Manitoba

First Nations family advocate not confident Manitoba will act on CFS birth alert report

A First Nations advocate for children in care says she’s not confident the Manitoba government will act on recommendations in a new report that calls on the province to reduce the number of kids in the system.

Report calls for new process to replace current system that sees newborns apprehended

Cora Morgan, First Nations Family Advocate at the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs, said a new child welfare system that restores Indigenous jurisdiction over kids is needed. (John Woods/Canadian Press)

A First Nations advocate for children in care says she's not confident the Manitoba government will act on recommendations in a new report that calls on the province to reduce the number of kids in the system.

Cora Morgan, the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs' First Nations family advocate, said a new child welfare system that restores Indigenous jurisdiction over kids is needed.

The report released Wednesday called for the current birth alert process to be replaced with community-based and culturally safe services that identify and assist at-risk parents during and after pregnancies. 

Birth alert is a system where social workers warn hospitals of expectant mothers who are considered at-risk.

"These are all just mere recommendations and there's nothing that compels the province to implement some of the more timely ones," Morgan said in a phone interview Thursday.

Report won't collect dust: Minister

Newborns are seized in Manitoba almost once a day on average.

"The minute a child is apprehended, they lose everything they know — their parents, their siblings, their pets, their school, everything, their whole world is gone," said Morgan.

The report calls for a stricter definition of when children need to be taken from their families — for their own safety and protection, but not if the family is struggling with poverty, poor housing or addiction.

Justice Minister Heather Stefanson said the advice in the report is valuable. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

Families Minister Heather Stefanson called the advice in the report "valuable" in a news release on Wednesday. Her press secretary didn't agree with Morgan's comments that followed the report's release.

"The minister is adamant this report will not sit on a shelf and collect dust," Andrea Slobodian wrote in an email to CBC.

"The report will inform legislative changes (some will require legislation, but others could be policy changes that could be quickly implemented). Some recommendations align with plans the province has already announced, such as Customary Care and block funding," Slobodian said.

Giving financial supports better option: advocate

Morgan agreed with a suggestion in the report that the province should change its funding model so child welfare agencies receive more money to help struggling parents. She gave an example of a mother who just got her child back from care.

She said that mother has been given an additional $80 per month in social assistance to help pay for things like diapers, but called that funding inadequate. She compared it to the cost of having a newborn in care for a year — which she said is an average of $46,000 — to drive home her point that it would be better to give more resources to parents, saying it outweighs the negative of having a child in the system.

"You kind of have to flip the numbers and put more investment in families and take them out of poverty conditions and allow for them to have a better quality of life," she said.

The committee that wrote the report includes representatives from First Nations and Métis​ groups and was formed last December after the Tory government announced plans to reduce the number of kids in care. Manitoba has roughly 11,000 kids in its care, the highest per-capita rate in Canada. About 90 per cent of the kids in the system are Indigenous.

With files from Jamie-Lee McKenzie and The Canadian Press

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