It’s a hard statement to make when talking to relatives and neighbours – but often in cases of child welfare in Manitoba, parents are forced to choose between the forceful route of apprehension, or the more ‘gentle’ route of voluntary placement – to tell them your kids were voluntarily placed in CFS. Recently the Manitoba Government released some news changing the way children in care are reported publicly, excluding the numbers of children who are “voluntarily” placed in CFS. According to media reports, this change would apply to approximately 700 children in the province (of 10,293 kids in care), bringing the number of ‘kids in care’ below 10,000. The reasoning that has been shared is other provincial jurisdictions do not include voluntary placements, so we are now aligning with those provinces.
This feels very much to me like politicking with our children’s lives – and is unacceptable.
I have had the honour of connecting with many families, young people and children in the North End over the years growing and playing there. As a result, the statistic of 1 in 6 kids in the R2W area code being in care, I know to be true and I have seen the devastating impact felt by the whole community when a child is taken. I have witnessed and heard countless situations of social workers bullying our families, constantly pushing “voluntary placement” as the only way services/resources can be expended on this family. Constantly. These families and parents are often dealing with challenges related to institutional neglect, poverty or even inter-generational trauma. As a result of the socio-economic realities many families are facing, these parents and children need our support the most. They need help, not to have their kids taken. Families should not be punished for asking for help – they should simply be helped. The forced removal of children from their families has happened for generations in Canada and continues to this day in Manitoba and my neighbourhood and it must stop. Excluding the 700 families who have ‘voluntarily’ placed their children in care excludes so many of the families who truly feel they had no other option to support their own kids. We hear the heartbreaking stories on a weekly basis with the grassroots parent advocacy group Fearless R2W.
What does VOLUNTARY really mean?
I understand ‘voluntary’ to mean when someone is presented with options, they are able to choose which one they want/need. I understand voluntary when hundreds of community members come out to Meet Me at the Bell Tower. I understand voluntary when AYO leaders sacrifice their Friday nights, Saturdays and evenings to learn from each other, improve their system literacy and challenge themselves to find institutional solutions. I understand voluntary when the village convenes to feed our relatives on the street for Got Bannock?, I understand voluntary when families and helpers Drag the Red river to bring justice for our missing relatives, I understand voluntary when board meetings, councils and teams emerge out of motivated community members who want to help. Voluntary means I willingly share my gift with those around me. I am pointing out and picking on the use of the word ‘voluntary’ in all this – as I feel like our families are being slandered with a subtext or implication that indigenous parents willingly give their children to this beast of a system when it is absolutely not the case. We are a strong community and our village is emerging to protect all of the children all of the time.