Media release Poverty Racism

Media release: End the discriminatory and racist practice of issuing birth alerts for “at risk” birth parents and their babies

For immediate release

Wellness Within: An Organization for Health and Justice is calling on the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services to follow British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario, PEI and most recently, Newfoundland and Labrador, in ending the discriminatory and racist practice of issuing birth alerts for “at risk” parents and their babies. Wellness Within is a registered non-profit organization working to advance sexual and reproductive health and rights for people experiencing criminalization in Nova Scotia. WW works to address discrimination and human rights abuses experienced by all pregnant and birthing people.

A formal review of birth alerts conducted by the province of Manitoba found no evidence to support their use. Child welfare agencies argue that birth alerts are intended to protect the children from inadequate or harmful treatment in the care of their “at risk” birth parents. Young parents, poor parents, Indigenous and racialized parents have been placed on alerts by virtue of their own previous connection to the child welfare system – an experience which, again, was largely inflicted on Indigenous and racialized children by centuries of paternalistic and racist colonial laws and policies.

This is a time of grief and reckoning following the discovery of the bodies of 215 children at the site of the former Kamloops Indian Residential School and 751 unmarked graves at the site of the Marieval Residential School on the Cowessess First Nation. Given the harrowing legacy of residential “school” regime in Canada (schools intended to “kill the Indian in the child”), the impacts of the Sixties Scoop, and continued marginalization of Indigenous peoples, WW asks that Nova Scotia does its part to implement the recommendations put forward in by both the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls (MMIWG) and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC). Specifically, call 231 from the MMIWG Inquiry:

“End the practice of targeting and apprehending infants from Indigenous mothers right after they give birth”. 

And the TRC recommendation, that:

“Indigenous peoples should not be subjected to any act of genocide or violence, including forcibly removing children of the group to another group”.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child stipulates children have the right to know and be cared for by their parents. They have the right to health. Forced removal at birth jeopardizes the child’s emotional development and of breastfeeding success. Research has found mothers who have their children removed by child welfare are less likely to seek prenatal care in subsequent pregnancies, associating health services with surveillance and punishment. Mothers who experience child removal also experience increased risk of overdose and death. These risks are higher among Indigenous women. The birth alerts approach clearly does not reduce harms to health.

In Nova Scotia, Indigenous children are removed from their families at a significantly disproportionate rate: 23% of children in care are Indigenous, although only 7% of children in the province are Indigenous. Nova Scotia also has the distinction of being the province with the third-highest rate of child poverty in the country.

We ask that Nova Scotia focusing on adequate pre, peri and post-natal care for all new parents, with special attention and supports made available to parents who may be younger than the average, poorer than the average, with culturally safe supports for Indigenous, African Nova Scotian or otherwise racialized families.

Wellness Within knows well the impacts that removals and family separations have on parents, children, and society at large. We ask that birth alerts are ended immediately, and enhanced supports are made available to help marginalized parents with their pregnancies, birth, and parenting experiences.

Wellness Within  

PO Box 34007 Scotia Square  Halifax NS B3J3S1 @WWHealthJustice