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My Story of Domestic Violence and Child Apprehension

“In Our Own Voices,” Week II

by DTES Power of Women GroupB.

B. Photo by Joe Philipson
B. Photo by Joe Philipson

Also posted by isaac:

I was abused by my ex partner, who is also my children’s father, for ten and a half years. I had four children with him - Angela, Rosalie, Mike, and Jackson. I was beat all throughout my first pregnancy, and as a result my girl Angela was born a month early. She did not develop properly and was born with her heart on the right side of her body. She was a Mother’s Day baby, born on May 13, 1973 at 5 lbs 11 ounces. I named her Angela Michelle because she looked just like an angel. She only lived to the age of 16 and died on January 17, 1990 in Prince George.

 

It is for her and in her memory that I tell this story.

 

You might be wondering why I stayed in a violent relationship for that long? I grew up without a dad and was often called a ‘bastard’. I was always taunted with sayings such as: “Do you even know who your dad is?” It hurt a lot to be bullied and I did not want my own children to go through the same experience. So I silently suffered the abuse. At the time I did not realize that is was equally bad, if not worse, for my children to witness the violence of their father beating up their own mother.

 

I tell this story for the women who are still in abusive relationships so that they will have the courage to get out. Anyone who controls you and physically and emotionally hurts you does not love you. We have to understand that violence against women is always unacceptable, and as Native women, we are five times more likely than other women to die as the result of violence.

 

I became an alcoholic while I was in the relationship. The alcohol would numb the pain of being beaten; it would numb me for when he got home in the evenings so I could tolerate all the kicks and punches; it would numb me against his false accusations of me cheating on him when he was the one cheating on me with other women.

 

As a result of my drinking, the Ministry of Child and Family Development (MCFD) became involved in my children’s lives. I had several visits from MCFD over the years and they told me to stop drinking and to get counseling, but I could not stop drinking. They also told me to leave my ex-partner, but I had nowhere to go. For years, MCFD kept apprehending my children. Sometimes they would take my children away for a few weeks; sometimes it was for a few months.

 

Then in December 1981, in a surprise visit, MCFD workers came to my home. I was not home, but my children’s father was supposed to be home. However he had left them alone in the house and the upstairs neighbour called MCFD. MCFD apprehended my children, this time seeking a permanent order. That meant that my young children, ages 1-5, were going to essentially be kidnapped from me forever.

 

I broke down and started drinking even more heavily. I felt that if I did not have my children, then I had nothing to live for and would rather drink myself to death. One night in March 1982 I drank so much that I felt my heart was going to stop. That night I decided that I did not actually want to die an alcoholic and that I had to fight for my children.

 

I quit drinking cold-turkey. I went for alcohol counseling at the Native Courtworkers Society and also enrolled at Native Education Society to get my GED. I finally left my partner. After a few months I was able to get 2-hour supervised visits with my children every 6-8 weeks, but only after I appealed the decision by MCFD to deny me visits entirely.

 

After I won my right to supervised visits, I decided to appeal MCFD’s decision to apprehend my children permanently. I did not even know that I could appeal this decision until I was informed by an advocate at Native Courtworkers that I could. I realized that MCFD had not informed me of my basic legal rights as a parent and did not actually care to fulfill their responsibility and mandate to keep families together. I felt that as a survivor of violence and as a Native woman, I was being re-victimized by being labeled as a bad mother who was unable to protect her children.

 

After four years of fighting in the Court system, I finally won my case and my children were given back to me in 1986. Throughout the four years I often felt like giving up but I knew I had to fight for my family. The MCFD social worker reported to the Court that I was ‘not showing love and affection’ to my children. But the Court-ordered psychologist determined that there was lots of affection between us and said that it was clear that my children wanted to come back home. I thank Dr. Diane Mitchell for helping me win my case by recommending that my children be returned. It is frustrating though that we have to rely on these professionals to validate us.

 

The whole system of child apprehension is grossly unfair and unjust. From my experience and those of other women I know, it seems that the Ministry is interested in keeping children in the foster system rather than returning them to their parents. Most of the children in MCFD’s custody are Native children. In BC, Native children are 6.3 times more likely to be removed from their homes than non-Native children. I believe this is both a continuation of the residential school experience - where children are torn away from their families and communities are destroyed - as well as a consequence of residential schools, which has forced Native families into social dysfunction with rampant alcohol/drug use and abuse in the home.  I feel like the odds are stacked against us, but still we continue on.

