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Government policy on birth alerts


On October 8 in Families Estimates for the Department of Families, I asked about the government's policy to continue issuing birth alerts.  Birth Alerts are used by Child and Family Services with regard to families where CFHIsS workers believe that children need to be taken away from their parents.  Historically, Manitoba CFS has apprehended far more children than other comparable jurisdictions, and in recent years has been apprehending about a child a day at birth. 
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): My question deals with birth alerts, and I understand the minister has indicated that there will be continued issuing of birth alert.
      There has, in the last few years, been a series of studies showing the tremendous adverse impact of taking children away from mothers: harm to the mother's health, including increased risk of suicides, and there is also potential significant deleterious effect on the impact of the child.
      So I am looking for an update on the status of that and what the minister is planning.
Mrs. Stefanson: So I want to thank the member for the question. And, certainly, the safety and security of infants, children and youth is our government's top priority. Sometimes families face challenges that might leave a newborn vulnerable, and we need to ensure that children are 'safed' for first and foremost. So we have been working with the CFS authorities to limit birth alerts to situations only where there is a high risk of harm to an infant, and we remain committed to that shared goal.
We do recognize, of course, that this came out of the MMIWG inquiry as well as our own Legislative Review Committee as well. And we know that BC is moving in a certain direction, and we're having a very close look at this, but we do know that, certainly, birth alerts are–the number of–that birth alerts themselves are down and–but we, first and foremost, we need to ensure the safety of those children. So that will remain to be our top priority.
      We're also taking other preventative measures as well. We've introduced our new social impact bond, which is working with doulas working with expectant moms closely to develop birth plans and–moving forward. And so we're looking forward to moving that forward as well.
      We want to, obviously, look at ways to prevent the apprehension of children in cases where we can. We don't want to have apprehensions where they're not needed, but we will–we have to look with that safety lens first, and so we'll continue to work with the authorities and agencies towards that goal.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes, I would be interested if the minister could share the statistics showing the number of birth alerts and how that they are actually going down.
      I'm quite concerned about this for a number of reasons. I remember a young woman who had her child taken away at birth. She was breastfeeding. The child was grabbed and taken away on day 4. She was doing well. There was no good reason for taking the child away, as was proved in court some six or eight weeks later.
And what do we want to make sure is that you have a good opportunity for mothers and children to do well, and, you know, this practice of, you know, preventing mothers from breastfeeding, who have been–and developing some of the attachment that is so critical to early childhood development, and I think that the–what I'm concerned about is that we really have strong, valid measures being used in terms of the risks of children and that in this case, the agency concerned had adequate opportunity to make a thorough and careful assessment before the child was born, and they failed to do that. And they were nervous, as a result of not having made that assessment, and they went ahead and issued a birth alert and took the child away.
      So I think that we need to make sure that the agencies are involved and make–taking preventive measures, looking carefully at and developing plans with mothers.
      So I would ask what preventive measures are being taken and what–so that mothers can be supported properly and so that you decrease the chance of children having to be taken away.
Mrs. Stefanson: I thank the member for the question and we do take prevention initiatives very, very seriously, and we've been–I did mention in my previous answer about our social impact bond, called Restoring the Sacred Bond doula project. So we'll keep working to protect vulnerable newborns and support families through initiatives like that.
      I think it's also important that part of our prevention work also includes partnerships with community-based organizations, like the Indigenous Women's Healing Centre, Villa Rosa, Families First and insight mentorship program to support pregnant women and new parents.
      So the prevention side is–we take it very seriously. We will obviously want to reduce the apprehensions, where possible and so those are some of the initiatives that we have ongoing on the prevention side.

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