Ontario to end practice of birth alerts that’s led to babies being seized from new mothers

The Ontario government is directing children’s aid societies to stop sending “birth alerts” — the controversial practice of notifying hospitals when they believe a newborn may need protection, which has lead to babies being seized from new mothers.

These so-called hospital or birth alerts disproportionately affect racialized parents, said Associate Minister of Children and Women’s Issues Jill Dunlop, particularly noting Indigenous and Black mothers in Ontario.

The ministry doesn’t track birth alerts, Dunlop said. But in the past year, she said, 442 children were removed from their mother  between seven days and 12 months of being born, with 50 per cent of those referrals coming from medical staff. 

“Not to say that every one of those cases was the result of a birth alerts, but it does provide an idea of how often newborns are taken into care in Ontario,” said Dunlop. She said mothers may not seek pre-natal care if they’re worried about their baby being seized.

Instead, the focus should shift to collaborating between organizations and families on a plan  to “keep families together,” said Dunlop.

The Ontario Native Women’s Association applauded the announcement, saying Indigenous women have pushed for years to end birth alerts.

The National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls last year recommended immediately ending the practice.

“Ending birth alerts signals a vital shift towards reducing the number of Indigenous children in care of child welfare,” says a statement from the Ontario Native Women’s Association on Tuesday.

“Today’s announcement is one step towards addressing violence and discrimination against Indigenous women in Ontario.”

B.C., Manitoba ending birth alerts

The British Columbia government said it was ending the practice of birth alerts last year. Manitoba also promised to end birth alerts, although the plan was delayed due to COVID-19.

First Nation partners have told government birth alerts are regularly used near Thunder Bay, Hamilton and Brantford, Dunlop said, adding that Black communities are affected in Toronto and Peel region.

The ONWA told the ministry that 450 babies are seized each year as the result of birth alerts, Dunlop said.

“Indigenous women have always had the knowledge, skills and abilities to raise their families,” the ONWA said in its statement. “They have an inherent right for jurisdiction over their children.”

The Ontario government is telling children’s aid societies to stop sending birth alerts by October 15. It says birth alerts have never been required under provincial law and have been used inconsistently. 

The ONWA says further action must involve investing in Indigenous women and community healing, including “trauma-informed prevention services like Indigenous parenting programs and wrap-around supports for mothers.”

The province says it’s doing a larger review of the child welfare system, including the overrepresentation of Black, Indigenous and racialized children.

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