Manitoba child services won't return toddler to social worker grandmother

WINNIPEG - A supervisor with a Manitoba indigenous child-welfare agency says her grandson has been apprehended by another agency and authorities won't give her temporary custody despite her 15-year career in social work.

The grandmother — who cannot be identified — says her 16-month-old grandson has been housed in a temporary shelter since Wednesday and is being cared for by shift workers. She says she has been trying to get temporary custody, but has been told she needs to be investigated first.

The woman is a social worker and foster mother of two who has been working in child welfare for 15 years. She has cared for her grandson, along with his mother, since he was born.

"Why should my baby suffer?" she said Friday. "Why should he be traumatized when he has a home?

"They make it seem like I'm the criminal here. I'm being treated like I'm a suspect of something."

The grandmother said she has cultural concerns because her indigenous grandson was seized by the non-indigenous Winnipeg general authority.

"I speak Ojibwa to him," she said. "That's (his) culture."

The family is not being identified due to provisions in Manitoba's Child and Family Services Act.

Manitoba has four different child-welfare authorities which oversee dozens of other smaller, regional agencies. The grandmother said the one she works for always exhausts all family options before an apprehended child is placed in a temporary shelter. She's troubled the province doesn't appear to enforce that for all agencies.

"It should be like that across the board with CFS agencies," she said. "When kids are left in shelters or without family when there is family available, they're ... the ones that are being hurt. They're the ones that are being traumatized."

Debbie Besant, CEO of the General Child and Family Services Authority, was travelling and not available for an interview. In an email, she said the authority can't comment on specific cases. But, generally, apprehended children have to be placed in an approved "place of safety" or with a licensed foster-care provider.

"Priority is given to family," wrote Besant, who added criminal background checks have to be completed before a placement. "As well, when possible, we would respect the wishes of the parent(s) as to whom they believe could be an appropriate care provider for their child."

Cora Morgan, Manitoba's First Nations children's advocate, said it isn't the first time a child-welfare agency has ignored capable relatives.

In January, a newborn baby was apprehended and placed with strangers when a great-aunt — already an approved foster parent — was ready to take the baby.

Families Minister Scott Fielding declined an interview request. Spokesman David von Meyenfeldt said the province couldn't comment on a specific case.

In an emailed statement, von Meyenfeldt said agencies try to keep families together and "will explore services and supports, as appropriate, before they will bring children into care."

He couldn't immediately say what the province is doing to ensure all agencies give priority to family members before a child is taken into care.

Manitoba has almost 11,000 kids in care — one of the highest child apprehension rates in Canada — and seizes an average of one newborn baby a day. The number has jumped 55 per cent since 2006. Almost 90 per cent are indigenous.

There are no repercussions for agencies who don't give priority to family members, Morgan said. In this case, she said, time is of the essence.

"It looks like this little guy will be there for the long weekend," she said. "Why is CFS still holding on to this little guy?"

— By Chinta Puxley in Edmonton

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