Indigenous approach helped Winnipeg mom keep kids out of CFS

Pregnant at 17 and in CFS care, Angeline Spence was determined to break the cycle. We look at how an indigenous approach to strengthening families has helped the Winnipeg mom keep her children.

'The one thing I always wanted as a child was for my family to be together,' says Angeline Spence

Angeline Spence credits support from Ma Mawi and Family Group Conferencing for strengthening her family. (Supplied photo)

When Angeline Spence got pregnant at 17, she knew she didn't want her baby to follow in her footsteps.

At the age of eight, Spence was made a permanent ward of Child and Family Services. In the next nine years, she lived in at least 10 different homes.

"One of my main goals was for my child not to repeat that cycle," she said.

Her social worker referred Spence to the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre's residential program for teen parents. That's where workers set up a Family Group Conference (FGC).

FGC involves members of the child's extended family and support network. Together they work to come up with a plan to support the parent and try to keep the child with relatives.

Spence thought she'd have three people at her FGC. But the program co-ordinator reached out to her boyfriend's mother, who got more relatives involved. In the end, 17 people attended the meeting, which was held before Spence's daughter was born. 

"It was pretty amazing," Spence said.

"When I had my daughter, a lot of extended family showed up to give their support and welcome her into this world as a result of the Family Group Conference."

Today, her daughter is 14. Spence also has a son who is eight. Her children have never had contact with CFS.

"Even today, their family is one of my biggest supports, and my daughter's support in her life," said Spence.

"She knows that she's loved and that there are people there for her."

Want to see approach expanded

Currently, FGCs are used in a 23-bed facility run by Ma Mawi, but the organization would like to see that program expand.

A delegation from New Zealand, where the FGC approach originated, is in Winnipeg this week to share best practices. A public education conference about FGCs will be held next Tuesday at Canad Inns Garden City.

Angeline Spence now works as an administrative assistant at the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre, for the same program she joined as a pregnant teenager. She'd like to see the Family Group Conference approach expanded, too.

"It probably would have helped my mother to find support back then when I was younger," she said. "The one thing I always wanted as a child was for my family to be together."

Angeline Spence will speak with Marcy Markusa on Information Radio on Tuesday at 7:45 a.m. on CBC Radio One, 89.3 FM and 990 AM.