APTN National News
WINNIPEG – Almost half of all newborns seized by Manitoba’s child welfare services have developmental or addiction issues, according to the province’s minister of family services.
Manitoba’s Chief and Family Services department seized 358 newborns between 2014 and 2015. About 45 per cent of those apprehended infants were found to have developmental or addiction issues.
“In some cases, it’s because of drugs that a mother may have used prior to the birth, so there is medical detoxing that has to happen for the child,” Child and Family Services Minister Kerri Irvin-Ross. “(Apprehension) does not happen haphazardly. It is looked at as a last resort.”
Provincial CFS agencies takes an average of one newborn every day. The province has one of the highest apprehension rates in Canada and it currently has about 10,000 children in care. The majority of children in care are Indigenous.
The reason for the high rate of addictions and development issues in apprehended infants are deep and complicated, according to First Nations Child and Family Caring Society president Cindy Blackstock.
“It’s neglect driven by poverty, poor housing and caregiver addictions that are linked to multigenerational impacts of residential schools,” she said.
When child welfare assesses circumstances found at home in First Nations communities, they do not look at the causal factors or provide the necessary addictions services to help mitigate the problems, said Blackstock.
Child-welfare resources are not equitable when compared to funding for non-Indigenous children, she said.
Lessening potential risk by removing children from their families is not a panacea, according to Blackstock.
“The root of the problem isn’t confronted,” she said. “CFS is removing these kids, but we’re not really dealing with the front end of the problem. We need to recalibrate child welfare so that child welfare itself is proving family-based treatment services at risk of losing their kids.”
In 2007, the First Nations Child and Family Care Society and the Assembly of First Nations filed a human rights complaint alleging that Aboriginal Affairs and Northern development provides deplorable funding for child-welfare on reserves, far below financial support given to other Canadians.
“If adequate services were provided in a non-discriminatory way to these families on reserves, some of these families would be able to care for these babies,” said Blackstock.
In 2013, the Canadian Centre for Policy reported that 62 per cent of First Nations children in Manitoba live in poverty. One reason being, according to the study, is that “low-income status First Nations children are three times more likely to live in a house requiring major repairs and five times more likely to live in an overcrowded house compared to low income non-Indigenous children.”
Manitoba child welfare agencies have been criticized for years for being too quick to apprehend children in some cases and for returning others repeatedly to abusive parents.
The system came under harsh scrutiny a year ago when 15-year-old Tina Fontaine was killed after running away from a hotel where she was in government care. The teen’s body was found wrapped in a bag in the Red River.
The province promised to stop using hotels to house young wards after a girl was seriously assaulted this summer. The victim and the youth charged were in government care at a downtown Winnipeg hotel.
Manitoba’s First Nations children’s advocate recently criticized the apprehension of newborns which she said were being “shoved anywhere.” Cora Morgan said newborns are being placed in loveless shelters rather than with their parents.
Irvin-Ross said the preference is always to place an apprehended child with family. Last year, only 10 infants were housed in shelters and only temporarily.
The province is shifting its focus to prevention programs, the minister said, but sometimes apprehensions are unavoidable for the safety of the child.
Morgan said Manitoba apprehends double the number of newborns as Alberta — a province with quadruple the population — and three times the number as Saskatchewan, which has roughly the same population.
In cases she has worked on, newborns were taken from the hospital to an emergency shelter where they had limited contact with their mother, she said.
Morgan suggested that if almost half the newborns Manitoba seizes have a medical issue, then there should be programs and shelters that work with mothers as opposed to shutting them out.
“If you know that’s what the stats are, why are there not supports extended prenatally?”
Manitoba has caught the attention of Christi Belcourt, a celebrated Metis artist in Ontario. After some research, she took to social media using the hashtag #StopStealingOurKids to denounce the apprehensions.
Given 90 per cent of children in Manitoba’s care are Indigenous, Canadians have to connect the dots between residential schools and the ’60s Scoop, when Indigenous children were removed from their homes and placed with non-Indigenous families, Belcourt said.
“You have to start to ask the question is this deliberate? Is there anything here that could be classified as genocide?” she said. “Is this part of a continued attempt at assimilation? We really have to take a good look at it.”
Jon Gerrard, Manitoba’s lone Liberal member of the legislature and a pediatrician, said even if a mother or her baby is struggling with a medical problem, separating the two at birth is risky. The baby is deprived of the mother’s breast milk and both lose crucial time to bond.
“We’ve got a minister who says she wants to do prevention,” Gerrard said. “The best place to start doing prevention is when you identify a mother who is a potential risk.”
-With files from the Canadian Press