A lesbian couple in Manitoba is launching a complaint with the province’s Human Rights Commission after their foster children were pulled from their home.
The couple’s lawyer, Lore Mirwaldt, says they have a “compelling case” against Winnipeg Child and Family Services (WCFS).
“Why is this happening to two nice, very competent parents and is their same-sex relationship an issue here?” asks Mirwaldt. “We’re left with no other clue as to why they’re unsuitable.”
Seven months ago, a lesbian couple in Winnipeg agreed to become foster parents to two Aboriginal sisters, ages nine and 13. Both are classified as high-needs. Then, in July, the couple accepted a third foster child: a healthy, white newborn girl.
According to the couple, social workers initially promised them that they could apply to adopt the infant, then changed their minds. Earlier this month, police officers went to the couple’s home to apprehend the baby. Social workers picked up the couple’s other two foster kids at school.
“It’s a nightmare,” says one of the foster parents, neither of whom can be identified. “We hate living in our house. We still haven’t gone into the baby’s room.”
The couple claims that social workers called the newborn a “blue ribbon baby.” They say they are now being told that they were never considered as adoptive parents in the first place.
“Why are we good enough for kids that no one else wants or needs but not for kids that people want?” asks the foster parent. “And how do you just rip kids out of school and take them to a stranger’s house? How is that in their best interest?”
The couple’s lawyer says she is struggling to get answers to her clients’ questions. Mirwaldt says the Children’s Advocate, a provincial department set up to investigate WCFS cases, wrote a report on the couple’s case and ruled against them. But Mirwaldt says the couple was never interviewed for the report, and they aren’t allowed to see it.
“It’s a lot of smoke and mirrors,” says Mirwaldt. “In the face of no reason or rationale given, we’re left to wonder what was at play here.”
According to Mirwaldt, there is strong evidence that her clients were being groomed as adoptive parents. Their foster baby was a permanent ward of the province, meaning she was always eligible for adoption. Plus, the couple was assigned an adoption worker instead of a social worker.
Mirwaldt says that all three foster kids have “glowing reports” from their doctors, and several of the couple’s friends have written letters of support.
“I believe the system can work,” says Mirwaldt, “but when stuff like this happens, it causes you to pause and ask, ‘What went wrong?'” Mirwaldt hopes that the Manitoba Human Rights Commission agrees to tackle her client’s case. She says they want an answer to this question: “Are gay people good enough to foster but not good enough to adopt?”
Noreen Stevens, a Winnipeg lesbian who has made the transition from being a foster parent to an adoptive parent, says she feels empathy for Mirwaldt’s clients. But she doesn’t believe that WCFS is inherently homophobic.
“It certainly wasn’t our experience,” says Stevens. “You expect a certain amount of systemic homophobia everywhere because there is homophobia everywhere.” But after dealing with more than half a dozen social workers over several years, she says, “I did not get one whiff of homophobia or discrimination anywhere, much to my surprise.”
In 2002, when politicians in Manitoba debated whether to grant adoption rights to same-sex couples, Stevens says that WCFS workers appeared in front of a legislative committee and argued in favour of the move. Today, Stevens and her partner speak regularly about cross-cultural issues at WCFS-sponsored adoption orientation classes.
The couple at the centre of the human rights charge say they haven’t been told where their former foster baby is, only that she’s with “the perfect family.” The couple’s two oldest foster kids have been returned.
The foster mom who talked to Xtra.ca says the couple is contemplating a lawsuit against WCFS. “At this point we’re in a holding pattern,” she says.
Representatives of WCFS didn’t respond to Xtra.ca’s request for comment.