After outcry over baby’s apprehension, Manitoba Indigenous family gets newborn back

An Indigenous family is planning to pursue legal action after they say a newborn baby was apprehended by Child and Family Services without warning.

A taxi was on its way to take the mother and baby home on Monday, when a child-welfare worker unexpectedly showed up at the Winnipeg hospital, the mother’s older sister said in an interview.

“It was a wrongful, illegal apprehension that happened when the baby had multiple homes she could go to, within the family,” she said.

The family posted video of their exchange with the child-welfare worker online, which made the rounds on social media and attracted the attention of politicians who brought up the family’s plight in the Manitoba Legislature on Thursday. 

That same afternoon, Child and Family Services met with the family and apologized for the apprehension, blaming it on miscommunication, the sister said.

The newborn was returned to the mother on Thursday night.

“She’s happy that the baby’s home, but she’s also still frustrated with how this all went about. This could have simply been avoided by proper communication,” the sister said. 

No members of the family can be identified under Manitoba law.

WATCH | Family tries to reason with child-welfare worker to prevent apprehension:

Manitoba family records newborn’s apprehension by CFS

15 hours ago

Duration 0:20

The family of an Indigenous newborn protests when a CFS worker comes to apprehend the baby in a Winnipeg hospital. The infant has since been returned to the family.

The sister says the explanation given for taking away the newborn doesn’t make sense. It said the mother, who is 17 and a ward of CFS, wasn’t making efforts to enter parenting programs and the family didn’t have a plan to care for the baby, which the family disputes.

She said the worker apologized on Thursday for the miscommunication and said it shouldn’t have happened. 

The provincial government didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but a spokesperson has previously said the province cannot comment on specific cases due to privacy concerns. 

NDP families critic Nahanni Fontaine said the family that dealt with the apprehension followed all the appropriate steps, and yet the child-welfare system still took their baby away. She brought up the family’s matter during question period in the legislature on Thursday. 

Fontaine told reporters afterward that the older sister made arrangements for the mother and newborn to live with her. The sister also moved to a bigger place to ensure they had enough space.

A woman wearing a white sweater speaks to media while standing behind two cameras.
NDP families critic Nahanni Fontaine says the family who endured the newborn apprehension did everything they were supposed to do to ensure the baby would come home with the mother. (Darin Morash/CBC)

“Here’s an Indigenous family that all came together to develop a kinship plan. Here’s an Indigenous young mom that did everything that she was supposed to do, and throughout this process there was no concerns that were advised or outlined to the family,” Fontaine said.

And yet CFS showed up with “no explanation,” she said.

“The family is rightly concerned and upset that this took place.”

Fontaine told reporters, before the reunification, the only possible resolution was for the baby to be returned to the mother.

Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont told question period the apprehension shows the tearing apart of Indigenous families that happened in residential schools is not relegated to the past. 

“It’s not just intergenerational trauma,” he said. “It’s trauma that’s being created right now, affecting thousands of families.”

Number of apprehensions dropping

Families Minister Rochelle Squires said she couldn’t speak to specifics of the family’s case, but told question period on Thursday that she instructed the General Child and Family Services Authority to oversee the matter and connect with the family.

She pointed out the number of babies being taken into care annually has decreased in recent years.

In 2018-19, 289 newborns were apprehended. That dropped to 84 apprehensions in 2021-22, the last fiscal year for which numbers are available, according to statistics provided Thursday by the province.

The government says the decision to end birth alerts in 2020 contributed to the declining number of babies taken into care. Birth alerts notified hospitals and child-welfare agencies that a parent deemed high-risk would be having a baby.

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