Content Warning: This piece contains sexual abuse, physical abuse, substance abuse, mental illness, racism, child apprehension, and profanity.
Disclaimer: The names of some people in these stories have been changed because they can’t be identified under the Child and Family Services Act.
In Manitoba, there are over 10,000 children in the CFS system — 90 per cent of them are Indigenous. These numbers have remained high since the Indian residential schools and the Sixties Scoop.
In the stories that follow, we talk to four people who have gone through, and aged out of, the Child and Family Services (CFS ) system. Each story is different, but patterns emerge and point to three problematic areas that need to be addressed in the system: the apprehension process, ensuring culturally appropriate homes, and foster family selection.
Nameless Voices: Never Again
Setting fire to the bedrooms, destroying chandeliers, shattering mirrors, and throwing a chair through the window — Sarah’s actions sent a loud message: she was done with Manitoba Child and Family Services.
“I was so angry. I was fucking pissed off,” she said. “… I single-handedly destroyed the whole house.”
It was the 1980s and Sarah was being removed from another foster home — she said she lost count after 20. Sarah had liked living in the house, but when CFS said they were removing her, she lit a fire and watched the house go up in flames.
Sarah was taken into care when she was 10 years old and was in the system until she aged out at 18. She said her time in the CFS system was terrible and things were bad from the start.
“It’s very scary being a 10-year-old, being put in a stranger’s home, and a bunch of white people telling you that you’re a ‘dirty Indian’ and that you’re not worth much,” said Sarah.
The home she destroyed was different. After years of bouncing from home to home, it was the first time Sarah liked her foster parents. They treated her well, she said. Sarah was placed in the home when she was 12 and stayed until the fire at age 14.
Sarah, now 48, was living there with three of her biological sisters at the time, the first time they’ve been placed together since being apprehended four years earlier. When one of the other foster girls living with them made accusations against the foster parents, the agency moved to pull them all out of the home.
“I was pissed off that they took my sisters away,” said Sarah. “I was pissed off that those foster parents had to quit. They were the only good ones we ever had.”
Sarah says the other foster homes she lived in were a continuous cycle of emotional abuse. She said she was treated like a slave for most of her life; Sarah was made to do all of the chores — even if there were other children in the home.
She acted out when CFS removed her from the one good home she had.
“I was rebelling really, really, really badly,” she said. “That was the straw that broke the camel’s back — I was done.”
Sarah said there isn’t enough supervision for children in care, and her rebellious behaviour led her to drugs.
“I was a drug addict by the time I was 12,” said Sarah. “I was an alcoholic by the time I was 13.”
She said she was introduced to cocaine and heroin by the other girls in her foster home, and they used the drugs without being caught.
Sarah recalled another one of her foster homes being religious.
“They said I was the spawn of Satan,” said Sarah. “So, they didn’t want me anymore.”
Sarah said after she burned down the one home she liked, she was moved from home to home because of her behaviour. But she said there were a number of reasons she bounced from home to home prior to setting that fire.
“One was I was too brown. One was I didn’t do enough for the house, or I was a bad kid,” Sarah said those were some of the reasons she believed she was moved around so much.
Throughout an hour-long interview, Sarah was reluctant to offer details about how she ended up in care, but she said they needed to be taken out of a bad situation.
“They put words into our mouths when it came to our mother,” said Sarah. “The reason we were apprehended was because of my dad and that’s as far as I’ll go with that.”
Sarah said even if the situation wasn’t the best at home with their father, being with her mother and siblings was better than any foster home.
Sarah said CFS agents told her mother if she divorced their father, she could keep the kids — her mom went through with it, but they were still apprehended.
The agency asked her how she was supposed to support her seven kids — Sarah said her mom went down a dark path after CFS apprehended her children.
After burning down her foster home at 14, Sarah was placed in a group home, which she ran away from. She said she was gone for a long time and living on the streets when her mother found her.
Sarah’s mom called the agency and told them she had Sarah and she wasn’t going to give her back. The social worker came to see them and told Sarah her mom would go to jail if she didn’t go back to her group home. Sarah said she told the social worker she would go back, but she would just run away again.
