With all the myths circulating about Child and Family Services, I thought it might be nice to have someone from the inside who is extremely competent at their job (and loves Jesus) to give us an insight into what it is really like on the other side of the media lens. The author is a good friend of mine, but we have chosen to leave the post anonymous as it does deal with some tricky stuff. I hope that you will find it helpful to see what it is like to be a Christian social worker with CFS in Manitoba.
Child and Family Services. Such a lovely organization that strikes fear into the hearts of well, pretty much everyone. A huge government bureaucracy cloaked in secrecy, wielding immense power. The people who work there can take your children. Why in the world would any sane person voluntarily become involved with such an entity?
Dare I say it? Perhaps Child and Family Services really isn’t as bad as it is made out to be! There are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation surrounding CFS. The media often runs with horrifying, partially true stories because fear and sensationalism sells, and because CFS can’t give their side of the story due to confidentiality. CFS is poorly understood and misunderstanding breeds fear. I get that.
So here is your primer on the myths and facts of CFS in Manitoba, in an attempt to dispel some of those fears and challenge you to become part of the solution to the child welfare crisis in Manitoba.
FACT: Child Welfare in Manitoba is different from the rest of Canada.
First, let’s start with a bit of background, as Manitoba’s set-up is a bit unique compared to the rest of Canada. Back in the 1990’s, there was an Inquiry that discovered that a disproportionate number of children in foster care were Aboriginal. Because of these findings, the province set out to give control of First Nations children and child protection back to the Aboriginal people. In 2005, Child Welfare in Manitoba underwent a process called Devolution. Four Authorities were created: Southern First Nations Authority (Southern), First Nations of Northern Manitoba Authority (Northern), the Metis Authority, and the General Authority. Each Authority oversees Child Welfare services for their own cultural groups; the Southern Authority, for example, supervises Child Welfare delivery for all of the Aboriginal bands and reserves in the southern part of the province. Likewise, the Northern Authority is responsible for the northern reserves, Metis is tasked with children of Metis and Inuit background, and the General Authority is charged with children of all other racial and cultural backgrounds. However, families can choose which Authority they wish to work with, regardless of their ethnic background.
MYTH: CFS is evil and I want nothing to do with it.
CFS can be scary, because of the immense power that it holds, but there are actually a lot of really good people who work for CFS who pour their hearts and souls into helping the thousands of children and families they serve each year. They work hard to help families heal and thrive, and many clients are very appreciative of the support they receive.
MYTH: CFS is in the business of breaking up families and has a quota of kids that they need to apprehend each month!
The last thing CFS wants to do is remove children from their families. They know how traumatizing it is for children and for parents, and it is seen as a last resort to keep the child safe. There are many programs and resources in place to help parents solve any child protection concerns and keep the children in their homes and their families. Sometimes, however, a child does need to come into foster care in order to be kept safe. In these cases, CFS works hard to resolve the concerns and return the child home. If that is not possible, they try to find extended family who can care for the child so that they can remain connected to their family unit. There are no quotas, and there is no financial bonus for each child brought into care. Apprehending children is emotionally wrenching for everyone involved – children, families, social workers, supervisors – and it is the last thing that anyone wants to see happen.
FACT: There are over 11,000 children in foster care in Manitoba, the majority of whom are Aboriginal.
Unfortunately, this is true. A large percentage of these children are of aboriginal descent. Canadian history has not been kind to the Aboriginal population, leading to many social challenges such as poverty, abuse, addictions and generations of broken families. Additionally, Aboriginal children are generally not released by their bands for adoption, so they are more likely to remain in foster care than a child who is not Aboriginal and can move into an adoptive home, should reunification with family fail.
SOME TRUTH: The risk of having a foster child make a false allegation against me is too scary to think about. Will I lose my own kids, my career, or even go to jail?
If you foster long enough, it’s pretty much a guarantee that you will have an allegation made against you. However, the VAST majority of allegations are minor, ranging in everything from the foster parent making the child eat vegetables to their snowsuit not being warm enough to their fingernails needing to be cut. Many of these allegations come from the birth parents, but let’s think about that for a minute – you are doing the job that they are supposed to be doing, which puts them in a very vulnerable position. It’s a pretty natural reaction to try to pick apart the parenting practices of the one who is “the competition”! Most of the time, these allegations are easily resolved and often disappear completely once the foster parent and the birth parent develop a good working relationship. Developing a good relationship with your foster care worker and your child’s social worker will help to protect you from more serious allegations. Remember that good communication is key – if Johnny falls off the swing and gets a big bruise on his forehead, tell the worker what happened before he or she sees the child and is left to wonder where the bump came from!
