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Manitoba has highest rate of CFS child removal in Canada: study

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Indigenous families are disproportionately impacted by family separation, with one in three First Nations infants in Manitoba having a file open with Child and Family Services (CFS), according to a newly published study.

The University of Manitoba, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC) and the First Nations Family Advocate Office (FNFAO) led the study, published in the international journal Child Abuse & Neglect on Tuesday.

“Canada has among the highest rates of family separation through child protective services (CPS) in the world with a profoundly disproportionate impact on Indigenous (First Nations, Métis and Inuit) families,” the report reads, adding Manitoba has the highest rate of child removal and out-of-home placement in Canada.

They found approximately 35.8 per cent of First Nations children in Manitoba had a file opened by CFS by the time they were one year old, compared to 8.5 per cent of non-First Nations infants.

The study also found 8.5 per cent of First Nations children were removed from home and placed in CFS custody before age one, which was nearly seven times higher than non-First Nations children (1.5 per cent). In addition, 5.4 per cent of First Nations children had their parents lose their parental rights before they turned five, while this happened only 0.7 per cent of non-First Nations children.

Over the course of the study, the rate of CFS contact increased the fastest among First Nations infants, growing by 22 per cent. For infants who weren’t First Nations, this number rose by two per cent.

Dr. Kathleen Kenny, a postdoctoral fellow in community health sciences at the Max Rady College of Medicine, led the study. She described the findings as shocking.

“They're not surprising from stories that have been in the media for many years now,” she said. “I think the findings speak to mass level intrusion by CFS into First Nations, families, and of course, not accounted for in these numbers is the impacts on families, the stress, trauma, traumatization of First Nations families, many of whom have already experienced this system over multiple generations.” 

The study said “Birth Alerts,” the practice of health-care providers alerting CFS when a child is born if they believe the newborn is at risk of harm, is a reason why the numbers are higher among First Nations children.

“Though Birth Alerts ostensibly ended in 2020 in Manitoba, the system's decades-long lifespan, is criticized as resulting in the disproportionate removal and out-of-home placement of Indigenous newborns, while also reinforcing mistrust of health-care institutions by Indigenous peoples and deepening existing structural inequities,” the report reads.

The report recommends establishing community-based supportive spaces outside of CFS for families in crisis to keep them intact, and also to empower First Nations-led customary care systems to keep kids connected to their culture.

The study tracked data from 1998 to 2019, and included data from more than 47,000 First Nations infants and more than 169,000 non-First Nations infants.

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