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Canada Manitoba should focus more on prevention to reduce number of kids in child welfare: report

A report commissioned by the Manitoba government is recommending the province reduce the nation’s highest number of kids in child welfare by focusing more on supporting troubled families than on taking away their children.

One of the recommendations from a committee appointed by the Progressive Conservative government last December, is to stop the birth-alert system, where social workers warn hospitals of expectant mothers who are considered at-risk. Newborns are seized in Manitoba on average, almost once a day.

“The current birth alert process (should) be replaced by community-based and culturally safe services to identify and assist at-risk parents during and after pregnancies,” said the report released Wednesday.

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The report also urges the province to change its funding model so that child welfare agencies receive more money to help struggling parents. Currently, their funding is partly based on how many kids they have in care – a model which critics say incentivizes apprehension.

The document also calls for a stricter definition of when children need to be taken from their families – for their own safety and protection, but not if the family is struggling with poverty, poor housing or addiction.

“The (law) should be revised to emphasize the need of a family to receive assistance when there is no immediate safety threat necessitating child protection services, without the implication or finding that the parent has caused their child to be in need of protection,” the report states.

“The decision to separate a child from her or his parents must be specific to the urgent safety of the child and a child should not be separated due to poverty concerns or neglect that is cause by socio-economic conditions.”

The committee, which includes representatives from First Nations and Metis groups, was formed last December after the Tory government announced plans to reduce the number of kids in care.

Manitoba has roughly 11,000 kids in government care, the highest per-capita rate in Canada. About 90 per cent of the kids in care are Indigenous.

The recommendations appear to dovetail with changes announced by the government last fall – more block funding to agencies to support families before they reach a crisis point, and more customary care which gives First Nations children more options to remain in their home communities.

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Liberal legislature member Jon Gerrard, who has long criticized the province’s high newborn apprehension rates, welcomed the report and urged the government to enact the recommendations.

Documents obtained by the Liberals under the province’s freedom of information act show more than 330 kids under the age of one month have been seized in each of the last three years.

“We need to drop that number by at least half, and hopefully better than that,” Gerrard said.

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