A new mother in Brandon says Child and Family Services workers went too far when they apprehended her two-day-old baby boy at the Brandon Regional Health Centre, and she wants answers about why it happened.
The mother said no concerns were raised through her entire pregnancy. Both she and her partner disclosed their previous mental health and addiction issues to her doctors and social workers and they raised no issues with either parent, she says.
“There was no cause for concern — nothing whatsoever. None from any of our health professionals, medical professionals, our own personal workers,” said Jessica — the name CBC is using for the mother in order to protect the identity of the infant, who is still in CFS care.
“Everything was a go for us as new parents,” she told CBC News in a phone interview.
She gave birth to her son on Nov. 24. On Nov. 25, the 38-year-old first-time mother said a nurse began to ask questions about her partner’s attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD.
That was followed by allegations that the father had muttered something about shaking their baby — while trying to explain rocking or cradling — while she was out of the room.
“I was in absolute shock because I know that my partner would never intend to say such a thing. I know that you could accidentally say such a thing, but did it warrant such an extreme response?” Jessica said.
Jessica said the official allegation was that the father — who CBC is calling William — had uttered words deemed unsafe around the infant.
She was then visited at the health centre by two social workers and two workers with Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba, who told her she had 24 hours to come up with a plan to have someone move into the couple’s two-bedroom home or the baby would be apprehended, she says.
The next day, the baby was taken, leaving her and William in disbelief.
“I can’t forget the three security guards watching over us as they pack their bags for us and being escorted out of maternity. This is incredibly traumatizing, especially since [William] aged out of CFS himself and I’m part of the last tail end of the Sixties Scoop,” she said.
She has seen her baby for just five hours in the last 10 days.
“This shouldn’t have happened. The nurses … kept telling us the CFS these days work with families to keep them together,” she said.
The Prairie Mountain Health authority, which includes Brandon, said it cannot comment on the situation.
Concerning situation: advocate
Cora Morgan, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs’ First Nations children’s advocate, said apprehension should be a last resort.
“There’s supposed to be significant exercise put in to prevent a newborn baby from being apprehended. So to hear that this is happening in an age where there is supposed to be limited newborn apprehension is concerning,” she said.
Morgan said she hasn’t heard of a situation where comments made in hospital would result in apprehension.
“You know, as a mom … you have all these plans. You prepare at home. And then, you know, to be at the hospital and all of a sudden kind of blindsided with your child being taken — it’s quite devastating.”
A spokesperson from Manitoba Families Minister Heather Stefanson told CBC News in an email that infant safety is always paramount, and if it is determined that an infant is not safe or cannot be made safe, CFS must become involved.
“This may include the need for intervention when an infant is at a hospital,” the spokesperson said.
The province said the practice of issuing birth alerts to hospitals — warnings from social services agencies intended to flag the history of an expectant mother considered “high risk,” which in some cases led to a baby’s apprehension in hospital — ended as of July 1.
However, that doesn’t change the requirements for agencies to follow up on concerns, the province said.
Arlene Stewart, the CEO of Child and Family Services of Western Manitoba, told CBC by email that, generally, apprehension remains a last resort and is used only when the infant’s safety cannot be assured.
When a child is apprehended, planning for safe reunification begins immediately, she said.
Family says no prior concerns
Jessica says she doesn’t think it’s fair she was given just 24 hours to find someone to live in-home with her and William. In addition to the challenges the COVID-19 pandemic presents, she said she doesn’t have the space in her home for someone else. Her extended family is scattered around the region.
She said while both she and William have dealt with past trauma and addiction issues, they have had a good handle on them now, and their medical professionals hadn’t raised any concerns about their ability to parent.
“There is no substance abuse problems in this case,” Jessica said. “There is no fear of addiction, and if there’s a fear of my mental health, well, it should be the fear of postpartum depression that CFS is possibly putting into my life, because now I’m on antidepressants to nip that in the bud if it starts.”
She and William are now trying to regain custody of her newborn baby and have started court proceedings to make that happen. She’s been on the phone non-stop trying to reach various agencies to get help, she says.
The couple has the second bedroom in their two-bedroom home set up as a nursery, which will now sit empty and quiet until their baby can come home — soon, the couple hopes.
“It more or less makes me feel like they’re grasping at straws to keep my child from me,” Jessica said. “And even if the issue was on my partner, why punish me and my baby?”