Although the foster care system is in place to protect children, one mother feels she has been treated unfairly.
© Daily Herald staff
Janelle McKenzie, a mother of four, feels her two children were unfairly taken from her after a caseworker visit that happened about seven months ago.
Click HERE for an update to this story.
Even though she has had problems with substance abuse in the past, McKenzie said her addiction was not a problem when the caseworker made a visit to her home.
“My regular case worker had a backup worker come to check up on the kids,” McKenzie said. “I said to her, ‘My kids are napping, I’m on the methadone. When my kids nap, I nap with them.’ I said, ‘You are cutting in on my naptime -- can you please leave and come back a different time?’”
The caseworker told McKenzie the visit would only take a couple minutes, which turned into close to 15 minutes. Since she was tired when the caseworker was visiting, she started to nod off a bit.
“I’m not going to deny my methadone wasn’t too high because it was too high,” McKenzie said.
Her doctor was monitoring her methadone, taking her dose down each week by five millilitres.
After the visit, the caseworker came back half an hour later to take McKenzie’s children, who were three years old and three months old at the time.
“They said, ‘Don’t give us a hard time because if you do the cops will be involved,’” she said.
“I said, ‘OK, I want you to write down my kids have Pampers, milk, groceries, my house is clean. I made sure the worker wrote that all down before she took my children (so they knew my children) had everything they needed and more.”
Since her children were being well taken care of, McKenzie is unsure why foster care chose to take them away.
“I should have talked to my regular worker -- I don’t know why the back-up worker took my kids,” McKenzie said. “The nurses were having thoughts that the baby wasn’t being fed properly and being neglected.”
McKenzie said their claims were false, as she was making sure her baby, Richie, had enough milk.
“We were getting free milk for the baby because I am HIV-positive,” McKenzie said. “I get free milk for my baby for a year until he gets on homo milk. There was no reason I wouldn’t strive to feed my baby.”
According to McKenzie, the caseworker told her drugs had nothing to do with why her children were taken away. Rather they were removed because her methadone dose was too high and the baby lost a pound.
“He lost a pound in foster care and nothing happened to them,” she said. “He lost a pound in the hospital. Right there, that can tell you I wasn’t neglecting my son.
“Even our methadone co-ordinator, she was so upset,” McKenzie added. “She said, ‘I don’t know why they took your kids, you were doing so good. Your randoms are so clean.’”
Natalie Huber, executive director of child and family services for the Ministry of Social Services, said the ministry is required to tell parents why their children have been taken away.
“We are required by law to inform the parent and if we found a child in need of protection and the child is coming into care, we would serve them with an apprehension notice,” Huber said. “Wherever possible we will be engaging with families in signing a section nine agreement, which is a voluntary agreement for children to come into care.
“The family signs that agreement with us. It is basically an agreement saying we will provide care and support for the child while we work on the plan with the family to reunify the child back home,” she added. “We work closely with the parents and they are notified when a child comes into care.”
After the children were taken away, McKenzie admits she and the children’s father both fell into a deep depression and started using more drugs, but while she had her children she was only using the doctor-prescribed amount of methadone.
Not only did they lose their children, but since they were living in a low rental housing unit, the family also lost their home and belongings.
According to Huber, children will only be removed from a home if the child is at risk.
“If we receive a concern from any of the general public and it is related to neglect due to addictions or the parent’s inability to care for the child due to addictions, then we would hear that concern and conduct an investigation,” Huber said.
“If we receive a report around a concern someone might have around a person’s drinking or drug use, something that is related to addictions, we would look at the impact that their addiction is having on the child.
“For example if it is due to their drinking is causing them to neglect the child or treat the child in a way they shouldn’t be treated so they are placed in situations they are unsafe, those are things we would be looking at,” she added. “Our primary concern is around the safety of children.”
Usually, they try to keep the children at home and work with the parents if they do not feel the children are in danger.
“We do have a number of concerns that will come to our attention where families are involved with drugs or alcohol and in most circumstances we would go out, we would meet with the family, try to understand what the concerns are, but again what we are assessing is a level of safety and the risk to the child,” Huber said.
“Where we can keep the child safely at home and provide interventions, treatment supports for mom and dad, we will try it at every cost that we can to keep the child at home safely. When we can’t assure the child’s safety is when we will bring them into care however.”