She said CFS allowed her to live with her biological mother until she turned 18.
“That was the first time I realized I have a voice,” said Sarah. “That’s the thing, they try and keep your voices hidden.”
At first, it was just Sarah and her mother, but Sarah used her new-found voice to get her siblings home with them.
Sarah said she probably should have been apprehended from her mother during those four years — her mom was an alcoholic, and Sarah was raising her three younger siblings.
CFS never came to check on how they were doing when they were living with her mother, she said.
Sarah now advocates for other parents to help them fight to keep their children from being taken into the system or to get them out of the system. She said she first started advocating for others when she was 17 years old when she had to fight for her first-born child.
“I learned how to do it, then I started advocating for other people,” she said.
Sarah said her time in the system started her on a vicious cycle of addiction, which caused her to drop out of school and become a teenage mother.
Sarah has three children now. She had her first when she was 17 and her last when she was 22. After her third was born, Sarah returned to high school and graduated a year later.
She said having her children turned her life around because she didn’t want her kids to grow up with the same experiences she had.
“I fought CFS hard to keep my kids. My kids were not going to grow up in that system,” she said.
Sarah is now a self-professed “legislation geek.” She uses her knowledge of legislation to help others and she said she knows when someone misquotes the CFS Act, Adoption Act, Divorce Act, and documents from other provinces.
She said parents get to know when their child is being apprehended, but don’t always get to know why.
She said when she is helping someone attempt to keep their children or get them back, she always starts with the same advice.
“If you’re afraid of something, learn about it. [It] takes the fear away,” said Sarah. “… A lot of times when people are traumatized, they don’t understand what their issues are.”
This is why Sarah began reading all that legislation — she wanted to understand the CFS system.
Sarah said she tells people what they need to work on each week at a meeting throughout the process of fighting for their children.
“It’s a good feeling knowing I am teaching people how to help themselves,” said Sarah.
Sarah said the CFS system has changed since she was in care.
“I really believe CFS is a necessary evil and the system just needs to be overhauled and fixed,” she said.
Sarah said the apprehension process needs the most attention. This process determines how CFS decides what children need protection. Sarah said CFS still gets this part wrong sometimes and when they do it rips families apart and traumatizes them.
She calls CFS a “new residential school,” because those schools took children away from their families and they “were created to take the ‘Indian’ out of the child.”
“Something had to replace residential schools,” she said.
Nameless Voices: The Never-Ending Cycle
Traci was drinking coffee on the deck with her support worker when CFS came to take her children.
Traci said she opened the door to two cops and two social workers.
“My heart sank,” said Traci.
When she was five, Traci remembers clinging to a table leg after her daycare counsellor told her she was going into foster care. She said her home life was traumatic at the time due to ongoing abuse, but regardless of her safety, she didn’t want to leave her mom.
Traci said her mom and stepdad didn’t know how to communicate so they used violence, creating a volatile and dangerous situation for Traci. She said there was domestic and sexual abuse in her home.
One time Traci’s stepdad hung her over a balcony and rubbed a dirty diaper in her face.
“In some instances, [CFS] taking me from my mom and my stepdad was for the better,” she said.
Traci, 35, said she recently found out her mom had voluntarily placed her.
The provincial government says voluntary placement means the child’s parent chose to place them in the CFS system.
That decision determined the rest of Traci’s life.
The first time Traci went into a foster home, she stayed for a year. She was then returned to her mom for a year and went back into care. She stayed in that same foster home for nine years.
As she talks about that foster home, Traci’s eyes fill with tears. She said her foster mom there was great. Or so she thought.
Soon after she returned, Traci said one of the children in her foster home threatened her with a knife. He was kicked out of the house and no one explained the situation to Traci or mentioned it again.
The boy who threatened Traci had a 14-year-old sister who was also living in the home. Traci said the sister started sexually abusing her and when Traci spoke up about it, her foster mom made her tell everyone in the home she lied.
The boy’s sister faced no consequences, Traci said. But Traci did — she was made to clean the whole house for lying.
“That’s when the real dysfunction began for me,” she said.
