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Manitoba government to end controversial practice of birth alerts in April
WINNIPEG -- The Manitoba government is ending a controversial practice that allowed hospitals to flag new mothers to child welfare agencies.
Families Minister Heather Stefanson said birth alerts will be discontinued on April 1.
"It's a good thing for Manitobans," said Stefanson at a news conference on Friday.
She said a review of the process found no evidence to prove birth alerts increase the safety of children.
She added birth alerts make it hard for mothers to get the help they need, and ending this practice will help keep families together.
"What's happening with birth alerts, is moms are hesitant to come forward and seek out the help that they need because they are afraid that their kids are going to be apprehended when they give birth in a hospital."
From April to December last year, 281 birth alerts were issued, which was down 38 per cent from the same time the year prior.
Manitoba Families estimates in past years, about 500 birth alerts were issued per year.
Stefanson did note the government will always put the safety of children first.
"If a child is not in a safe situation, those apprehensions will take place. We need to ensure the safety of children first, but there was no evidence of birth alerts increasing the safety."
The minister had a simple message for expectant mothers.
"We are here to help you. Please come forward."
SOUTHERN CHIEFS' ORGANIZATION RESPONDS
Jerry Daniels, grand chief of Southern Chiefs’ Organization said in a news release that the government's announcement was long-awaited, but he wants to know why the change isn't coming immediately.
There are about 10,000 children in care in the province and about 90 per cent are Indigenous.
Stefanson added this will take a bit of time to get all the systems in order and the government doesn't want to see any kids fall through the cracks, and that is why they have made the deadline of April 1.
Chief Daniels recently called for the "development of a safe, culturally-appropriate alternative to the birth alert," a news release said.
"We recognize that many young families and first-time parents require support, resources and healthy options in which to raise their children. Our children are most resilient when they are surrounded by family and community, not by strangers in emergency shelters and foster care," said Daniels.
He mentioned there has been "very little" communication from the government over the last year regarding birthing plans, instead of birth alerts. He feels trust continues to be a challenge because of the lack of "meaningful communication.”
Diane Redsky, executive director of the Ma Mawi Wi Chi Itata Centre Inc. felt birth alerts went too far.
"It targeted a group of people by race and really harmed and disrupted that sacred bond within families," said Redsky.
She feels now that birth alerts are out of the way, organizations can help build relationships with expecting mothers.
"And know that we can say with certainty that we can help you and so you don't have to be afraid to come forward and ask for help with your pregnancy."
Statistics from the Manitoba government show that newborn apprehensions occur, on average, about once a day.
British Columbia announced it was ending the practice last September.
-- with file from the Canadian Press and CTV's Michelle Gerwing