MYTH: Fostering will place my family in danger of retaliation from the parents of the children we are caring for.
If birth parents are going to be mad, the anger is almost always directed at the social worker, not the foster parent. When there are safety concerns, the Agency will do its best to keep your address, phone number and other identifying information confidential. The Agency is used to dealing with volatile people and has developed many safety practices to protect against anything from happening. Not to mention, while birth parents are hurt, angry and upset, it is a miniscule percentage that try to seek revenge. They want their children back and understand that revenge is not going to help them accomplish this goal.
MYTH: If you become a foster parent, you will have to support the child out of your own pocket.
Foster parents are paid a small amount of money each day to cover the needs of the child. The rates are set by the province and reviewed periodically. Currently, a foster parent is paid $22.11 per day for a child between the ages of 0-11, and $27.45 for a child between the ages of 12-18. There is also money available for the child to attend camp, receive any needed therapy, go to daycare, participate in community and school activities, etc.
MYTH: You will make scads and scads of money being a foster parent.
Out of the money you are paid, you need to buy food, clothing, diapers, toiletries, pay for the increase in utilities, some childcare, mileage, toys, wear and tear on your house, weekly allowance for the child, etc., etc., etc. When you foster, your heart will grow rich, but your bank account should stay the same!
MYTH: I could not truly love someone else’s child.
Try it and see. You will happily discover that you are wrong.
MYTH: I could not take care of a child, fall in love with them, and then have them leave.
Yes, it will be hard. Painfully hard. Excruciatingly hard. You will feel at times like your heart has been ripped out of your body. But just because it will be painful for you does not make it okay to turn your back and let a child grow up in a shelter with shift-work staff. Jesus never said that life would be easy. Also, keep in mind that fostering does not always mean that you must say good-bye. Some kids will stay with you forever. Some will return home but you will keep in touch with them. And others will disappear from your lives, but you will forever know that you made a difference for a child at the time when they needed it most.
MYTH: We would never be allowed to adopt the child.
While it is true that most children of Aboriginal or Metis descent are rarely placed for adoption, there are many other children in foster care who become available for adoption once the parental rights are terminated in court. The current law states that if a child has been in the same foster home for one year, the foster family is given the first consideration to be able to adopt that child. Plus, even if you care for an Aboriginal child and are not legally able to adopt them, there is a good possibility that they will remain with you as part of your family once the permanent order is granted. All kids deserve a family who adores them, whether they are a permanent foster child or an adopted child in your home.
FACT: We have some really amazing kids waiting for foster and adoptive homes.
Our kids are awesome. They are bright and funny. They will make you laugh until your sides ache. Some are very artistic, while others are gifted athletes. They will soak up your snuggles and bring incredible joy to your home. Your life will never be the same – it will be better!
FACT: We have some really awesome birth families, too.
We do. Even though they are struggling, the vast majority of birth families are not terrible people. They are broken. They are hurting. They were never parented themselves. They don’t know how to meet their own needs, and in turn struggle to meet the needs of their children. You might be surprised to find that as you foster, your family expands to include the birth parents of the children you are caring for.
FACT: Being a CFS Social Worker is a really hard job, and we need your prayers and encouragement.
The things we see on a daily basis are things that most people can’t even imagine could possibly happen to children in Manitoba. The caseloads and work demands are so heavy that they are impossible to manage well. We get spit at, sworn at and called every name in the book. We go into extremely dangerous situations to help children, and our work is constantly criticized by the media. We receive very little appreciation or acknowledgement for what we do, and due to confidentiality, we can’t tell others how our day at work was. It’s a tough job, but CFS workers continue on because we believe that that the lives of families and children can be better. We need your prayers, support and encouragement so badly!
MYTH: I don’t have the skills to be a foster or adoptive parent.
If you are warm, nurturing and like children, then you absolutely can be a foster or adoptive parent! All the rest of what you need to know can be taught. If you’re interested in getting more information on fostering or adopting, call your local Child and Family Services – they would love to speak further with you!
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