‘Shocking’ levels of CFS interactions with First Nation infants in Manitoba: research

Some Indigenous leaders say new research is proof CFS in Manitoba is an extension of government systems aimed at separating Indigenous children from their families. Morgan Modjeski reports.

Indigenous leaders say new research is proof positive Child and Family Services (CFS) in Manitoba is an extension of government systems aimed at separating Indigenous children from their families – similar to the residential school system and Sixties Scoop.

They say immediate action is needed to address the disparity.

“When a child is not being taught their culture, their language, they lose who they are as a person,” said Chief Betsy Kennedy with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC). “And for the young moms, when they don’t have their babies, they feel loss and the loss is always severe.

“It’s another form of taking away our children.”

The research, which involved tens of thousands of children over a 20-year-span, found 36 per cent of First Nation infants had contact with CFS – a rate four times higher than non-First Nation infants.

It also found nine per cent of First Nation infants experienced placement in CFS custody (seven times higher than non-First Nations) and five per cent experienced legal termination of parental rights (eight times higher).

Chief Betsy Kennedy of the War Lake First Nation says the study shows CFS is just another extension of past government bodies aimed at separating Indigenous families. (Steve Anderson, CityNews)

And outright removal from a child’s parents at birth was roughly six times more common for First Nation newborns, it found.

Kennedy hopes the research leads to more support to keep families together, saying seizures by CFS leave long-lasting scars.

“This continues and it shouldn’t be happening,” said Kennedy, who is also Chair of the AMC Women’s Counsel. “We should be providing and helping families stay together.”

READ: Advocates await action, five years after MMIWG inquiry released

The paper’s lead, Dr. Kathleen Kenny, hopes the findings spur permanent change.

“The numbers speak to a massive level of CFS disruption and intrusion into families,” said Kenny, a postdoctoral fellow of community health sciences at the University of Manitoba’s Max Rady College of Medicine.

“That’s the why we’re doing this work: for action.”

Dr. Kathleen Kenny from the University of Manitoba speaks to CityNews reporter Morgan Modjeski. (CityNews)

Manitoba Minister of Families Nahanni Fontaine says CFS in Manitoba is a “colonial enterprise,” stressing since the NDP was elected last year, decolonizing the system has been a top priority.

“Let’s govern child welfare in a way that we’re not coming back 20 years and apologizing to Indigenous children,” Minister Fontaine said.

Pointing to the recent commitment to transfer jurisdiction of CFS from the province to First Nations at a roundtable attended by roughly 40 Indigenous leaders, Fontaine said the government’s goal is working to keep families together, as opposed to turning to what she called “stranger-based” care.

“Children do better when they are with their parents,” she said. “Children do better when they are with their communities. Children do better when they are immersed in their culture, their traditions, their language, they just do better.

“That is what de-colonizing child welfare is all about.”

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