 

I am now 29 years sober and my three beautiful children – Rosalie and Michael and Jackson – are parents themselves. Once I had my children back, I told my boys to never hit a woman because it is like hitting your mother. I still live with the guilt about what happened to my deceased daughter Angela. I also felt responsible when my other daughter Rosalie was in an abusive relationship worse than mine. I felt that she thought it was okay to be abused because she watched me take it. But now my daughter Rosalie is happy and has a beautiful 8-year old daughter named Kayla. My son Michael is 31 years old and has been clean from heroin for several years now. He is working and has a 2-year old daughter named Tayla. My youngest son Jackson is 30 years old and recently graduated from the Academy of Learning. He has a wonderful 10-month baby girl named Gianna. I am so proud of my children and thank the Creator for every new day.  Love to all my family and friends.

 

B. has lived in Vancouver for 35 years. She is from Bella Bella. She is currently 29 years sober and volunteers at the Downtown Eastside Womens’ Centre. She loves being part of the DTES Power of Women Group because the group fights for everything she has been through – from violence and abuse to child apprehension – and gives her a voice! She also marches in the February 14th Womens’ Memorial March Committee for her murdered sister and niece.

 

Recently, B. was in the hospital for two months due to double pneumonia. She went through surgery for her right lung on December 28, 2010. She feels lucky to be alive and would like to thank all her family and friends for their prayers and visits, which meant a lot to her.

 

This story is part of the Downtown Eastside Power of Women “In Our Own Voices” writing project. For more information and to read more stories, please visit http://vancouver.mediacoop.ca/author/dtes-power-women-group

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Comments

Re Story of Domestic violence and child aprehension

Amazing and courageous very glad that there was a happy ending. one of the parts that stuck out for me was..."I realized that MCFD had not informed me of my basic legal rights as a parent and did not actually care to fulfill their responsibility and mandate to keep families together." This is so important and I see that there is no real system in place to keep workers accountable. It would be an idea maybe there could be some letter that they and the client sign to ensure that they have explained all the clients rights. Thank god that there were good advocates at the Native court workers who helped in this case.

  I work with social workers from MCFD and see that there have been many changes and many workers i see are working hard to keep families together...However  I stil do see that part left out often about informing persons of their basic rights.

I  hope and suggest that there could be a forum where women who have been impacted could meet with MCFD workers to discuss their experiences and what they would have found helpful -I think something like that with face to face talks...withMCFD  team leaders and workers -people need to feel this in their heart...It can be a very unjust system and there is no way of keeping workers accountable when they make terrible mistakes - they need to hear the stories - more advocates and more resources and more great lawyers like Michael Bradshaw and people at Pivot and all the amazing advocates.

 

My Story of Domestic Violence and Child Apprehension

This story represents so many women in abusive relationships.  It is all too common and the government needs to stop cutting services and funding to abused women, start acknowledging and helping these women because they historicaly cannot do it on their own.  They need the help from services such as Battered Women's Support Services to help them plan, escape, deal with their emotional and physical scars; keep their children and cope with their futures selves.  These women do not need the added stress of MCFD and the stereotyping of being an "aboribinal or immigrant  woman".    An abused woman could be your co-worker, the receptionist at your doctor's office, your best friend.  These women need to have their stories of abuse heard and not judged.  All women need the chance to have their children with them and the government needs to step up and see the back story of her abuse.

Let's not forget the rights

Let's not forget the rights of men. My mother left my father for my step-father. Even though he didn't break the family up he had no chance at custody as a man. My step-father turned out to be a drunken, violent, wife-beater. He sent my brother to school with a black eye once so Children's Aid paid a visit. Yet they did not tell my father what was going on. That is disgraceful, it's like his rights as a father didn't matter. If some guy is beating your children and the government knows that, they should bloody well inform you of that. If my father had known that he might have gotten custody and taken us out of that violent environment. I would hope things have changed today and the fathers are being accorded more respect.

What a remarkable story, and

What a remarkable story, and what amazing strength this woman has shown.  I hope we hear and read more stories such as this one, because it is so true that Natives have suffered so much injustice because of the apprehension of their children, which contributes greatly to the vicious cycle of alcohol abuse. 

And it is so true the MCFD couldn't care less about keeping families together.  They only want to perpetuate their ministry by keeping families apart.  They cause so much pain and suffering. 

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