Judge grants visits to biological parents in adoption case

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A judge decided to overstep her jurisdiction by granting biological parents weekly visits with their child once he is adopted by his foster family, after she identified a gap in Manitoba’s child-protection law.

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A judge decided to overstep her jurisdiction by granting biological parents weekly visits with their child once he is adopted by his foster family, after she identified a gap in Manitoba’s child-protection law.

The family court decision Aug. 30 points to systemic problems, bias, and a series of errors made by Child and Family Services social workers who failed to work with African immigrants whose children were apprehended while the mother was accused of criminal charges.

During the trial, shortly after his home address became part of the court record, the biological father was deported to Nigeria — five years after his student visa had expired.

Justice Kaye Dunlop rejected assessments that found him unfit to be a father. The judge said CFS didn’t help the biological parents.

Instead, an experienced social worker was biased and all but promised the child to foster parents even though his mother and father were still trying to get him back, the judge found.

The unusual ruling puts conditions on a permanent guardianship order, and draws a comparison to a custody arrangement instead of a guardianship for a child in need of protection because the judge was reluctant to make an order that would keep the child away from his parents and disconnect him from his heritage.

The boy is a permanent ward of CFS because his biological father has been deported, and his biological mother is undergoing trauma counselling and isn’t ready for full-time custody.

Justice Dunlop ordered his foster parents to allow weekly visits with his biological family so he can experience his Liberian and Nigerian roots.

“Culture is not a side dish,” Dunlop wrote in her decision.

The case is complex but not uncommon in the provincial child welfare system.

It involves a couple in their 20s who were fighting the apprehension of their son, who is now three years old. The mother was born in Liberia and immigrated to Canada with her family when she was a child, settling in rural Manitoba. She was sexually abused at a young age, and she would later admit to sexually assaulting a six-year-old boy when she babysat him at age 15.

Criminal charges were laid against her after she got pregnant as a teen. The pregnancy was the result of her being drugged and sexually assaulted, court heard.

Because of the criminal charges against her, her first-born child was taken into the care of Child and Family Services shortly after birth. The young woman met her future husband, a Nigerian man who had moved here for university, and had another child with him.

The second baby was apprehended shortly after birth, and both children were adopted by the same foster family. When the couple had their third child, the foster parents also sought permanent guardianship of him, telling court the boy had a bond with them and his older sisters.

None of the people involved can be named by law.

The foster parents have given the children a good home, the judge found, and they were expected to immediately begin the adoption process after the court granted them permanent guardianship of the son. But systemic flaws in child welfare and the criminal justice system, as well as CFS’s failure to communicate with the biological parents in a culturally sensitive way, meant three children became wards of the state even though their parents could have kept them at home with some help from CFS workers, Dunlop decided.

The social worker initially assigned to their file didn’t try to understand why the biological parents may be distrustful of the system and made damaging assumptions, the judge found.

When the biological mother didn’t provide her employment records to CFS, for example, the social worker assumed she was engaging in sex work.

The social worker also didn’t understand that the biological parents had less power than CFS or the foster parents, the judge found, describing CFS decision-making as “poorly attuned to, and at times disrespectful of, the cultural differences between the social workers involved and (the biological parents).”

“When we do not put in the effort to understand the complexities of a case and find solutions, you have what happened in this case. Three children were all made permanent wards of an institution. They were removed from (their biological mother) who had real potential to be a good mother if she had only been understood and provided with the resources that were required,” Dunlop wrote.

No appeal of the ruling has been filed.

katie.may@winnipegfreepress.com

Katie May

Katie May
Reporter

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

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