Review finds no evidence birth alerts improve child safety, Manitoba families minister says

The Manitoba government conducted a review on birth alerts that found no evidence that the practice improves children's safety, families minister Heather Stefanson told APTN News.

Families Minister Heather Stefanson will discuss birth alerts at a news conference Friday morning

The province heard a call for ending the controversial practice of birth alerts 'very loud and clear," says Heather Stefanson. The Manitoba families minister will be discussing birth alerts at a news conference Friday morning. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Manitoba's families minister has told a Winnipeg-based news network a controversial practice that can lead to newborns being taken away from their mothers doesn't appear to be working to actually protect the children.

"We conducted a review of the birth alert process, and what we found is that there's no evidence to prove that this ... increases the safety of children in any way," Families Minister Heather Stefanson said in an interview with APTN News, which aired Thursday on the network.

The minister was not made available for an interview with CBC News, but the province of Manitoba says a news conference is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Friday to discuss birth alerts. The province did not confirm any specific details of what will be announced on Friday.

Birth alerts are warnings from social services agencies to a hospitals, intended to  flag the history of a mother who is considered "high-risk." The alerts may lead to a baby being apprehended from its mother in the hospital.

Manitoba has the highest per capita rate of children in care in Canada, and apprehends about one newborn every day.

Immediately ending birth alerts was one of 231 recommendations in the final report of the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, which was released last June.

"We heard very loud and clear … through our legislative review committee, as well as through the MMIWG inquiry, who both recommended the end of the practice of birth alerts," Stefanson told APTN News.

The Progressive Conservative government also heard from "members in the Indigenous communities that this was something they wanted to see," she told the network.

Bernadette Smith, the Opposition NDP MLA for Point Douglas, put forward a private member's bill last year proposing to end the practice in Manitoba.

"[Birth alerts are] extremely damaging to the overall well-being of the mother and the children, and the entire family that's connected," Michael Redhead Champagne, a member of the Manitoba Child Welfare Legislative Review Committee, told CBC News Thursday.

Champagne explained that in many First Nations communities, the birth of a child is a significant celebration for the entire community.

"When a birth alert comes in and interrupts that connection between mother and child, and that family and the entire community, we're not allowed to fulfil our responsibilities as First Nations people to welcome that life into this world in a good way," he said.

Birth alerts, he added, have potential lifelong impacts on both the mother and child.

There is a lack of trust among many Indigenous people toward the child welfare system, Champagne said, which the alerts compound. They also cause people to lose trust in the health-care system, he said.

"It reduces the likelihood that a parent is even going to ask for help — should they need it."

With files from Cory Funk and Erin Brohman