'I'm not going to give up': Labrador mother fights for custody of children

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'I'm not going to give up': Labrador mother fights for custody of children

A mother in Happy Valley-Goose Bay says she's done everything she can to regain custody of her two children but when she contacts the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development, she says they tell her the file is closed.

"It's been a long time since I seen my daughter last. It's been a year and I don't get no information on how she's doing," the mother, who can't be named because it could identify the children in care, told CBC.

The children are in care with two separate family members. The oldest, a nine-year-old boy, was taken away at a time when the woman says she had a problem with alcohol addiction.

"I couldn't notice anything at the time because I was using my addiction at the time just to numb my feelings, my pain, and I was just getting out of an abusive relationship," the mother said.

 "I'm cured from my alcohol addictions."

Her daughter, born in 2015, was taken away from her in the hospital after she gave birth in St. John's.

She said she was told there was a "warrant to remove," which means it was requested by CSSD and approved by a judge. She was told they took the child based on her past.

"It was traumatizing," the mother said. "Just to take my daughter from me the day I left the hospital with no indication, no nothing. They just came in and snatched her."

Road to recovery

The woman says she hasn't had a drink in three years and has taken all the steps suggested by the department to help get back on track and show she's recovered from her addiction.

She provided CBC News with documentation to show her participation in an Eastern Health addiction recovery group, programs through the Nunatsiavut Government, as well as counselling services at the St. John's Native Friendship Centre.

"I have seen [the mother] with her daughter and there is definitely a strong bond between them," an October 2015 letter from an Eastern Health social worker reads. "Both of them break into a smile when they see each other."

The letter goes on to speak about a request that the woman continue in a parenting skills workshop at Daybreak parent-child centre.

"Daybreak refused and said it was a waste of their resources because [she] had all the skills necessary to parent her child," the letter said.

The mother has moved back to Labrador from St. John's and has continued attending programs. She visits her son a couple of times a year on holidays but she never sees her daughter.

"The only time I get information on my daughter is when I call a social worker … I don't get to see any pictures. I don't get to see how she's doing. I don't get sent out to see her," the mother said. "They're telling me to do everything but yet they'll deny my children to me."

She said in St. John's she would have case conference meetings with CSSD but has yet to have any sort of meeting with the agency since returning to Happy Valley-Goose Bay more than a year ago.

When she called the Labrador office, she said she was told the file is closed.

"I don't know if it's prejudice they have against Native mothers because I done everything they asked and I'm still not getting nowhere," she said, "I'm still trying to seek access and custody and I'm not going to give up."

Response from department

CSSD will not respond to questions about specific cases but when asked if they close files on parents, said the "Protective Intervention Program (PIP) file remains open until identified risks have been reduced and can be managed safely by the family and their support network. This is a clinical decision made by a social worker in consultation with their supervisor."

It also said numerous factors are looked at when deciding whether to return a child to its home.

Those include "involvement in services recommended to reduce the risk" as well as a "demonstration of the parent's ability and capacity to safely care for the child in the long term and the best interest of the child."

The mother said she is seeking a lawyer in the hopes of regaining custody through the courts. She said she was told by the Nunatsiavut Government that adequate housing could be arranged if the children were to live with her.

'It's very sad'

"Since Day 1, I found … the mother has gone above and beyond," Roy Blake, ordinary member for Lake Melville with the Nunatsiavut government, told CBC News.

"It's just mind-boggling and maybe there's something there I don't know, but from my point of view I can't understand why she doesn't have her children."

Blake said he doesn't know enough about CSSD to say whether cases like this are common but he said he has encountered similar situations. At the very least, he said, the mother deserves answers.

"It's like slamming a door in your face," Blake said.

"If this is how [CSSD] operates, it's very sad."