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Old Order Mennonite families not all reunited for holidays

Dozens of children apprehended from their Old Order Mennonite community will not be home for Christmas.

Two families have had a total of six children returned to their homes, but nearly 40 remain in foster care months after they were apprehended by Child and Family Services.

One father, who has had his children returned, said he’ll enjoy Christmas with his kids but feels badly for those parents who won’t be able to spend time with their boys and girls.

“This will be the hardest Christmas we’ve ever seen for all the other families … I have my children home and I’m really glad, but I sure feel for the others,” he said.

By law, the “horse-and-buggy” Manitoba community — with traditions rooted in the 19th century — can’t be identified. Nor can its residents.

In January and June, CFS apprehended all of the community’s children over allegations that a number had been physically abused by adult community members.

Fifteen adults from the community now stand charged with such offences as assault and assault with a weapon — offences allegedly committed between July 2011 and January 2013.

Community members said the charges relate to allegations of extreme discipline. The Crown maintains the alleged abuse was an effort to extract false allegations of sexual abuse from the children.

The apprehended children were placed in homes across southern Manitoba with Mennonite caregivers.

After community parents agreed to CFS conditions that limit physical punishment, six children from two families were returned home in late October and early November. The parents of those families are not among those charged and their children aren’t among those allegedly abused.

One of these families has recently welcomed the arrival of a baby girl, who also remains in her family home.

One teenage boy, who ran home from his CFS placement several months ago and was allowed to stay, also still lives in the community.

General CFS Authority CEO Jay Rodgers confirms that there’s currently no timeline for when more children may return.

He noted that, unlike parents who have had children returned, a number of the parents with children still in care currently face charges. Complicating the process is a need to keep alleged victims away from accused who have been released while pending on their charges.

“The cases are starting to get a bit more complicated now because of the existence of charges,” Rodgers said.

He said the agency is working closely with two more families to have their children returned.

At this point, there’s no plan for the agency to permanently apprehend any of the children, Rodgers said.

However, the Mennonite father said he’s not happy with the lack of progress in getting more kids home.

Among the 36 to 37 children who remain in care is a young Down syndrome child from a family in which neither parent has been charged, and whose siblings aren’t among those who were allegedly abused.

Parents of apprehended children have been permitted off-community visits with their children for two hours once per week.

The Mennonite community resident said parents were permitted three hours with their children this week, and will have another three hours during the week following Christmas.

However, parents who still have kids in care will have no visits during Christmas week due to a lack of CFS staff needed to supervise during the holiday season.

Christmas is an important time at the Mennonite community, the resident said.

Typically, on Christmas morning, the community gathers for church and family feasts and gatherings follow in the afternoon.

Parents play games with their children, who would enjoy candy and small, homemade presents.

During the extended visits this week, parents with children in care brought presents for their children and Christmas dinner.

Peter Rempel, a retired Mennonite Central Committee Manitoba director who has been acting as an informal adviser to the community, attributes the delay partly to CFS’ desire to have children undergo psychological assessments.

Rodgers said the assessments may be are requirement for the return of children on a case-by-case basis.

» ihitchen@brandonsun.com

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 21, 2013

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Dozens of children apprehended from their Old Order Mennonite community will not be home for Christmas.

Two families have had a total of six children returned to their homes, but nearly 40 remain in foster care months after they were apprehended by Child and Family Services.

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Dozens of children apprehended from their Old Order Mennonite community will not be home for Christmas.

Two families have had a total of six children returned to their homes, but nearly 40 remain in foster care months after they were apprehended by Child and Family Services.

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