First Nations family advocate, chief question why newborns still being apprehended in Manitoba
'There are mechanisms in place to do things differently,' says First Nations family advocate
Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba is coming under fire for apprehending a First Nations newborn shortly after birth, putting the parents through an agonizing two-month period before the infant was returned to them.
"Why is this still happening when there are mechanisms in place to do things differently?" said Cora Morgan, the First Nations family advocate with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs.
In November, a Brandon couple's newborn was taken by Child and Family Services workers while the mother and baby were still in hospital.
The mother, who can't be identified because her family is still involved with the child welfare system, said a nurse began to ask questions about her partner's attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
That was followed by allegations that the father had muttered something about shaking their baby, while trying to explain rocking or cradling. The mother said her partner would never intend to say such a thing.
The care of the baby was transferred from Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba to Dakota Ojibway Child and Family Services before Christmas.
The mother was set to appear in court this past week to fight for custody, but she was notified by DOCFS last week that her baby would be returned if the parents allowed a support worker into their home, which they agreed to.
But Morgan says many other options could have been considered before the child was taken from its mother, such as accessing a prenatal support team, working with a doula, or having another family member care for the infant while concerns were being addressed.
"They failed the mother, but more importantly, they failed the baby," Morgan said.
"Our belief is a baby is the epitome of love — innocent and pure — and needs to be protected and nurtured. To take it away from the mom, and deprive it of breast milk, is devastating."
Grand Chief Jerry Daniels of the Southern Chiefs' Organization says despite the province's decision to end the widely criticized use of birth alerts, the child welfare system is still apprehending children — an archaic practice, he says, and something that should only happen after all other avenues have been exhausted.
Prior to July 1 2020, birth alerts were used to flag the history of an expectant mother considered "high risk" for social service agencies. In some cases, those alerts led to a baby's apprehension in hospital.
"It is hugely problematic when it comes to the bureaucracy of our child welfare agencies," said Daniels. "The problems are systemic. There are all kinds of biases and misinterpretations of what someone says as opposed to what someone actually does and the background of that person. We don't know the history."
It is up to social workers to assess the situation, and offer support instead of recommending separation, he said, especially in cases like the Brandon baby.
"There should have been a bit more abundance of caution in terms of whether or not legitimately, the child had to be removed from the parents."
He said the system is slow to change, and slow to release a child, even when that child likely should never have been taken away in the first place.
"Nurturing and bonding has been stolen from the child — that real connection with mom, that connection the baby has for nine months prior to birth. That connection was severed for some time. I think there are consequences for making that separation, for sure."
'Time you can never get back'
CBC asked the provincial government for comment on this story.
"Under Manitoba's Child and Family Services system, responsibility for the delivery of services falls to the four CFS authorities and their respective agencies. Your questions should be directed to the CFS authorities involved, as this matter falls within their jurisdiction," a spokesperson for Families Minister Rochelle Squires said.
"The Manitoba government is proud to have ended the practice of birth alerts last year, and this directive remains in effect."
A provincial spokesperson previously told CBC News that newborns can still face apprehension if a situation is deemed unsafe.
CBC News has reached out to Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba for comment.
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Morgan says child welfare agencies have to be held accountable for the decisions they make, especially since once a child enters the system, it can take months before a decision is reversed or families are reunited.
"Sometimes they are too quick to make decisions, and one of the concerns I have is the lack of consistency among agencies in how they work with our families," Morgan said.
"Some of our families have more co-operation and collaboration with agencies and [the agencies] come in to support the mom with kindness. Then you have other agencies that come in heavy-handed and make judgments. Things don't always go in a good direction."
Leaving a hospital empty-handed after giving birth is devastating and torturous, Morgan said. Some families never recover.
"Once that baby is taken away, that is time you can never get back, whether it is weeks or months."
With files from Riley Laychuk