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Families Minister Heather Stefanson, seen here with Premier Brian Pallister on Nov. 7, 2017, said Friday that the practice of birth alerts was working against efforts to build trust with mothers to connect them with child-care programs and supports.

John Woods/The Canadian Press

Manitoba has become the latest province to scrap birth alerts, a practice that can lead to newborns being removed from a mother’s care because of her background.

Families Minister Heather Stefanson said Friday that the practice, set to end April 1, was working against efforts to build trust with mothers to connect them with child-care programs and supports.

The alerts, she said, are "discouraging moms and families from reaching out at a time when we most want to work with them.

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"This decades-old practice will end in Manitoba, as part of our commitment to transform the child-welfare system and connect families with community-based supports and services.”

The Manitoba government has said that 558 birth alerts were issued in 2017-18. Statistics from the Manitoba government show that newborn apprehensions in the wake of birth alerts occur, on average, about once a day. There are about 10,000 children in care in the province and about 90 per cent are Indigenous.

Manitoba follows British Columbia, which announced last September that it was ending the practice. In B.C., the children and family development minister said at the time that the change was largely being made because the practice focused on marginalized women, and disproportionately Indigenous women.

Last September, Saskatchewan announced that it was reviewing the practice of birth alerts in the province.

The alerts had come under scrutiny in recent years after high-profile apprehensions, including one at a Winnipeg hospital that was streamed live on Facebook in January, 2019.

In Manitoba, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs (AMC), the Southern Chiefs’ Organization (SCO) and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, representing northern Manitoba First Nations, were among the groups who had called on the government to end birth alerts.

In a statement, SCO Grand Chief Jerry Daniels welcomed the change, but wondered why it could not be immediately enacted.

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“We recognize that many of our young families and first-time parents require support, resources and healthy options in which to raise their children," Mr. Daniels said in a statement.

"Our children are most resilient when they are surrounded by family and community, not by strangers in emergency shelters and foster care."

Grand Chief Arlen Dumas of the AMC denounced the practice.

“Apprehending a child after birth is one of the most violent acts committed against a woman," he said in a statement.

“It is a common practice that has been initiated through the health-care system.”

Cora Morgan, AMC First Nations Family Advocate, called Friday for an end to newborn apprehension altogether.

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In an interview, she said the emphasis should be on working with families to address concerns about the care of infants. She added that mothers unable to care for newborns should be given a say over who will parent them and, at the very least, the opportunity for a relationship with any party who cares for the child.

“I would like to see more humanity in the system,” she said

Ms. Stefanson said alerts will be removed from provincial child-welfare standards and an emphasis will be placed on building voluntary partnerships with parents to address their strengths and needs.

That could include creating safety plans, and referrals to existing community, cultural and health-care services as needed.

But Ms. Stefanson said the end of birth alerts will not affect the child-welfare system’s ability to protect children who are at risk of neglect or abuse.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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