Nova Scotia

Critics worry about impact of separation between parents, children in care

People who work with vulnerable families are raising concerns about the length of time kids in care were separated from their families during the first wave of COVID-19. 

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Children's toys including a magenta stuffed animal strewn on the ground.
Critics are concerned families with children in provincial care may suffer long-term harm due to being separated during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Rick Gibbs/CBC)

People who work with vulnerable families are raising concerns about the length of time kids in care were separated from their families during the first wave of COVID-19. 

The province temporarily halted visits between parents and children in care in March. Visits resumed this month, but some advocates fear the break could have a lasting impact on those relationships. 

The pandemic placed great pressure on all families, said Debbie Reimer, the executive director of a family resources program called Kids Action Program, based in Canning and serving the Kings County-East Hants area. 

In a year her organization would probably serve about 400 families, but during the four and a half months since the pandemic started, more than 200 families have called on the Kids Action Program for services. 

It has been particularly hard on parents separated from their children, she said, although most parents did have the ability to call their children, or in some cases, may have been able to video conference. 

'It's hard on them'

"They just go day by day. They just want to do whatever it takes to get their kids back," she said. "It's hard on them. It's not easy to cope when you know your child is in this area and yet you can't see them." 

Although visits have restarted, Reimer said there are some limits on what families can do. She spoke to one mother who had a recent visit with her child. 

"She was finally able to see her child after four months, and they weren't allowed physical contact. And the mom hadn't been out around people because she wanted to make sure that her child would be safe," Reimer said. 

"So that's really hard." 

Call for committee meetings

MLA Steve Craig, the Progressive Conservative critic on the legislature's standing committee for community services, said he has received calls from a handful of families who have children in care and are worried at their level of contact. 

"Certainly what's happening is there's a level of frustration and anxiety when it comes to, am I going to be able to be with my children again? Or if I'm a child, am I going to be able to be with my family again?" he said. 

Craig said he's also concerned the committee hasn't started meeting again. He wants MLAs to be able to ask staff at the Department of Community Services about what has been learned that could lead the province to better care for children in a potential second wave. 

"They're going through so much and they're seeing so much, but they don't have the support of parents and loved ones with them at this point. And so we need to be able to figure out what it is that Community Services is doing as a good, conscientious parent," he said. 

Long-term concern

Reimer said she's worried the four-month separation will be devastating for some families. Sometimes parents are ordered to complete certain programs such as anger management or parenting skills programs before being reunited with their children. She said typically parents would still be allowed to visit their children while completing those programs. 

She's concerned the pandemic may have hurt the families' progress toward their goals, and children with an insecure attachment to their parents may not recover quickly. 

"All kinds of things will go through their heads. It will be: why don't my parents want me? Why aren't they calling? Why aren't, why aren't," she said. 

Reimer is also concerned if families don't successfully complete those programs they may have their children taken away permanently.

In a statement, the Department of Community Services said family visits have continued by phone and video during the pandemic. 

"In light of COVID-19, we took precautions to ensure safety and worked diligently to re-introduce in-person visits once it was appropriate to do so. It's important to note that child protection remained an essential service throughout our COVID-19 response, and all Community Services offices continue to be operational," the statement said. 

The department said committee meetings will return in the fall.



Shaina Luck


Shaina Luck is an investigative reporter with CBC Nova Scotia. She has worked with local and network programs including The National and The Fifth Estate. Email: