Ontario to end practice of Birth Alerts

The Ontario government has directed children's aid societies to end the practice of sending birth alerts by October 15, 2020. Through this practice, children's aid societies could ask hospitals to notify them when a child was born into a family situation that was deemed to be high risk or in need of protection.

Birth alerts or hospital alerts as they are sometimes called are controversial because they disproportionately affect racialized parents and Indigenous and Black mothers in particular. While the Ministry does not specifically track birth alerts Associate Minister of Children and Women's Issues Jill Dunlop stated that in the past year 442 children were removed from their mother between seven days and 12 months of being born with 50% of those referrals coming from medical staff.

The Minister said that while not, “Every one of those cases was the result of a birth alert … it does provide an idea of how often newborns are taken into care in Ontario.” The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls recommended last year that the practice end immediately.

Minister Dunlop said that the focus should shift to collaborating between organizations and families on a plan to keep families together and that mothers may not seek prenatal care if they are worried about their babies being seized. Métis Nation of Ontario President Margaret Froh stated that, “The MNO applauds and supports this decision. By taking this step the province of Ontario is moving in a very positive direction and we welcome the announcement.”

By ending this practice Ontario joins other provinces in taking this important step. The British Columbia government said it was ending the practice of birth alerts last year. The Manitoba government promised to end birth alerts in January although some plans have been delayed due to COVID-19.

In Ontario Birth Alerts are regularly used in the Thunder Bay, Hamilton, and Brantford areas where Indigenous families are most affected and in the Toronto and Peel regions where Black families are most affected. The Ontario government said in a statement that ending Birth Alerts is part of a larger review that they are doing of the child welfare system which includes addressing the over representation of Black, Indigenous, and racialized children.

With files from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Canadian Press.

Posted August 17, 2020

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