Manitoba

CFS refuses to return kids to 'wonderful' mom, says advocate

A Winnipeg mom, whose kids were voluntarily handed over to CFS two years ago, says she has done everything asked of her, but still can't get her kids back.

Mom says she's done everything CFS has asked, and more, but agency refuses to return her children

RAW: A Winnipeg mother whose children have been in the care of CFS insists she's done everything the agency has asked her to do, and more, but CFS is still unwilling to return her children 5:19

A desperate message, sent from a daughter in the care of Child and Family Services to her mother, is prompting questions about what parents need to do in order to get their kids back. 

"I miss you … I feel so lost… I can't fall asleep without you," the girl says in the message.

The Winnipeg mother, whose children have been in the care of CFS for two years, insists she's done everything the agency has asked her to do, and more, but CFS is still unwilling to return her children, and the agency is asking the courts to grant it permanent custody.
A mother explains to Marcy Markusa why she should be reunited with her kids. (Leif Larsen)

The mother  — who CBC is not naming to protect the identity of her children — said she surrendered her kids voluntarily two years ago, when she caught pneumonia and had to go to hospital. She expected the children would be returned once she recovered, but that never happened.

"I needed safe housing, and they [CFS] wanted me to deal with coping skills [and] do a treatment program," said the woman.

She's determined to do whatever she can to get her kids back- Cora Morgan, AMC Family Advocate

In the months that followed, she completed 27 parenting and substance abuse programs, volunteered countless hours helping other women whose kids have been seized, and earned the support of leaders in her community. But the mother says CFS "[hasn't] acknowledged any of my accomplishments.

"Every progress meeting and every certificate I hand them is just put in my file," she told CBC.

The woman showed CBC several documents and letters of support, backing up her claims.

In October 2014 she briefly relapsed into substance abuse.

"It was just from all the stress … but I'm a lot stronger now," she said. The relapse caused her to fail a substance abuse test called a "hair test" in February 2015, which can detect substance abuse going back as much as six months.

The mom said CFS is now pushing her to enroll in a one-year treatment program, but the program has refused her because she has been sober too long.

Most recently CFS has asked the court to make her children permanent wards of the state.

"That means I only get four visits a year, and no contact," she said. 

Advocate stands behind mother

Cora Morgan, now the First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said she met the woman a few weeks before she began her new role about four months ago. 

Cora Morgan, Manitoba’s First Nations family advocate, says she refuses to believe every one of the over 10,000 children in care across the province was apprehended due to maltreatment in their homes. (Photo courtesy of LinkedIn)

"I met her and she was just so motivated to take care of things, to self improvement, committed to cultural ways. I was just really impressed that she had that initiative," Morgan said. "She's determined to do whatever she can to get her kids back." 

Morgan said she had met with hundreds of parents and she has a hard time understanding the mentality of child welfare workers who look at this mother and still say "No."

"People are expected to live these unrealistic lives. Every one of us is capable of making mistakes." Morgan said. "I just really don't understand why they can't see the good in her, and how wonderful she is, and how loving she is to her children." 

The mother's next court date in her custody battle with CFS is in April 2016. She said she is not giving up, and hopes "that something positive will come out of all of this."

"These workers have to take a look, and look at the positive in these parents' lives, not only mine, but other parents, and sit down and say, 'OK we have to work together to get your kids home.'"

'6 sides to every story'

Kerri Irvin-Ross, the minister responsible for CFS, said she trusts the actions of CFS workers.

"There are, as I've been told not only in this case, circumstances," she said. "There's six sides to every story."

Irvin-Ross said families are complex and returning children home, when possible, is the goal of CFS.

"The number one priority has to be the safety of the child," she said.