Tikinagan Child & Family Services supporting provincial government decision to end birth alerts
Tim Brody - Editor
Tikinagan Child & Family Services is supporting a recent decision made by the Ontario government to eliminate the practice of birth alerts, “putting an end to decades of systematic discrimination, disproportionate representation, and biases toward First Nation families and communities,” the child and family wellbeing agency shared in a news release last week.
Jill Dunlop, Associate Minister of Children and Women's Issues, announced on July 14 that the province is eliminating the practice of birth alerts.
“Birth alerts are notifications sent by children's aid societies to hospitals when they believe a newborn may be in need of protection. This new approach will improve pre- and post-natal services by promoting collaboration between children's aid societies, hospitals, service providers, Indigenous partners and community-based service providers,” a Government of Ontario news release explained.
“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 Minister Dunlop in the news release. “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.”
“We support the government’s decision to cease the practice of birth alerts in Ontario, knowing that birth alerts can have negative impacts and unintended consequences for women, children, families, and our communities,” said Thelma Morris, Executive Director of Tikinagan Child & Family Services. “We recognize that in most cases, birth alerts do not support our goal of protecting children while supporting families to stay together. Every new mother and father need to be treated with respect, not negatively impacted because of an alert that might result in judgement with discriminatory measures.”
“This issue speaks to the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls, but it goes further back as far as the 60s Scoop and other historical dissemination (of) our culture, traditions, and rights as First Nations. Our traditions used to be that birthing at home was the norm but this was taken away from our people. Even the use of a tikinagan, wrapping a child, was at one time taken away from us. The ceasing of birth alerts is just a start,” Tikinagan shared.
The Government of Ontario acknowledged in its news release, “It has been reported the practice of birth alerts disproportionately affects racialized and marginalized mothers and families. Expectant mothers can be deterred from seeking prenatal care or parenting supports while pregnant due to fears of having a birth alert issued.”
Birth alerts have never been required under provincial legislation. Ending the use of birth alerts was a recommendation from the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls.
“Tikinagan is actively working to strengthen relationships and improve approaches in urban hospitals who serve families from the 30 First Nations through promotion and training related to the Tikinagan service model Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin, everyone working together to raise our children. Mamow Obiki-ahwahsoowin care embraces the inherent jurisdiction of First Nations to make decisions for children in need of protection. One of Tikinagan’s core values is respect, demonstrated through a non-judgmental attitude, communication, and recognition of the unique strengths of families and communities,” Tikinagan informed.
Morris explained, “At Tikinagan, we need to respect and honour the traditions and customs of First Nations that are already in place by following the First Nations’ lead when welcoming new children into their families and communities. We can take a proactive approach and ensure supports are in place for the families in order to preserve the family unity.”
Tikinagan also shared that, “To inform its decision making and to better understand the current intent, impact, and unintended consequences of birth alerts on women, children, families and communities, The Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services held a series of meetings with Indigenous and non-Indigenous service leaders, communities and stakeholders. Tikinagan was part of those conversations.”
“This is a very personal issue to our communities and we were privileged to represent the families from our 30 First Nations on this issue,” Morris said.
The Government of Ontario is directing children's aid societies to end the practice of using birth alerts by October 15, 2020.
“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,” commented Jamil Jivani, Ontario's Advocate for Community Opportunities. “This is a step in the right direction in helping racialized and marginalized communities across Ontario.”