Since her children were put into foster care, McKenzie feels they have been more neglected and not treated well by the foster family.
“The foster parents took in my baby (to the hospital) at six months old,” McKenzie said. “When they took him in, he was fighting for his life. He was fighting just to breathe … They didn’t know if he was going to get any better, that is how sick he was.”
McKenzie and the children’s father were not informed the baby was in the hospital until he had to be transferred to Saskatoon three days later, which upset them both.
“When we arrived, my baby was hooked up to so many machines,” McKenzie said. “He had to have help breathing, tags on his chest, intravenous on head, arm and ankle.”
The parents were told Richie had pneumonia at first, but after about a month in the hospital, they decided to do an MRI after he had a 45-minute seizure.
“The doctor came and talked to us,” McKenzie said. “He said he had bleeding between the brain and skull.”
Richie had been in the hospital for about a month and a half.
“By the time they did the MRI it was like a bruise almost healed,” McKenzie said. “I asked them if they could find the time frame it happened and they said it happened a month and a half ago. I said ‘OK, he was in foster care then right?’ And the doctor said right.”
Although she would have loved to stay with her child, McKenzie was forced to leave him to be picked up by the foster parents.
All the nurses were impressed with her care and concern for her child while she was at the hospital, McKenzie said.
“I got support letters from the nurses and they said, ‘Wow you are so good with him. We never thought he was going to get better and since you have been here he has gotten so much better.’”
Since then, during one of her visits with her children her three-year-old showed up with a bruise about the size of the palm of a hand on his butt that was a very dark purple.
“We asked them what happened to his butt, why is the bruise so big and they said he fell on a baseboard,” McKenzie said. “How can a baseboard doing that much damage? It was almost the size of your palm.”
Other incidents have been noted as well. McKenzie said the baby has had terrible diaper rash and his bum isn’t kept clean and the three-year-old recently had a cut above his eye.
McKenzie doesn’t understand why the foster family is not being disciplined for her children being injured under their care.
“Nothing happened to them,” she said. “My children are still in that foster home.”
She has told the social workers that she wants her children out of that foster home. Social Services said they would look into it.
Huber said foster parents are required to report any serious injury of a child in their care to the ministry.
“They are required to notify us immediately and as for policy, we complete an assessment to determine the cause of injury, whether or not the child is safe and ensure if medical treatment is already received or if they need to receive, we would work closely with the foster parents in that regard,” Huber said.
“If the concerns are such that we have concerns about the quality of care in the foster home or that we are concerned about the child’s safety in that foster home, we may make a decision to move the child pending an investigation.”
The investigation would depend on a number of factors, including interviews with the foster parents, others with information about the foster home and interviews with the children in their care.
“If police are involved, it may require involvement with them as well,” Huber said. “It is really dependent on a number of factors. We try to complete the investigation within a 30-day timeframe.”
Huber said reunifying families is their goal at Social Services.
“What we like to focus on is the safe return of the child home if they do have to come into care,” Huber said. “The ministry works closely with parents. Certainly we are working very closely with parents when the plan is to reunify the child back home.
“When the case plan is to return the child back home, we would certainly be taking into consideration the parents’ wishes around the care plans for the child and we would take into consideration their requests but our decisions are based on the best interests of the child,” she added. “Obviously if the child is connected with the caregiver and they are doing well in the home, they are placed close to their school, those are considerations to make sure the child is in a situation where they are not disrupted.”
Although McKenzie wants her children removed from the foster home, she is currently working on getting them back.
“We are going to get our children back right away,” McKenzie said. “All we have to do is outpatient treatment at Addictions Services. I don’t understand why we have to do this outpatient treatment when it has nothing to do with drugs why our children were taken away. I don’t understand why we have to do these steps if it has nothing to do with drugs.”
In terms of parents with concerns about foster homes, Huber said they try to work with the parents.
“We will try to work closely with parents to address what their concerns are and take it into consideration,” Huber said. “Our primary focus is on the actions or inactions of the parent and how it contributes to any kind of maltreatment, abuse or neglect of the child.
“We deal with so many various concerns and reports that come to our attention, so our ultimate responsibility to try to assess safety and risk based on the parent’s ability, capacity and willingness to create a safe, quality or caring environment for the child.”