Two social media videos show a newborn baby girl being taken from the arms of her Indigenous mother by Manitoba social workers and police – an apprehension that First Nations leaders say is all too common in a child-welfare system biased against Aboriginals.
The videos, broadcast live Thursday on Facebook by the woman’s uncle, show her sitting in a hospital bed, cradling her baby and rocking back and forth as social workers and police explain that the baby is being taken into care.
The woman is crying softly and being hugged by relatives, one of whom is wailing in sorrow. Eventually, police place the newborn into a car seat and take her away.
The mother is not told when she might see her baby again.
Statistics from the Manitoba government show newborn apprehensions occur, on average, about once a day in the province.
About 90 per cent of kids in care are Indigenous.
WATCH: Manitoba newborn apprehended by CFS prompts family to speak out
The videos, which had been viewed more than 400,000 times by Friday afternoon, offered a rare glimpse into a normally private matter and quickly led to calls for change.
“The system that we’re subject to is not a system for our people,” Grand Chief Garrison Settee, who represents northern Manitoba First Nations, said Friday at a news conference with the mother, her family and other community leaders.
“We want to take back our babies because they belong to us. They belong … in their own culture, in their own societies, among their own people.”
The woman, her baby, and other family members cannot be identified under Manitoba law.
The child was taken away because of a false accusation that the mother was drunk when she arrived at the hospital to give birth, the woman’s aunt said.
The videos show family members telling social workers the accusation was not true. They ask whether the baby could stay with one of them instead of being taken away. The request is denied.
All the while, the mother is sitting on her hospital bed, cradling her baby. On Friday, she recalled getting strength from her infant daughter.
“I was blindsided … and it’s just astonishing how far this had to go,” she said.
“When I was holding my baby, she was actually the one who was keeping me content and strong and focused. And I’m still holding on to that.”
Cora Morgan, a family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said the mother may have been targeted for a “birth alert” – a note to social workers that an expectant mother is high risk – because she had another daughter who was temporarily in care several years ago.
The woman had previously sought help for addictions and with parenting from Child and Family Services, Morgan said, but was not intoxicated when she arrived at the hospital to give birth.
“In the system – as a mother, as a father, as a grandparent – they’re always deemed guilty of something, and there’s no mechanism to ever prove you’re innocent.”
The woman is hopeful that she might be reunited with her daughter shortly. The case file has been transferred from Winnipeg to an agency in the woman’s home community.
Statements from CFS, Province:
“In Manitoba, when child and family services is involved, parents have the right to choose which Authority they would prefer to work with. Apprehending a child is a very difficult decision, and is done only as a last resort and when required to ensure children are kept safe.
“When a child is brought into care, the agency’s first consideration is always to explore reunification with parents and to place the child with a family member while this is being done. Agencies utilize a variety of practice strategies, such as safety network meetings, to find family members and to create a safe environment for the child. The agency focuses on working with family and community members to collectively create and implement a safety plan for the child.
“As CEO of the General Authority, I have personally reviewed this file in detail and met with the agency staff involved, including the director of the agency. I am confident in the decisions made. We will continue to work with this family, and engage with any collateral or partner agencies the family wishes to involve.
CEO, General Child and Family Services Authority
“I am saddened to see a family’s situation result in an apprehension, which is meant to be used as a last resort when there are serious concerns about a child’s safety.
“Our government is focused on strengthening family bonds and reducing apprehensions through child welfare system reform, priorities reinforced by Monday’s announcement of a doula initiative. Over the past year, we have seen a reduction in the number of children in care, an increase in family reunifications and a decrease in apprehensions by more than nine per cent.”
Minister of Families