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October 9, 2015 by Robert Franklin, Esq, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

For two years, mother in Winnipeg, Manitoba has been fighting the Department of Children and Family Services for the return of her daughter, so far to no avail. Read about it here (CBC, 10/5/15). She’s obviously a single mother without a lot of resources to help her out caring for her child. If there are any of the woman’s extended family members nearby, the article doesn’t mention them and the woman didn’t receive help from them. So I suspect she’s alone.

Unfortunately, two years ago, the woman came down with pneumonia and had to go to the hospital. Obviously, she was unable to care for her kids, so she did what may have been the only responsible thing – she asked CFS to keep them in care until she was back on her feet.

But she’s been back on her feet for two years and so far her kids haven’t been returned to her. That may be because she’s got problems with substance abuse, but the last time she had a positive test was a year ago. Since then she’d been clean – so clean in fact that a substance abuse treatment program refused to admit her because she hasn’t used since October of 2014. But CFS is still hanging onto the children.

It’s not as if the woman hasn’t done everything CFS has asked her to do.

In the months that followed, she completed 27 parenting and substance abuse programs, volunteered countless hours helping other women whose kids have been seized, and earned the support of leaders in her community. But the mother says CFS "[hasn't] acknowledged any of my accomplishments.

"Every progress meeting and every certificate I hand them is just put in my file," she told CBC.

Meanwhile, CFS has made its real intentions clear.

Most recently CFS has asked the court to make her children permanent wards of the state.

"That means I only get four visits a year, and no contact," she said. 

To recap, two years ago, CFS had no information that she abused or neglected her kids. Because of her illness, the woman made the mistake of trusting CFS to care for her children for a short time while she got over her pneumonia. The only possible reason CFS has to continue keeping her children is her past substance abuse.

But is that a reason to keep her children? It is only if her use of whatever drug or other substance renders her abusive or neglectful or unable to care for her children. But she’s had little-to-no contact with the children and, in any event, is no longer using whatever substance she’s had difficulties with in the past. In short, the state has no evidence of abuse or neglect, but continues to keep her children from their mother.

Cora Morgan, now the First Nations family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said she met the woman a few weeks before she began her new role about four months ago…

Morgan said she had met with hundreds of parents and she has a hard time understanding the mentality of child welfare workers who look at this mother and still say "No."

"People are expected to live these unrealistic lives. Every one of us is capable of making mistakes." Morgan said. "I just really don't understand why they can't see the good in her, and how wonderful she is, and how loving she is to her children."…

"These workers have to take a look, and look at the positive in these parents' lives, not only mine, but other parents, and sit down and say, 'OK we have to work together to get your kids home.'"

Exactly. But in country after country, that’s just not what these people do. In many states in the United States, child welfare workers say their goal is keeping families together, but time and again, it’s all too clear that they’re doing nothing of the kind.

Family reunification, along with whatever services parents need to be good, effective, loving parents, should be the goal of those agencies. That’s because the trauma of losing their parents when kids are placed in foster care tends to damage them emotionally and psychologically. Children in foster care do markedly worse than do those in parental care. So family reunification should be the goal in all but the most extreme cases.

In the United States, we know why that’s often not the case. The federal government offers hefty monetary incentives to states, first to take children into foster care and then to have them adopted. So CPS erring on the side of greater state intervention into family life is only to be expected. Just ask “free-range” parents, Alexander and Danielle Meitiv of Maryland. They found out the hard way just how little CPS respects perfectly good parents, their rights to parent their children free from state interference or their children’s need for the parents they’ve always known.

But even without the financial incentives, CPS agencies have a way of assuming that they know best how to care for children and anyone who does it differently is suspect. The problem with that way of thinking is that it ignores the obvious. Even if a parent makes mistakes, isn’t a perfect parent or even neglects or abuses the child somewhat, CPS fails to ask the important question “Is our alternative better?”

It’s easy to criticize parents and many of them richly deserve it. But the main alternative offered by child protective agencies is foster care. So it’s never enough to simply recognize that a parent isn’t doing a good job of care. The home the child is in needs to be balanced against what it would experience in foster care, plus the trauma of being taken from its parents. Only when foster care weighs heavier in the balance than those two things should a child be taken from its parents.

The bureaucratic mindset too often dictates that the bureaucrat do something when confronted with less than ideal circumstances. That mindset needs to be changed.

What also needs to be changed is the secrecy within which child welfare agencies invariably operate. In the case of the Winnipeg woman, that secrecy shields us from knowing why the woman’s children remain in foster care. It prevents the public from assessing the behavior of CFS. And that, we see time and again, is just how caseworkers like it.

Kerri Irvin-Ross, the minister responsible for CFS, said she trusts the actions of CFS workers.

"There are, as I've been told not only in this case, circumstances," she said. "There's six sides to every story."

As usual, CFS isn’t telling its side.


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