Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Unkind, difficult system alienates kids: CFS study

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Aboriginal mothers who have lost custody of their kids say the child-welfare system is often unfair, overly complex, and alienates children from their culture.

Those are the findings of a study released Friday based on interviews with 32 Manitoba mothers who navigated the province's child-welfare system -- the social workers, the lawyers and court processes, the addiction and counselling programs and visitation rules.

Many of the women were middle-aged and may have come into contact with child welfare before cases involving First Nations children were referred to aboriginal agencies and social workers better able to respect First Nations' culture.

But the women told researchers they experienced overt racism from social workers and struggled with foster parents who failed to respect cultural roots. Many said they couldn't get their kids back even though they cleaned up their lives.

The study recommends the creation of support groups, plain language guides and an advocates' office to help aboriginal women trying to win back custody of their kids. The study's authors say more needs to be done to help parents do a better job before their kids are placed in foster homes.

"It has to be a kinder process," said researcher Marlyn Bennett, herself a product of the CFS system. "We need more supports for parents to be good parents."

The study was done for the Family Court Diversion Project and Ka Ni Kanichihk Inc., an aboriginal social services organization.

It follows months of bad news about the state of the province's child-welfare system, in which kids have died in care and agencies have been mired in allegations of nepotism, incompetence and dramatic understaffing.

The report says little about the safety of children in care, a key issue in the debate. Bennett said much has been written about children, foster families and social workers, but this is the first time mothers have had a voice. And she noted it's still mothers, not fathers, who bear the brunt of the failures of the child-welfare system.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2008

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