Saskatchewan to end birth alerts next month: social services minister

REGINA — Saskatchewan's social services minister says the province will soon end the practice of social workers and health-care staff informing child-welfare officials when a baby is born to a mother deemed high risk.

Lori Carr says the Saskatchewan Party government heard from First Nations groups who want to see an end to so-called birth alerts.

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The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and other advocates from across Canada say these alerts are disproportionately used against Indigenous mothers and contribute to high numbers of their newborns being taken into care.

The final report from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) called on governments and child-welfare agencies to end the practice.

"I do share the concerns. They made it clear that they did not like the practice. They found it insulting," Carr said on Tuesday. "I don't see any reason why we wouldn't change this practice and stop using birth alerts."

The Saskatchewan government said 53 of 76 alerts issued last year involved Indigenous women.It said not every report leads to an apprehension.

Ministry data shows most of the newborns taken into care from 2016 to 2020, regardless of whether they were the subject of a birth alert, were Indigenous.

Of the 98 babies apprehended in 2020 — 60 of whom were Indigenous — 17 of all those children have been returned home, a spokeswoman added.

Carr said the practice is to end on Feb. 1.

The ministry, she said, will work with community groups to support expectant mothers and ensure hospital staff contact these groups if there are concerns.

"We'll just make sure that mother is in contact with their right community-based organization to get the best help at that point in time."

"As we move forward, it's just honestly working so closely with those community-based organizations and our health-care professionals to ensure that nobody does fall through the cracks and that they get the right service at the right time."

Saskatchewan is the latest province to announce plans to do away with the practice.

Following the release of the MMIWG's final report in 2019, the province's former social services minister said newborn apprehensions happened in extreme circumstances and family reunification was always the goal.

The government said at the time it would continue with the alerts until an alternative could be found.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations represents 74 First Nations in Saskatchewan.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 26, 2021

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