The seizure in mid-June by child welfare authorities of a whole community of children -- more than 40 of them -- is shocking. How could the homes of almost all of the Old Order Mennonite community's children be so unsafe? Details are scant, but the case involves alleged abuse: 13 adults are facing charges, including assault.
Reports indicated the exercise of extreme corporal punishment -- cattle prods and other weapons were said to have been used -- and 13 children are alleged assault victims. Allegations of sexual assault have resulted in no such charges being laid.
The case has spawned outrage, the suspicion that CFS over-reacted with a zealous sweep of authority in seizing almost all the children. Speculation has touched upon the clash of cultures, the imposition of modern, liberal norms of child-rearing and discipline on a community that lives by old, basic ideas of family, lifestyle and values.
The children are scattered amongst temporary Mennonite homes, a reasonable but poor substitute for a sense of family and permanence. Court hearings on temporary or permanent seizure are slated for later this month and next. Manitobans place a degree of trust in child welfare agencies but rightly expect that court oversight ensures vigorous adjudication of the children's best interests. Months of living in legal limbo will not serve those interests. CFS must prove in timely manner not just how the homes posed such risk as to require the extraordinary disruption of a whole community, but why initial efforts at reunification have failed.