Teen killed herself at foster home, mother wishes she hadn't obeyed 'their rules'
'They say they are giving your kid a better life … a better place to live, but really, is it?'
The mother of a teen who killed herself while in the care of Manitoba Child and Family Services says she should have kept seeing her daughter despite being told not to.
The mother, who can't be named under the Child and Family Services Act, said the 15-year-old was found dead early Monday morning by her foster parents.
Later that day, Métis Child and Family Services — which operates as an agent of the province — informed the mother that the girl had died. On Tuesday, they met her in person to tell her the death was a suicide.
"I was shaking. I was mad. I was screaming at them," she said. "There's no explanation they can give me. That's another child gone in CFS's care."
According to a report by the Children's Advocate of Manitoba, 13 children died in CFS care last year. Four of the deaths were of natural causes, three were accidental, four were "undetermined," and two were suicides.
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The girl had lived a short life full of loss and transition.
The mother said she wasn't able to care for her daughter when she was born, so the girl lived with her grandmother in Winnipeg at first.
They say they are giving your kid a better life ... a better place to live but really, is it?- The girl's mother
"I had a lot of things going on in my life. I was into drugs, so I figured she'd have a better life there," she said.
When the girl was eight months old, the grandmother was no longer able to care for her, so she went to live with a step-grandmother.
When the girl was between the ages of 10 and 12, her mother says Child and Family Services took over her care, because the step-grandmother was aging and had health problems.
"Ever since then, she's been bounced from place to place to place," her mother said.
"And she didn't even know who I was till a couple years ago."
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As soon as they met, the girl started running away from different homes to visit her mother, whom she wasn't allowed to see. The mother admits she had an abusive spouse and substance abuse problems of her own. She also has nine other children who were or are currently in CFS care.
We know we have these extraordinarily high rates of apprehension in Manitoba — the highest in the Western world.- Cora Morgan, family advocate
"They say they are giving your kid a better life … a better place to live, but really, is it?" she asks now.
The girl was transferred to Gimli, Man., according to the mother, where she allegedly killed a dog in the foster home there. She went to court over the incident, then was transferred back to Winnipeg this past summer, according to the mother.
Selling nude photos online
She was getting more heavily involved in drugs and drinking, her mom said.
The teen had also begun to sell nude photos of herself to men online, which her mother noticed and flagged to CFS. They notified police, prompting an investigation by the Winnipeg child exploitation unit.
She said Métis Child and Family Services told her that her daughter was "very troubled" and had also been cutting her wrists. They arranged for a support worker and appointments with a psychiatrist.
"But I mean, like, if she was very troubled, they seen when she was with her family she was happy," said the mother. "They should have let more of that go on than strangers trying to cope and work with her."
The province and Métis Child and Family Services would not comment, citing privacy legislation.
But a provincial spokesperson wrote that by law, the CFS agency is required to conduct its own investigation when a child dies to assess safety and risk to other children involved.
The independent Office of the Children's Advocate is aware of her death and is launching an investigation, as they do within one year of any child who dies in the care of the province. The investigation will focus on the CFS and social services that were provided to the child.
"I think that everybody who is involved with CFS acknowledges that we definitely have improvements that we have to make, and that certainly those improvements are required very, very quickly," said Daphne Penrose, Manitoba's Children's Advocate.
She said multiple levels of government, families, First Nations leaders and the children themselves need to be part of the conversation for change.
"Bringing children into care is the last resort," she said.
"When you listen to children they will talk about wanting family connections, wanting to return to their communities … but most of all wanting that family and being a part of their family. Those are critically important things as we move forward and start to look at what the needs of children are and ensure that we are hearing their voices."
After returning from Gimli, the girl continued to seek out her mother.
"She'd message me right away on Facebook, she used to do video chats with me, she'd be 'what are you doing?' and she'd be smiling, laughing, happy, playing music and singing there with her headphones in her ears," the mother said.
Told to stop seeing her daughter
She said she gave her daughter the address of the hotel where she was living.
"She spent the night, I paid her cab, she left the next morning, then a couple weeks later she snuck over again and that's when CFS said we had to put a stop to it, or cops would be involved," said the mother.
So the girl started visiting other family members, and last saw her great-uncle about three weeks ago.
"She'd play on the computer, she'd talk with us, she just seemed totally relieved from stress," he said.
He said she complained of feeling pressure because of her curfew, the level of control others had over her, the other children involved and her lifestyle.
"She was depressed about being in CFS care. She said she didn't want to be there, she wanted to get out," he said.
"She started slashing herself up, and we told her, you know, anytime she feels like slashing herself up, to come over here. We'll talk to her, we'll put her on the computer, we'll do whatever she wants."
She never returned. Instead, her body was discovered in her bedroom at the foster home on Monday morning.
"Painful … it's painful, it's words you can't even explain," said her mother.
"I should have just kept doing what I was doing, like seeing her behind their back," she said. "Maybe she would've been happy 'cause that's what she wanted. But I obeyed by their rules and look what happens."
"I think she probably felt abandoned," said Cora Morgan, First Nations family advocate at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, from Ottawa, where she's attending an emergency meeting on First Nations, Inuit, Métis Nation Child and Family Services.
She said the disconnect Indigenous children in care have with family and culture can cause them to feel like a burden as they're passed from home to home within the system.
"They're experiencing grief and loss, and that's never appropriately addressed. A lot of times young people get labelled, and they're medicated … and in the midst of all that, they lose value for life. They can't appreciate causing other people harm because they've always just consistently been suffering.
"At the end of the day, children are always going to want to be with family, and they're going to want to be with their moms. We know we have these extraordinarily high rates of apprehension in Manitoba — the highest in the Western world — and along the way there's never been a real commitment to effectively work with parents to see if they can provide them with parenting support and respite support and give families a fighting chance at being healthy and unified."
She was alone in this world. Like she probably figured like nobody wanted her. I don't know what was going through her mind. Like I wanted to be with her.- Girl's mother
The mother said CFS did not offer her parenting support for her daughter. She doesn't understand why Métis Child and Family Services allows her to have supervised visits with her other children, but not this daughter.
"They are supposed to connect family together ... they are not supposed to hold family away from them. Your children," she said.
The mother said at the meeting where she learned her child had died by suicide, the support worker told her the teen had no friends and would often go skating, or would sit and play the violin, by herself.
"She was alone in this world. Like she probably figured like nobody wanted her. I don't know what was going through her mind. Like I wanted to be with her," she said.
She's picked out a casket and will have the service in Winnipeg later this week, but doesn't know who will attend, because not many knew her.
She and her family will then drive four hours north to the place the girl's Métis family is from to bury her.
with files from Brett Purdy, Cameron Mackintosh