Current Problems

Child Welfare (1-5)

Cree mother, whose newborn was apprehended, says social worker told her to ‘stop wailing’

November 7, 2023

Chelsey Woodward has not been able to see her daughter consistently after MCFD took the two-day-old baby from a ‘Surrey’ hospital on Oct. 19

Chelsey Woodward and her newborn daughter before she was apprehended by a social worker on Oct. 19. Submitted photo

The Tyee: IndigiNews – Chelsey Woodward will never forget the moment her baby was taken from her by a social worker at Surrey Memorial Hospital. It was October 19, and Woodward said her daughter was just two days old when a representative from the Aboriginal Child & Family Services Office for Surrey, also known as Circle Five, apprehended her.

Woodward was devastated, having spent months preparing for the new baby with the support from a midwife, doula, and staff at Maxxine Wright — a shelter that serves women who are pregnant, or have a newborn, and need a safe place to stay. 

While Woodward was getting ready for the baby, she was attending programming so she could also be reunited with her two-year old son who is also in the “care” of the province. But said she received no comfort from the social worker who apprehended her daughter.

“She told me to stop wailing,” recalled Woodward, who is from Kawacatoose First Nation.

Woodward’s daughter is now with a foster family and since the Ministry of Children and Family Development (MCFD) intervened, she hasn’t been able to see the newborn daily because of transportation issues.  As a result, Woodward is missing out on key bonding time with her baby and also isn’t able to breastfeed her regularly.

Keri Guelke, a staff member with Parents Advocating Collectively for Kin (PACK), said that social workers have only offered a ride for Woodward to see her baby from Monday to Thursday but not the rest of week. Woodward does not have a car, and lives in “Surrey” while the baby is a city away in “Langley.” “I am shocked at the lack of contact between mom and baby,” said Guelke, explaining that she personally has offered to drive Woodward to see her new daughter.

Guelke became involved with the family when Woodward’s mother called to express concern that the baby was going to be taken.  Woodward said, after the baby was apprehended, she didn’t see her for two days. After that, she said it was another five days before she was allowed to have another supervised visit because of the transportation issue. 

“MCFD should be ensuring daily visits,” said Guelke. 

Woodward has been doing her best to find her own transportation on the days MCFD hasn’t provided any — but has run into problems. This past Saturday, her doula had arranged to bring the baby to Maxxine Wright to see her mother, but according to Guelke, the doula could not get approval to work the weekend.

Guelke said this fact wasn’t communicated to the mother, to herself or to Maxxine Wright, however, so Woodward was left waiting for her baby and no one showed up. 

When Guelke heard about the situation, she wanted to help out. “I rearranged my day so that I could transport the baby from East Vancouver to Surrey and Langley and back, that amounted to five hours of driving,” she said.  “I don’t think it’s hard [for MCFD] to find drivers. I believe it’s a lack of will.”

According to MCFD data, the apprehension of newborns by social workers in “B.C.” has disproportionately impacted Indigenous families.

In 2018, MCFD committed to changing its breastfeeding policies after the B.C. Supreme Court heard a case of a three-day old infant from the Huu-ay-aht Nation who was apprehended from their mother.  The Huu-ay-aht Nation argued that the mother wasn’t given sufficient time to bond with and breastfeed her baby before the child was apprehended. 

The court ruled that the ministry must ensure that the mother has daily access to her baby.

Following the ruling, MCFD and B.C’s Representative for Children and Youth (RCY) issued a joint report acknowledging the harm an infant experiences when they are removed from their birth mother. According to the report, MCFD committed to develop guidelines for social workers to promote breastfeeding “in circumstances in which infants have been removed,” including “facilitating breastfeeding by mothers.”

IndigiNews reached out to MCFD, the RCY, and the Indigenous Patient Liaison for comment on the apparent breach in breastfeeding protocols. Due to confidentiality policies, none of them could offer a comment specifically on Woodward’s case.

An email response from MCFD said that the ministry recognizes the significance of breastfeeding and support breastfeeding for mothers and infants.  “When working with mothers who are breastfeeding, MCFD works with the mother to ensure plans are in place to meet her and her baby’s needs,” said an MCFD spokesperson. “It is the ministry’s imperative to keep children and youth safe.”

Glueke said that hospital staff and an Indigenous Patient Liaison had offered for both mother and baby to stay in hospital for an additional 48 hours to continue bonding.

Woodward says that despite her efforts to comply with what social workers have wanted her to do, their attitude completely changed when they found out that Richard Tonka, the father, was supporting her in the hospital following her C-section. 

Tonka said in an interview that he offered to leave the province if it meant that baby could stay with her mother. Both mother and father say they are not in a relationship. “MCFD didn’t even contact Maxxine Wright,” said Tonka, who was present when his daughter was apprehended. 

“Everyone was crying. Chelsey has just been crying and crying. It’s heartbreaking. The social worker was just so cold.”

For Woodward, the lack of contact with her baby has caused a lot of pain, grief, and confusion.  “I was told my baby was coming home with me,” she said.  “I don’t understand. I did everything they asked of me, so I don’t understand why I don’t have my son or my daughter.”



On her fathers side, Anna is a member of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation with Scots Métis roots from Cumberland House, Saskatchewan. Her mother is a first generation Canadian whose parents immigrated from England and Ireland. She is IndigiNews’ Communications Aunty, Senior Aunty and Contributing Storyteller. She currently resides on the Snuneymuxw First Nation with her daughter.

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