By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
WINNIPEG — Manitoba has announced the controversial practice that allows hospitals to notify child-welfare agencies about new mothers who are deemed to be high-risk will end this month.
“Birth alerts will no longer be issued in Manitoba effective July 1,” Families Minister Heather Stefanson said Tuesday.
The change was to end in April but was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Provincial statistics show that newborn apprehensions occur, on average, once a day in Manitoba.
There are about 10,000 children in care in the province and about 90 per cent are Indigenous.
The government previously did a review that found birth alerts were discouraging expectant mothers and families from reaching out for prenatal support.
Stefanson said there had already been progress to slow down the use of the alerts. There were four birth alerts issued in May, compared to 38 for the same time period in 2019, the minister said.
She also announced Tuesday nearly $400,000 to the Mothering Project at Mount Carmel Clinic, which supports mothers before and after they have given birth. Most of the funds will be used to expand capacity and will be available annually. There is a $40,000 one-time payment to help develop a child-welfare services liaison.
“We are creating a circle of care to ensure a healthier pregnancy and more positive outcomes for mom, baby and the entire family in the longer term,” said Bobbette Shoffner, the clinic’s executive director.
Opposition NDP critic Bernadette Smith said the government could have passed her private member’s bill that would have ended birth alerts in May 2019. It was defeated.
“Instead they waited another 11 months to announce any action then delayed it yet again in the middle of a pandemic.”
Birth alerts have long been criticized by First Nations leaders who say the practice was stacked against Indigenous families. Public outcry increased last year after a video was shared online showing a newborn being removed by police and social workers from a crying Indigenous mother in Winnipeg.
The Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, the Southern Chiefs Organization and Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern Manitoba First Nations, called for an end to their use.