General Interest

Birth Alerts

Tansi Nîtôtemtik,

Lately there has been a lot of media coverage of a deeply problematic practice that serves to increase the number of Indigenous children involved in the child welfare system and actively discriminates against Indigenous families: birth alerts. However, birth alerts aren’t new--they’ve existed for years. Today we will discuss what they are, and why they’re so problematic.

Image-from-iOS-4

(Photo credit: Indiginews, https://indiginews.com/vancouver-island/birth-alerts Reporter Anna McKenzie and her daughter, photograph by Captured Memories Photography)

Birth alerts are used when a newborn is born to a parent that has been assessed as ‘high risk’, to notify hospitals and other child and family services (CFS) agencies that further assessment is required before the newborn can go home with their family. [1] Birth alerts often contain personal information of expectant parents without consent, obtained and sent by social workers to hospitals. Hospital staff then inform CFS when the baby is born. [2]

It is not surprising in the context of widespread discrimination against Indigenous peoples in the healthcare system, that birth alerts are used disproportionately for Indigenous mothers. According to government records, 28% of birth alerts resulted in infants being apprehended from their families and 58% of families subjected to birth alerts in B.C in 2018 were Indigenous.[3] In addition, Cindy Blackstock notes that there is no evidence supporting the effectiveness of birth alerts. [4]

Increased attention to birth alerts was triggered in part by the National Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) Final Report, released in 2019. As one Director of the Ontario Children’s Aid Society notes:

Before the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, we didn’t really look at the practice critically. We never reflected on its long-term impact on the infant or their mother, or that the other components of the baby’s safety, for example their emotional, spiritual, and intellectual safety, were compromised in those situations. We also didn’t consider how the practice was inequitable, and led to overrepresentation of Indigenous, Black, and other marginalized communities in the child welfare system.[5]

Many provinces have responded to demands to end the practice of birth alerts by stopping their use and implementing voluntary prenatal intervention and planning instead. However, this is not the case across Canada.[6]  

The following chart shows where birth alerts are still used: [7]

Birth alert chart
It is extremely disappointing to see that the practice of birth alerts continues in so many Canadian provinces; especially when there is so much information about how profound the negative impact of the child welfare system is on Indigenous families. Team ReconciliAction is hopeful that this harmful and discriminatory practice will be removed from all provinces, and replaced with programs that don’t victimized Indigenous families but instead empower them. That is the only way we can move forward with true reconciliation.

 

Thanks for reading! 

 

Until next time,

 

Team ReconciliAction YEG

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1Government of Manitoba, “End of Birth Alert Practice” (2020) online:<www.gov.mb.ca/fs/childfam/end-birth-alerts.html>.

2Anna McKenzie, “Birth alerts banned in B.C., but trust still a barrier for Indigenous parents” (11 Feb 2021) online: The Discourse <thediscourse.ca/vancouver-island/birth-alerts-banned-in-b-c-but-trust-still-a-barrier-for-indigenous-parents>.

3Ibid. 

4Tessa Vikander & Bayleigh Marelj, “Several Canadian provinces still issue birth alerts, deemed ‘unconstitutional and illegal’  in B.C.” (Jan 15, 2021) online: APTN News <www.aptnnews.ca/national-news/provinces-continue-birth-alerts/>. [Birth Alerts, APTN]

5Ontario Association of Children’s Aid Societies, “The practice of birth alerts in Ontario is ceasing October 15th. What’s next for child welfare agencies and their approach to working with expectant mothers?” (13 October 2020) online: <www.oacas.org/2020/10/the-practice-of-birth-alerts-in-ontario-is-ceasing-october-15th-whats-next-for-child-welfare-agencies-and-their-approach-to-working-with-expectant-mothers/>

6Birth Alerts, APTN, supra note 4.

7 Data compiled by Team ReconciliAction from Birth Alerts, APTN, supra note 4.


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