'We're free': Family calls for change after newborn apprehended by CFS in viral video is returned

'We're free': Family calls for change after newborn apprehended by CFS in viral video is returned

Family of a 10-week-old baby girl whose apprehension by Manitoba child protection workers was shared widely on social media say their prayers were answered when her custody was returned to them on Thursday — but they want to see changes to how the system deals with families like theirs.

It's been more than two months since the baby was taken from her mother's arms in a Winnipeg hospital. On Thursday, a child protection court granted a request to transfer custody of the girl from a child welfare agency to her great-aunt.

"We're free," the great-aunt said, standing outside the courthouse minutes after the decision.

Hearings were held following an emotional apprehension in hospital, which was filmed by a family member and live-streamed on Facebook on Jan. 10. The video was seen more than 559,000 times in two days.

Winnipeg child protection workers seized the baby because of the mother's substance use and mental health issues, CFS workers said in affidavits for the hearings.

But the mother said at the time she was "blindsided" by the apprehension, because she'd previously made arrangements to have her aunt take guardianship.

Walking out of the courtroom after the decision Thursday, the girl's mother held the baby close and kissed her. Outside court, she told reporters she's grateful, but still upset by how Child and Family Services handled the apprehension.

"They did not seem to be interested in working with me, and went against my wishes to have her reside with my aunt originally," she said.

"They caused a lot of hardship for my baby, myself and my family."

'We really do need changes'

In affidavits entered during the hearing, CFS workers said they did a background check on the mother's aunt, but it produced "concerning results" and further work was needed to gather more information.

The baby has been living with her great-aunt for about a month, but until now, she's remained a ward of CFS.

The girl's mother and great-aunt said it's critical the baby remained in the care of her family.

"It is really hard when a kid gets taken away like that, especially when we're not heard," the great-aunt said.

Video of the girl being apprehended shows her mother sobbing while rocking her newborn back and forth, surrounded by crying family members, before CFS workers take the child away.

The footage prompted a wave of criticism from Indigenous leaders, who said it highlights serious problems in the system.

According to the province, 10,714 children were in care in Manitoba as of March 2018. Statistics from the province's Department of Families show newborns are apprehended at a rate of roughly one a day, and nearly 90 per cent of children in care are Indigenous.

On Thursday, the family echoed the leaders' call.

"We really do need changes," the great-aunt said. "We hear it all the time, that kids get taken away."

Hoping, praying for change

On Thursday, the mother told reporters she's already working to beat her addictions. But she said she felt the concerns she raised with social workers during her pregnancy were used against her, to take her daughter into care.

The mother's CFS file says she told social workers she used alcohol, cocaine and OxyContin while pregnant. She tested positive for OxyContin in late December, less than a month before she gave birth.

She also told a worker from the Child and Family All Nations Coordinated Response Network in November 2018 that she is an alcoholic, the file says.

Court documents say emergency medical service workers and hospital staff said she smelled of alcohol when she arrived at the hospital to give birth. The mother denied that, saying she was in pain from childbirth.

On Thursday, she told reporters she plans to remain a part of her daughter's life. A man who has come forward as the girl's father also wants to be able to see the girl, his lawyer said.

The mother said she hopes her family's public struggle shows others in their position that they can fight for themselves and their children, too.

"I look forward to, and hope — pray — that changes do happen," she said.

CBC News cannot reveal any details that would identify the mother or her children under provincial law.

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