The Saskatchewan government says it will continue to track or seize at-risk babies, despite a call to stop from the inquiry into missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.
The inquiry’s final report recommends governments and child-welfare agencies immediately abandon what are known as birth or hospital alerts.
Saskatchewan’s Social Services Ministry said the alerts are registered if there is a concern about a mother and the potential safety of her baby.
It said social workers or health professionals can make the reports.
The alerts allow government officials to be informed when a baby is born so a report can be investigated, which can result in a newborn being seized.
The ministry said 153 newborns were apprehended in Saskatchewan for their own safety as a result of 588 alerts issued from 2015-18.
“We only do that in extreme circumstances,” Social Services Minister Paul Merriman said.
“At the end of the day, if a child is temporarily taken into care – no matter what age they are – our end goal is always reunification with the family to make sure that they have the opportunity to be a family as a whole.”
The ministry said more than 60 per cent of babies taken into care were placed with their extended family while staff worked with the parents.
The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations questions that figure and said the government is unwilling to change its policies when it comes to delivering child welfare.
“When mother and baby are separated, obviously the mother is very distraught. She’s overwhelmed. She’s heartbroken,” said Morley Watson, first vice-chief of the federation, which represents Saskatchewan’s 74 First Nations.
“Rather than help the mother and child as a unit they’re saying, ’Well you know, we’re working on prevention but we’ll take the baby away,’ … ‘Mom, we hope you get better and do well.“’
In Manitoba, figures for birth alerts are much higher. A government spokeswoman said that in 2017-18, Manitoba child-welfare agencies issued 558 birth alerts for high-risk mothers, but did not have figures on how many of those resulted in apprehensions.
Cora Morgan, a family advocate for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, has said, on average, a newborn is apprehended every day
In January, social-media videos surfaced showing a newborn baby girl being taken from the arms of her Indigenous mother by Manitoba social workers and police. The move prompted outrage and renewed calls for changes to child welfare in the province.
A judge granted guardianship of the baby to the mother’s aunt in March.
Reunification can often be difficult because apprehensions in Manitoba trigger a court process that requires a woman or her family to pay court costs, Ms. Morgan added.
Ms. Morgan said the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs lobbied the MMIW inquiry to look at child welfare.
“Our elders have said that the most violent act you can commit to a women is to steal or take her children away,” Ms. Morgan said. “It’s torturous for the mother.”
An Indigenous woman living in Saskatoon credits her family for helping keep her daughter in her care when social services staff paid her a visit in hospital hours after giving birth.
The Canadian Press is not identifying the woman in order to protect the identity of her child.
The woman said 10 years ago she was a 25-year-old single mother and had given birth to her second child when officials informed her they were investigating and looking to apprehend her baby.
“It was devastating,” she said.
“I started crying, I didn’t know what was going on.”
The woman said concerns were raised about her daughter’s exposure to drugs and alcohol because of drug use by her ex-partner, whom she was separated from.
She also believes her own past addiction issues played a factor.
Over three days, the woman said her family provided them with documents to show she was in recovery and able to care for her child.
Years later, she said she still experiences anxiety whenever her daughter leaves.
“It was supposed to be a day of remembering how beautiful a birth was. It turned into the most traumatizing, heartaching story.”
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