For Kanani Penashue-Davis, the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, came recently when Child, Youth and Family Services (CYFS) was about to take a relative’s newborn from its mother and place the infant with relatives.
“The mother was crying. She knew that we were there to help her and that she would have support. What really hit me hard was, even though a family member agreed to take the baby, we’re still taking a child from its mother. And I don’t know what I would do if I left the hospital without my baby,” Penashue-Davis said during a recent phone interview.
In her relative’s case, she said, the baby’s parents agreed to attend a treatment program. CYFS has agreed that the newborn could stay with the mother.
Penashue-Davis said she understands those who work for CYFS must have the child’s best interest as their number one priority. However, she said, “sometimes, they need to step back a bit and say what can we do to help, instead of immediately thinking the worst.”
Penashue-Davis said when she became a single parent at age 17, she knew nothing about raising a child.
“I didn't have a job. I was still in high school... I wasn't ready and I knew it. But that little boy gave me so much hope and love. He tore down walls when I thought of giving up.”
Penashue-Davis had two young children by age 19.
“I knew I needed a lot of help. Not only was I young and scared but I was dealing with my own demons,” she said.
Many of those demons stemmed from growing up in a dysfunctional family.
“I grew up in an environment where there was a lot of alcohol and abuse... that was a big struggle for me. Then, having a child at such a young age, was really hard. I wasn’t a drinker and I didn’t want my child to grow up in that environment.”
Penashue-Davis is proud of her parents for seeking help, many years ago, with their addiction.
Both have been well respected Innu elders and activities for decades.
(Penashue-Davis’s father Francis Penashue died in 2013. Memorial University awarded her mother Elizabeth Penashue an honorary doctors of laws degree in 2005.)
Penashue-Davis wonders what would have happened to her parents had their children been removed from the home.
“Luckily, we were never taken away. And this gave my mom the power to say I need to quit. If she had lost her kids, I think my mom would still be drinking. But, she knew, and my dad knew, when they started having grandchildren, that they needed to change.”
Penashue-Davis is grateful for the support she had in healing from the trauma and abuse she experienced as a child.
“My mom helped me. My sister helped me. And other family members helped me. Then when I knew that I really needed healing, I went to a treatment centre (in Ontario)... I knew, in order for me to love and care for my children the way they deserved, I needed to love myself first.”
Penashue-Davis began studying at Memorial University in 1998. She was a single parent with two young children.
In 2009, she graduated with a Bachelor of Education degree (native and northern program).
While in university, she met Bud Davis of Happy Valley-Goose Bay. They married and have two children together. The couple run a consulting business in Sheshatshiu.
Penashue-Davis said mothers deserve to be given an opportunity to work on their issues while raising their children. CYFS must play an important role in ensuring that the mother and the child have all the support they need, she said.
“Breaking a circle of love between parents and children is creating more trauma and another generation of dysfunctional families. We, too, want to stop the cycle of abandonment and suffering. But, we need help.”
Partial general statement from the Department of Children, Seniors and Social Development (CSSD) about child safety
Under the Children and Youth Care and Protection Act (CYCP Act), the department’s mandate is to ensure the safety and well-being of children and youth where there is a risk of maltreatment by a parent.
When a family becomes involved with child protection due to concerns of child safety and risk of harm, social workers work closely with families to develop a case plan that outlines recommended interventions to keep children safe and mitigate risk, the statement read.
Maintaining children in their home or community, when it is safe to do so, is always considered first when assessing child safety and risk of harm, the statement continued.
Every effort is made to find a suitable out-of-home placement in the community, but the option is not always available, the department said.
There are also least intrusive measures that can be taken in order to safely maintain a child living at home which include providing in-home services such as respite or parent training, behavior management services and referring to external supportive services such as addictions or mental health counselling or community programs where, where available.
Social workers complete ongoing assessments of safety and risk to a child and work collaboratively with parents to update case plans as required to ensure the recommended interventions are in the best interest of the child and meet the needs of the family, the statement continued.
The department said a child would only be removed from a home when a CSSD manager has reasonable grounds to believe that a child is in need of protective intervention, and a less intrusive course of action would not adequately protect the child.