Traci said she started getting locked in her bedroom without furniture or access to a bathroom. When she wasn’t in there, Traci said she was outside raking or doing chores.
Traci drank little sips out of 10 to 15 pop cans and hid them under the couches at her foster home over time because she was scared of getting in trouble. Her foster mom found all the cans a year later and Traci said she made her sit and drink each one until it was finished.
Traci said she can still taste the mould when she drinks pop.
Traci ran away from that foster home when she was almost 15. She remembers hiding in the bushes and seeing people look for her, she said.
She refused to go back.
She finally ended up at a random house where the woman inside called the Kids Help Phone. From there, Traci said CFS put her in a group home.
“It was like going from a concentration camp to suddenly the world is mine,” she said.
Traci started drinking heavily when she was 17. She said her stomach was pumped several times in hospital and she blacked out more often than not.
Then, she ended up in rehab.
Rehab didn’t work for her because as soon as she got out, Traci started drinking again and ran away from the group home.
That’s when Traci first got pregnant.
Still 17, she was living in an apartment with two men, one of whom was her baby’s father. She didn’t yet know, however, that she was pregnant.
One night, Traci said she fell asleep with a lit cigarette in her hand. She woke up to the whole apartment building in flames.
After finding out she was pregnant, Traci had the baby in a home for single pregnant mothers. She said CFS took the baby girl away at birth and told Traci to “smarten up” but didn’t offer help in doing so.
The intergenerational cycle of Traci’s life with CFS started to reveal itself. Children don’t age out of CFS until they’re 18, so she had a foster kid while she was still one.
“What could I have done to change this?” she said. “As I got older, I realized there was nothing I could have done.”
During the two years it took her to get her daughter back, Traci and her boyfriend had a son, whom she was allowed to keep.
CFS dropped off her then two-year-old daughter at her door two weeks later with no explanation of why.
Three months after Traci had her second child, she found out she was pregnant again.
“I can’t do it,” Traci said is what she told her boyfriend. “I can barely take care of the two I’ve got.”
Traci said her boyfriend told her he’d make sure she wouldn’t get to keep her children if she got an abortion, so she had the baby.
She broke up with her boyfriend a few months later and had what she calls an episode.
Traci said she found out later in life she has borderline personality disorder (BPD). The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) says BPD is a mental health problem that causes difficulty handling emotions.
People with BPD can have depression, substance use disorders, eating disorders, PTSD, and bipolar disorder.
She said her episodes happen when she goes off of her medication and allows her BPD to consume her. They can look like anger, depression, and anxiety. They can last from a few hours to a few days, according to The National Institute of Mental Health.
When Traci was around 24, she said she met a man 15 years older than her and they got married after knowing each other for three months.
Her husband convinced her, she said, that she couldn’t take care of her kids. So, she sent her daughter to her ex-boyfriend’s and her sons went with a stranger. Eventually, Traci had all three children live with their father.
Then Traci found out she was pregnant for the fourth time.
“Pregnant. Yay. Yay me,” she said.
Traci said CFS knew about her past but never stepped in. She had a social worker who let her keep the baby. Though she’s grateful for that, she said she wishes they’d have offered help.
She said CFS kept telling her to be better but didn’t help her to get there.
When her three kids were visiting her one day, Traci said her daughter wouldn’t let her dry her off after a bath because “she could do it herself.”
Traci said she asked if her dad helped her dry off.
Her daughter looked to the ground, she said, and mumbled, “’Yeah, daddy helps me. Daddy hurts me.’”
Traci took all three kids back from their father.
She said she tried to get her ex-boyfriend charged for assaulting their daughter. He got away with it, she said, because their child refused to take her pants off for the doctor, so they couldn’t tell if anything had happened.
Traci gave her daughter to a friend to look after her.
“How do I tell her it’s not her fault when I think it’s my fault for being raped myself?” said Traci.
Then Traci said she went through “another episode” and voluntarily placed her oldest son in CFS care because her husband was beating him for his overactive behaviour.
She later found out her oldest son is autistic.
She had her fourth child and was now taking care of the baby and her youngest son.
