Carreiro/CBC)

During the second week of January 2019, video of a newborn girl being apprehended into care by Winnipeg Child and Family Services was streamed live on Facebook. The widely viewed video prompted emotional reaction from coast to coast. 

Here is a response to the video by a Manitoba woman who's been involved with the child welfare system from both a family perspective and as a former child welfare worker herself. 

The CBC will not identify her, to protect the identities of family members still involved with the child welfare system.


After viewing the apprehension of a First Nations newborn on Facebook, my emotions flared up as I remembered my own experiences in dealing with similar instances.

I am a former child welfare worker.  I am an intergenerational residential school survivor and overcomer. l am a mother who raised her own children, has 12 grandchildren and now is a great-grandmother.  I do not smoke or drink and I am a person of prayer.

Yet when some of my grandchildren were apprehended, even I was prevented from caring for them. At one point, I was even told that that before I could even visit my grandchild, I must have a psychological assessment completed;  and that I would have to pay for this. 

The bonding of mother and child begins in the womb. This act of deliberate cutting off the child aborts the child from mother, family and culture.- Jane

No reasons given. Absolute authority. Just like those workers in that video.

Waiting at the womb and taking the child at birth has always been the practice of provincial child welfare agencies.

Residential schools paved the road to these existing, outdated policies. That's where the cancer began to grow, fueled by physical, mental, sexual and spiritual abuses, inflicted by people who wore the robes of trust.

Children learned to lie and steal for survival, bear their own grievances and bury their torments. 

The separation issues that followed affect us all to this day.

The bonding of mother and child begins in the womb. This act of deliberate cutting off the child aborts the child from mother, family and culture.

They say they will heal us, but they're not healed themselves.- Jane

Some leaders and agency workers say "it takes a community to raise a child." But what does this mean to a person who left residential school stripped of all family ties, language and family roots? 

I have also seen problems within our own First Nations child welfare systems. It begins with some who have not dealt with their own trauma and abuses.

They say they will heal us, but they're not healed themselves; they too, are often residential school survivors. They, too, carry their own unresolved issues of sexual abuse, physical abuse, abandonment and anger. 

Meanwhile families, such as the one in the video, usually have no money to defend  themselves against any allegation or the heavy hand of the agency. We can't afford to pay a good lawyer and legal aid rarely touches these files. The agencies, on the other hand, use the money they receive for our children, to fight us for them.

I have personally witnessed a First Nation's supervisor tell us as workers to work on getting our numbers up (meaning more apprehensions) because our numbers were low.

Trust and confidential information is released and the trust is broken (clients close up and their silence is interpreted as guilty or lying all along). 

Local child welfare agency committees are often made up of staff from the band, and they make decisions on files. Staff members are sometimes intimidated and end up agreeing to an apphrehension, often against their own better judgment, because they fear there's a risk they could lose their jobs.

UNLESS the Elders, tribal members and youth meet together, nothing will be done about the broken politics that have a real and obvious impact on our families in our communities.

Today, some elected people publicly cry out about the drug and opiate crisis in our communities. But in the same breath they announce new hotels, gambling places and cannabis stores, without any meaningful consultation with the Elders or tribal members.

Let's put our money towards a pool and recreation center for children and youth, healing centres for young moms and dads, crisis intervention and aid. 

That would truly be a case of "it takes a whole community to raise a child."

'Jane' is a former child welfare worker, who also has family involved in the child welfare system. The CBC agreed not to use her name, to protect their identity.

This column is part of  CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.