British Columbia

B.C. government launches breastfeeding plan for infants in care

The B.C. government has launched a plan to give infants in government care better access to breastfeeding by keeping them close to their mothers.

Report comes after a B.C. Supreme Court ruling that ordered Indigenous mother be reunited with her newborn

Nearly 200 infants who were less than a week old in B.C. were brought into government care between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018. (Nikolas Giakoumidis/Associated Press)

The B.C. government is launching a plan to give infants in government care better access to breastfeeding by keeping them close to their mothers, following an acrimonious court case involving an Indigenous mother and her apprehended newborn. 

Social workers will be given updated directives on keeping mothers and infants together, plus new guidelines on promoting breastfeeding when babies are placed in care.

That includes facilitating breastfeeding, providing breast pumps, finding ways to make the breast milk available and addressing breastfeeding within the context of substance abuse.

Nearly 200 infants less than a week old were brought into care between April 1, 2017 and March 31, 2018, according to a report released Wednesday by the Ministry of Children and Family Development and B.C.'s representative for children and youth.

"As a ministry, it is so important that as part of our commitment to keeping children safe and connected to their families and communities, we are promoting and enabling opportunities for new mums to breastfeed," Children and Family Development Minister Katrine Conroy​ said in a statement.

Indigenous infants over-represented

The report outlines five goals to be tackled by September 2019.

Directives including improving access to advocacy services from B.C.'s representative for children and youth, plus access to prenatal and postpartum care for women who use substances. 

The province is also exploring housing alternatives where mothers and their infants at risk can be placed. 

On average, more than 500 infants who were less than a year old entered government care each year from 2013 to 2018.

Nearly 70 per cent of those infants were Indigenous.

500 kids in care over 5 years

The report comes after a B.C. Supreme Court ruling in February that gave an Indigenous mother daily access to her newborn child. 

The ministry apprehended the baby, who was part of the the Huu-ay-aht First Nations, three days after she was born. The mother was told the baby was taken into care because of her own mother's history with the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

Lawyers with the ministry sought to reduce the amount of time the Huu-ay-aht mother could spend with the baby to breastfeed.

Shortly after, a provincial court ordered that the mother get her baby back. It ruled that the ministry hadn't considered less disruptive options for the family. 

"It's a ruling we took seriously," Conroy told reporters Wednesday. "We needed to take a closer look, not at an isolated incident, but as a matter of ministry policy."

The Huu-ay-aht First Nations was not immediately available for comment.

Bernard Richard, B.C.’s Representative for Children and Youth, has criticized the apprehension of a newborn baby from the Huu-ay-aht First Nations. (Chad Hipolito/Canadian Press)

Plan needs funding: B.C Greens

The B.C. Green Party said the plan needs more resources.

"This announcement is focused on directives and research," Sonia Furstenau, the party's spokesperson for children and families, said in a statement.

"What's needed is funding to be provided so that mothers are given all the support necessary to ensure the bond between them and their infants is established and maintained."

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