Her relationship with her husband was dysfunctional, she said. He abused her but she grew up watching that, so she said she thought it was normal.
He drove out to B.C. with Traci to “work on their marriage” and she said he left her stranded there alone.
When she called him months later to say she was doing well, he said he’d given her children to CFS because she “abandoned them.”
This brought Traci back under CFS.
In a B.C. shelter Traci began a relationship with a woman. They moved back to Winnipeg together where Traci won custody of all her children, but they still had a social worker who was to check on them.
Traci and her girlfriend had a baby together, then split up after years of fighting. They decided to raise their daughter together as friends.
Traci was in school to be a hairdresser. She said her social worker would call during class and Traci didn’t return the calls.
So, one day, the social worker picked up Traci’s oldest daughter from school to see what their home situation was like. Traci said she was furious. The social worker said because she was a social worker — and because Traci’s daughter is a permanent ward — she could do whatever she wants.
The Child and Family Services Act says a permanent ward is a child whose guardian is their agency.
From that point on, Traci said she had a strained relationship with the social worker.
Traci went to Saskatchewan one weekend in summer 2019 to clean up her dead aunt’s estate. Her ex-girlfriend took care of the children while Traci was away, but when she got home later that weekend, she said her autistic son’s bedsheets hadn’t been changed, her daughter’s bedroom was full of garbage, and there was food everywhere.
Traci said CFS showed up two days later, saying it looked like an ongoing issue.
Traci’s children were apprehended Aug. 9 at 11 a.m..
Her youngest child is in her ex’s care and was not apprehended.
Traci got her two oldest children back earlier this year. She is currently fighting to get her youngest two back with the help of Sarah, the child welfare advocate.
Sarah said she’s helped Traci find her voice. She said when they met in October, Traci was angry and defeated. Now, Sarah said Traci is more confident and relaxed when talking with CFS workers. Traci credits Sarah for getting her children back.
“If you give [CFS] what they want but you still keep your integrity you’ll get what you want,” Sarah said.
Traci doesn’t drink anymore. She’s currently taking a break from school to focus on getting her children out of the system.
Traci said she didn’t picture this life for herself. She said the system gave it to her.
A timeline of Traci’s life:
Traci is apprehended and goes into foster care
Traci is returned home
Traci goes back to the same foster home
Traci runs away from the foster home
Traci is placed in a group home
Traci starts drinking and goes to rehab
Traci gets out of rehab
Traci finds out she’s pregnant
Traci accidentally sets an apartment building on fire
Traci has her first baby — CFS takes her away
Traci has a son
Traci’s daughter is returned to her
Traci finds out she’s pregnant again
Traci has her third child, a boy
Traci breaks up with her boyfriend
Traci marries a man 15 years older than her
Traci gives her daughter to her ex-boyfriend and her sons to a gas station stranger
Traci finds out she’s pregnant again
Traci gets her boys back from the stranger and all three kids are living with their father
Traci suspects her ex-boyfriend sexually assaulted their daughter
Traci takes all three kids back. She sends her daughter to live with a friend and voluntarily places her oldest son in care
Traci has her fourth child
Traci’s husband leaves her stranded in B.C.
Traci finds out all of her children are in CFS
Traci enters a relationship with a woman, moves back to Winnipeg, wins custody of all her children
Tracy and her girlfriend have a baby girl
Traci and her girlfriend break up
Traci goes to Saskatchewan for a weekend, leaving her kids in her ex-girlfriend’s care
Traci comes home to a trashed house and a CFS visit
Traci’s children are apprehended
Traci gets her two oldest children back
Nameless Voices: Doing Well Doesn’t Matter
Bruce was 10 years old when he opened the door of his grandparent’s apartment to a social worker and two cops.
His grandma was in the kitchen making his and his sister’s lunch for school the next day.
“Are you Bruce?” was the first thing Bruce remembered them saying. All he replied with was, “Yes.”
Crying, he grabbed a few of his belongings and walked out the door with the three strangers while his grandparents watched in shock.
He said he didn’t have time to say goodbye to his family and wasn’t told why he had to leave. He said he never fought the apprehension process and he doesn’t know why.
