By Jonathan Bradley
The Ontario government is ordering children’s aid societies in the province to eliminate the controversial practice of issuing birth alerts.
Birth alerts are notifications sent by children’s aid societies to hospitals when they believe a newborn may be needing protection.
The ministry of children, community, and social services said in a statement that ending birth alerts will improve pre- and postnatal services.
“Ending the use of birth alerts is an important step as we shift our focus to prevention, early intervention and improve outcomes for families and their children,” said Jill Dunlop, associate minister of children and women’s Issues, in a statement.
“This change is part of our government’s effort to build a child welfare system that is better coordinated and focused on community-based prevention services that are high quality, culturally appropriate and truly responsive to the needs of children, youth and families.”
The statement said alternative approaches include birth planning services, prenatal services, and referrals to resources in the community.
Today is the first step toward a long journey of addressing gender-based violence and systemic racism
Alex Spence, the press secretary for Dunlop, said over the past year, 442 children in Ontario were removed from their mother within seven days of their birth. More than 50 per cent of referral services were from medical personnel.
It has been reported that birth alerts have disproportionately affected racialized and marginalized mothers and families. Expectant mothers might be deterred from seeking prenatal care or parenting supports while pregnant because they are afraid of one being issued.
Cora McGuire-Cyrette, the executive director at the Ontario Native Women’s Association, said ending birth alerts will help Indigenous women.
“Today is the first step toward a long journey of addressing gender-based violence and systemic racism that is within a massive system that has historically discriminated against Indigenous women,” said McGuire-Cyrette. “Addressing a complex system that has roots back to residential schools will take all of us working together.”
McGuire-Cyrette said birth alerts harm families because instead of celebrating the birth of a child, they are put into a state of crisis.
The practice has never been required under provincial legislation and is inconsistently used by children’s aid societies. The Ontario government will be directing children’s aid societies to end the practice by Oct. 15.
Jamil Jivani, Ontario’s advocate for community opportunities, said in a statement that ending birth alerts will reduce racism in the child welfare system.
“By ending the use of birth alerts and encouraging collaborative alternatives for children’s aid societies and other health care providers, expectant parents will be better supported in accessing community resources before the birth of their child,” said Jivani in the statement. “This is a step in the right direction in helping racialized and marginalized communities across Ontario.”
Ending birth alerts was a recommendation from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls. British Columbia ended them in September, and Manitoba stopped issuing them on April 1.
Spence said ending birth alerts will show that the Ontario government is responding to the inquiry in a meaningful way.
“No woman should ever be discouraged from seeking prenatal care or parenting supports because they are afraid their child will be taken from them if they do,” she said