“Something told me I just needed to stick with it,” he said. “And my grandma told me it would be OK. Trusting that process has been the best thing in my life.”
Bruce was raised by his grandparents. He said he didn’t have a dad; his mom was deaf and poor and didn’t have the means to take care of him and his three siblings. He has a younger sister and two older brothers.
Both of his brothers were in and out of the CFS system. Bruce said one brother is doing fine now, but the other one suffered a head injury after getting beaten up and later got involved with gangs. That brother is now in jail and serving a life sentence for murder.
Bruce said he found out years later that he and his sister were apprehended because their neighbours told CFS his grandparents were abusing them when questioned about their own abuse charges.
He said his grandparents never abused him or his sister.
Bruce suspects his sister — who has fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) — was scared and didn’t know how to react when CFS interviewed her, so she may have said things that led CFS to believe there was abuse.
Mayo Clinic says people with FAS can also have poor brain function and poor social skills.
Bruce said he’s always tried to protect his sister. They were in the same foster home for four years until he came home from school one day and she was gone.
He was in Grade 10 when his social worker took him from class, he said. They sat in the resource room and he said she asked him how he liked having his then 10-year-old sister in his home.
“Well she’s my little sister,” Bruce remembers saying. “She’s annoying.”
Bruce said his sister wasn’t on the bus that night and when he got home, his foster mom was crying. The social worker, he said, moved his sister to a different home.
Almost six years later, she is now living in a group home where Bruce believes some of the children she lives with have run away or are suicidal. He said they were told she needed one-on-one help. He’s never understood how she can get that in a group home.
After his sister moved homes, Bruce requested a new social worker. He left his Metis agency and got a new social worker in Winnipeg.
There were 10,258 children in care last March, according to the provincial government. Manitoba has four CFS authorities and 27 agencies. Each authority oversees its own territory of agencies, which are in charge of children in the foster care system.
Once he was with the General Child and Family Services Authority, Bruce said he got along with the social workers better, though they had more children to look after.
He said his home was good: his foster family gave him a chance to go to a good high school, get his driver’s license, play basketball and go to college. He was in that home until he aged out of CFS.
Bruce, now graduated from college, owns his own carpentry business. He said he always told his biological family he’d build them a house one day and he thinks that’s why he was drawn to the line of work.
Bruce still visits his birth family. He also keeps touch with his brother in prison.
As he got older, Bruce said he decided to find God. For him, that means going to church and praying.
His foster family wasn’t religious, but Bruce said he always knew he was. That religious difference created arguments between him and them about their personal beliefs.
God, Bruce said, gives him value. He said none of his four social workers throughout his life asked about his religious views, though religion is part of a culturally appropriate home.
Even though his foster family is like his real family now, Bruce said religion creates a bond and “changes a kid’s life from the get-go.”
Veronica is Bruce’s girlfriend. They met at a Bible camp five years ago and said they bonded because they were both in the foster care system.
Veronica was apprehended as a baby and grew up with one foster family. They wanted to adopt her, but she was told CFS wouldn’t let them because they’re white and she’s Indigenous.
She said being apprehended in the middle of growing up — as Bruce was — exposes a child to things most children shouldn’t see.
“That’s a lot of trauma,” Veronica said. “I was so young that I didn’t even have a chance to grow in my own brain. He did.”
Bruce said being apprehended at a young age forced him to put up walls. He said he’s been through court, has lived in four different households and has packed his things into a garbage bag to move homes when all he wanted to do was play with his friends.
Every kid who’s been through the CFS system is built like a rock, Bruce said.
“It’s detrimental to you, you’ve lost so much already,” he said. “It’s like a death to you as a little kid.”
Veronica and Bruce said they weren’t priority foster kids when they were in the system because they were doing well with their foster families. They said it felt like the system didn’t care what happened to them as long as it wasn’t bad.
But when Veronica was six years old, she had an unsupervised visit with her biological parents. Her mom has severe FAS, which Veronica said gives her mom “the mind of a 12-year-old.”
One of Veronica’s three sisters was also at the visit. The meeting, she said, turned out sexually and physically abusive for both of the girls.
“I think being a six-year-old and unsupervised,” Veronica sighed and looked out the window, rubbing her eyes under her glasses. “I felt like I should have been supervised.”
She said she and her sister never spoke about the abuse. She told herself it was OK because they were her parents.
When she was older, Veronica said she finally told her organization about what happened. She said they kept asking her, “Are you sure this happened?”
Being interrogated like that, she said, made her feel intimidated so she stopped fighting it. She alleges CFS didn’t want to deal with her claim in case it was true.
Bruce said the system manipulates children like Veronica when they’re vulnerable. He said they did the same to his sister when he and his sister were apprehended, and she said something to make them believe they were being abused.
Veronica said her biological dad started stalking her when she was older. He would show up to her work, leaving her old family photos and send her constant messages, she said.
Veronica said her social worker told her they’d get a restraining order but did nothing.
Then she turned 18 and her problems didn’t matter to them.
She said he has since stopped stalking her.
Veronica said she doesn’t think she’d be as successful as she is today if she wasn’t placed with the foster family she has. She went to college for child and youth care and has used her story to help other children in her situation.
She said she was lucky. Bruce said he was too.
“[Foster parents] have to be someone who’s going to be there and love them,” Bruce said. “It’s not just about money. You have to be family.”
Bruce still visits his foster family and talks to them regularly. Veronica still lives with hers.
Bruce said foster parents are the key to success or failure in their foster child’s life. He said the CFS system doesn’t determine who each child becomes, but they have the power to determine who does.
Nameless Voices: Lacking Consistency
Sarah’s, Traci’s, Bruce’s, and Veronica’s stories belong to them, but they aren’t allowed to attach their name to their stories.
The Child and Family Services Act states that the media can’t identify anyone involved in child protection matters, which is why they can’t publish their own stories.
Janel Fiddler, an early intervention worker at Child and Family All Nations Coordinated Response Network (ANCR) said telling stories is a big part of healing, and it’s tough on those who age out of the CFS system that can’t freely share theirs.
A report from the McGill Journal of Education found storytelling is a way of dealing with trauma. It also found those who are able to share their stories can find a sense of hope, belonging, and meaning in light of their traumatic experiences.
Fiddler used to be a social worker, but is no longer registered with the Manitoba College of Social Workers so she can’t use that title anymore.
A Culturally Appropriate Apprehension
ANCR is the intake agency for the Winnipeg area. When a call is made to CFS, intake agencies answer the phone and determine which regular agency will deal with the case.
“That’s why people say that CFS is like the Sixties Scoop and the residential schools, because they still are going in and apprehending these kids,” said Fiddler.
The Sixties Scoop was a period of time in the 1960s when Indigenous children were taken from their families and placed in the child welfare system without their family’s permission, according to Indigenous Foundations, a First Nations and Indigenous Studies program at the University of British Columbia.
Indigenous Foundations describes the residential schools as a government school system all run by churches with the objective of assimilating Indigenous culture into traditional Christian and Euro-Canadian ways of life.
Fiddler, however, said CFS doesn’t apprehend kids today for no reason and said they do everything they can to place Indigenous children in culturally appropriate homes.
A culturally appropriate home for a child in the CFS system is a home with the same cultural beliefs as the child. Fiddler acknowledged it isn’t always possible to find a culturally appropriate home for an Indigenous child, but she said it’s important to make sure those children have access to materials to help learn about their culture.
“If there’s an apprehension occurring, we’re asking those parents ‘who do you trust? Who do you want to see your kids with?’ So, they have a say in that,” said Fiddler. “We see the importance of kids being in culturally competent and culturally appropriate placements.”
Fiddler said that’s one way the system is “skewed” — there aren’t enough culturally appropriate foster parents for the number of Indigenous children in care.
Policy vs Practice
The Government of Canada has begun to address the issue by co-developing news laws around child welfare with the help of Indigenous partners. Bill C-92, “An Act respecting First Nations, Inuit and Métis children, youth and families” went into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
The bill aims to reduce the number of Indigenous children in care and to protect Indigenous children from losing their Aboriginality.
A minimum standard for Indigenous child protection is stated in the bill, but the new act allows Indigenous Peoples to create their own child protection laws. It would have the same weight as federal laws but the Manitoban CFS Act still applies.
The CFS system deals with the federal and provincial government, which can make new laws confusing for the jurisdictions.
Bill C-92 is a step toward consistency throughout the CFS system, something Fiddler admits is lacking at the moment.
If the bill is successful and is implemented correctly in each individual agency, then the federal government may need to start taking more control of Canada’s child welfare system and create one operating policy to be used throughout the country.
Of all the policies in place, Sarah, Traci, and Bruce all pointed to the apprehension process needing a major overhaul, but Fiddler said there is a good policy in place at her agency already.
Fiddler said ANCR has a big binder that breaks down what documentation and legal documents need to be filled out prior to an apprehension, and they operate under the CFS Act.
However, Fiddler said not every agency has the same protocols and the apprehension process is probably specific to each individual agency.
Fiddler said ANCR emphasizes how important it is to keep children with family members or with someone from the same culture as them when they’re apprehended.
“That’s something I’ve definitely seen at ANCR is trying to keep kids where they feel comfortable and where they feel safe,” she said.
Fiddler recalled one of her apprehension cases when ANCR provided two twin size beds so two children could stay with their aunt when they were removed from their mother’s home.
ANCR has been proactive and changing faster than other agencies that may be stuck in their old ways and just trying to close a case, Fiddler said.
“I think ANCR operates from a different perspective.”
An Evolving System
There seems to be change happening within the CFS system, but if ANCR has changed more than the other agencies in Manitoba, where is the consistency?
All calls and reports go to ANCR first. Then they are sent to the appropriate agency. But, once ANCR hands the case off to a different agency, they have no say in the case anymore.
In Sarah’s story, once she ran away to live with her mother, she doesn’t remember CFS ever checking on them again. In Traci’s story, she said her children shouldn’t have been apprehended from her, but she admitted there were times CFS didn’t check on her when her children should have been taken away.
Under the CFS Act, social workers have to check in with children under their supervision at least once a month, Fiddler said. She also said an agency may have closed the file once Sarah was placed back with her mother, even though the agency never told them it was being closed.
Sarah also said she was apprehended from the one good home she had because one of the other foster kids living there made a false accusation against the foster parents.
Fiddler said allegations like these are more thoroughly investigated than they once were.
“Sometimes a lot of these kids that grow up in care know how to manipulate their foster parents and make up allegations just so they can be placed elsewhere,” said Fiddler.
Addiction, abuse, and children not being fed are some of the reasons CFS makes apprehensions.
However, CFS can’t apprehend children on the basis of poverty anymore, Fiddler said. But Sarah claims agencies can use their words to manipulate this new rule.
Sarah pointed to the selection of foster parents being an issue in the system, but she said CFS does a better job now than they did when she was in the system in the ‘80s.
“Now they do an OK job with looking into foster families,” said Sarah. “They do criminal record checks, they do child abuse registry checks, they do prior contacts checks.”
Fiddler confirmed what Sarah said, and added CFS does in-house visits to make sure the place is safe for the child.
Bruce said foster parents are the most important part of the system. Fiddler said the new wave of social workers is. But a reason some social workers might treat each CFS case as a file that needs to be closed is the heavy workload each worker takes on, Fiddler said.
As of March 31, 2019, 23 per cent of CFS authority funding comes from the federal government — the rest comes from the Government of Manitoba. In a news release on Feb. 11, 2019, the provincial government said the four authorities will get a combined $435 million.
That’s 84 per cent of what CFS spent last year, according to last year’s Manitoba Families Annual Report.
In response to a FIPPA request, the provincial government said they were unable to provide the exact number of social workers in the province as they are employed by individual agencies.
Fiddler hopes other agencies start to mimic what ANCR is doing.
She said ANCR is trying to place children in culturally appropriate homes wherever they can, and trying to keep families together.
She said today, social workers create better relationships with parents in the system and they have to help keep as many families together as possible — or this intergenerational cycle of trauma and abuse will continue.